By Jay Prasuhn
That’s always the Monday morning quarterback analysis from the annual Hawaii Ironman World Championship Bike Count. The question is who’s trending up? Whose parked their design too long and are slipping?
Every year, we’re on the pier with a collection of industry experts that volunteer their time (and about 2lbs of water weight sweating under the tropical sun) in order to get a solid global metric on the purchasing patterns of Hawaii Ironman athletes in categories including bike, wheel, power meter and helmets. Here’s a look at what we see year over year, and what it may portend to this year, and in the future.
There’s been one king of the pier for the last decade: Cervelo. While big brands like Specialized and Trek ebb and flow, Cervelo moves like Apple with its iPhone, initiating a design update or new model every couple years. The P3 was the bike that started it all, and even amid the stumble that was the P4 (can you say bad braking?) the glorious P5 was followed by an update of the P3 to a less-aggressive, slightly more upright redesign.
Consumers ate it up. They eat anything Cervelo up, in fact. Why? They have always lived by the phrase “In God We Trust; All Others Bring Data.” They were one of the first brands to present white paper data to the consumer. And the consumer appreciates that level of transparency, proof they’ve put in the work in the tunnel.
The count shows the public faith in the brand; year over year, they either grow or maintain. From 2011 to 2015 Cervelo had 488, 483, 488, 490 and 522 bikes on the pier. The year 2015 was a year of growth, picking up 32 bikes over 2014; there were several P5s on the pier, but we think the growth was in the more affordable, practical P3. We think that trend will continue. Especially given what they have up their sleeve, debuting race week in Kona…
Stalwarts Trek and Specialized hold down spots 2 and 3 on the list, as Felt continues to grow its brand at No. 4. We think that Trek and Specialized may change downward, based on the fact that both Trek’s Speed Concept and the Specialized Shiv are a bit long in the tooth as design goes, while Felt still sells well on the strength of two champs in Daniela Ryf and Mirinda Carfrae aboard the IA. Both threw a ton of marketing behind the bikes on debut, and have since been dark. They won’t dive down the chart in count on the pier this year, but they will if they don’t have a new product for consumers in the next year.
No doubt, the darlings of the ball are Argon 18 and BMC, growing from barely double digits (or in Argon 18s case, zero bikes in 2008 as a new brand) to ranking fifth and sixth, respectively, on our chart over the last eight years. To the credit of each, despite having firm roots in road (Argon 18 with the Bora road team last year and Saxo next year, and BMC of course with its own titled road squad) both have invested heavily in triathlon, Argon with a flotilla of pros from Terenzo Bozzone to Magali Tisseyre. Both are pushing development, with BMC about to debut a bike this week in Kona, just as Argon 18 debuted its new front end nosecose capable of ingesting and extrapolating all kinds of data including air pressure gradients, wind direction and more. They are two brands on the up.
And the others? In seventh, Scott is perplexing; they have an apex athlete in Sebastian Kienle flying the Scott Plasma up and down the Queen K, but have small comparative numbers. I want to think they should see greater presence this year; it’s a big company that is supporting its athletes; and the bike is still relatively new.
Giant Bicycles debuted the newly-designed Triad a year ago. It’s a proper tri bike (rather than a TT offering) and they sell gangbusters in Austral-Asia. Outside that? Nada. For the largest bike company in the world, Giant is leaving tons of money on the table by literally ignoring the triathon market. When you have a bunch of roadies at the helm of some of these companies and they just don’t get triathlon, it’s a shame.
Back in 12th is Canyon. They have the world champ in Jan Frodeno and a bike worthy of a world champ in the Speedmax CF, and while we will see a bit of a spike this year due to European sales (particularly in Germany), it won’t be until next year when we see the effects of the direct-to-consumer opening sales to customers in Australasia and the United States. After that, we predict they’ll vault so many brands and move into the top 5 in short order. Just not yet.
And further back is Ventum. Last year they were new to the market and had just four bikes total, with Leanda Cave leading the charge. They’ll have more than that just in sponsored athletes, and have launched an aggressive campaign, serving as the official bike of the Hawaii Ironman this year. We’ve seen more than just a few at races throughout the states; we’ll be curious to see not only their growth, but that of fellow blue collar aero brand, Dimond, which had one bike in 2013 with company prez TJ Tollakson flying the flag, 21 bikes in 2014 and 33 bikes in 2015. These two brands prove you don’t need a million-dollar marketing budget to play in the big leagues with fast bikes.
Indianapolis-based Zipp continues to be the big fish in Kona, with brands like Reynolds, Mavic, Shimano, Bontrager and even HED fighting for their own place. As with bikes, it’s the brands that show their design and testing process that earn the dollar of the consumer.
The big upward mover is ENVE. Born in 2005, the Ogden, Utah-based company has built its name on the same premise that made Zipp and Hed the powerhouse brands: data. The company hired aero expert Simon Smart, proved its data was sound and came with a unique premise; wheels with stability as a primary feature, going as far as to create wheelset pairings with front and rear wheels of different depths. Pair that with a manufacturer that makes the wheels some of the stiffest, strongest in the space, and put them under a few fast athletes including Jodie Swallow, and it’s no wonder they’re taking a cut of the Zipp pie. They’ll continue to grow on the pier this year, but Zipp is still going to be the top pick; the Indy crew comes strong every year with new designs and happily of late, upgraded hubsets.
This is one category we don’t put a lot of stock in. Rudy Project makes lovely aero helmets, but flooding the count by giving away helmets to racing athletes in order to “win” the count is… um… disingenuious at best. As such, I’ve continued to put a little asterick next to Rudy Project for this honor, because the result is not a reflection of global purchasing patterns, but of clever marketing. Which helmet are folks actually buying to race in? Who knows.. but we think Giro and Louis Garneau, each with a fine aero and aero-road helmet compliment, would give Rudy Project a good run at the title, if not beating them in the count.
Profile Design has been the top brand consistently for the last year, for two good reasons; they are a popular spec on most bikes, and probably the most important reason: Profile Design makes bars with tons of adjustability. 3T has had some recent success for finding it a spec’d brand on bikes like the Cervelo P3, but Profile Design will still maintain the greatest presence.
We thought Chicago-based SRAM would make a big push after coming to market with Force, Rival and RED, but Shimano countered with a solid one-two: Dura-Ace Di2 and Ultegra Di2 electronic. It took some time for SRAM to respond, and the company lost space on the pier to brands that simply spec’d a shifting system that allowed shifting at the aerobars. It wasn’t until last year that SRAM countered with eTap wireless electronic shifting, with just a few apex athletes (Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle) running it in Kona. It’s starting to find its way into the spec of several brands, but we won’t see the effect of it until next year. SRAM may pick up a few bikes this year on the pier, but it’ll be minimal at best; Shimano will continue to scoop up this category handily.
This is the most vexing category for our counters; these eagle-eyed cats have to look at hubs, inboard non-driveside crankarms, cranksets and pedals to find ‘em. With that, it’s a hotly-contested category. Last year, Quarq’s crank-based power meter led the category on 289 bikes, while the convenient pedal-based Garmin Vector was on 222 bikes, with single-sided, cost-effective Stages power meter on 170 bikes. It will again be a battle, and think some newcomers like Pioneer will stick their noses in looking for a slice of presence.
Stay tuned for the 2016 Kona Bike Count results this Friday. A look at the 2015 Kona Bike Count results here.