December 27, 2008

More hype from the bike industry

Ok, so once again, I have nothing against Vassago. I think their bikes are just fine for what they are, which is inexpensive mass-produced steel. Essentially a Surly for folks who don’t want a Surly.

But I was skimming their site while looking for geometry info on a customer’s current frame and read this hilarious article about their “R-tech” 4130 tubing.

Let’s go through it step by step:
“4130 can be drawn into any number of crappy or kick-ass tubes for bike frames. 4130 doesn’t necessarily denote the quality of the tubing, it is simply the mix of chromium, molybdenum and other elements that makes up the actual steel before it is drawn into tubes. This ratio of elements happens to offer the best strength to cost-effective welding available. “

-Um, ok. Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum. The idea that the raw material you start with somehow *doesn’t matter* is hilarious! Heck, let’s make it out of pig iron! You can do lots of things to the mix of materials that go into steel to make it end up with different properties – the steel you’d make a nice knife with would make a lousy bike, and vice versa. 4130 is the cheapest decent steel you can use to make bikes. That’s the bottom line. 853 or OX platinum, or whatever are more expensive because they’re harder to work with – but they produce a lighter, thinner tube with the same (or better) strength.

-Second, what the heck is “cost effective welding”? It’s not any harder to weld lighter/thinner/stronger material than plain jane 4130, really, at least not for someone with a modicum of experience, which I assume the Taiwanese welders who make these frames have.

“That’s where the magic of R-tech comes in. Our tubes are drawn into hollow, butted tubes that perfectly temper weight savings with durability. A 1/2 lb lighter frame doesn’t help much when it fails on you in the middle of nowhere.”

-Hollow tubes? Well, that’s certainly better than, say, solid steel rods.

-Yes, it’s true that making something so light that it falls apart is bad. But using 4130 instead of, say, heat treated tubing or a higher end air-hardening tubing like 853 or OX platinum isn’t a way of making the bike stronger. You’re making it cheaper, and heavier, but that 7/4/7 OX tube is just as strong as the 4130.

“It’s how the ancient Japanese used to forge Samurai swords and that HAS to be cool!”

-Erm…not really. High carbon knife/sword/blade steel is quenched to make it super duper hard on the outside, with a nice springy not-so-hard layer on the inside. It has no functional similarities to bike tubing whatsoever, and the manufacturing process is completely different. Plus, I think ninjas are way cooler, so they should have said their tubing was like ninja swords. Yeah!

“Most every performance oriented frame is double butted, but Vassago “butts” are optimized for our longer 29er dimensions to provide a perfect balance of weight, strength, ridabilty and value.”

-Translation: We use cheap tubes to keep the price down.

“We call it R-tech.”

-I call it the cheapest acceptable bike tubing you can use.

“We pass the savings on to riders who renounce big corporate “cookie cutter” 29ers, and simply lust for the “soul” of the ride.”

-Ok, first off, the Vassago geometry uses the same chainstay length for every size of frame. Sounds pretty cookie-cutter to me. Second, they use the old “steeper seat tube angle” trick to make the toptube on the small frame look shorter – it’s actually identical to the medium, except for the standover. Sounds pretty cookie-cutter to me. Soul? Sure. The soul of a solid but inexpensive and fairly generic bike frame made in Asia.