Where's the Beef?
October 2007

Remember that old 'where's the beef' commercial from Wendy's? There were a couple of older women looking between the giant buns of one of Wendy's competitor's burgers, inspecting closely under the lettuce and pickles while adjusting their glasses, and then, looking up at the clerk they asked "Where's the Beef?" The obvious point to the commercial: Wendy's was not skimping where it counted most to the consumer. For the same price, you could get more "beef".

Bikes that need to be really durable:
There's several bike companies that offer high-end touring, travel and tandem bikes (including yours truly) that sell for over $3,000. Aside from great fit and a well built frame, touring and tandem customers need durability and easy serviceability on their bikes. When extreme durability and easy to service components are called for, there are some areas that bike companies should not skimp on.

Why I wrote this article:
We just sold a tandem to a customer last week, and a conversation with him got me thinking of that old commercial. He was determined to buy a high-end tandem, and shopped for several months. He said he'd compared our bikes to all the others, and ours was the only bike in his price range that came completely equipped with Phil Wood hubs and bottom brackets. I was surprised, as I know our tandem pricing is comparable to the competition, but I always assumed that Phil Wood was the standard spec in the tandem world. It got me thinking and doing some research of my own. As it turns out, he was right. Most tandem manufacturers have chosen to save money and use.....well....let's say...'non Phil Wood' hubs and bottom brackets. The cost savings for such a decision is phenomenal.

For example, if I were to use a Tawainese produced set of 'house brand' hubs and bottom brackets, I could save about $700 per bike at the retail level. Now this got me 'lifting the bun' a little, and adjusting my glasses a bit. If other manufacturers are saving that kind of money by using 'house brand' or 'no name' hubs and bottom brackets, why are their bikes the same price as ours? I'm a firm believer that the shop you buy from is more important than the bike or parts that you buy. I normally don't like to delve into parts specs, but it did seem worth letting you all know that our commitment to producing the best bikes we can for their intended purposes goes all the way through the bike, including parts selection. At a glance, differing brands of $3,000+ bikes and tandems may look the same. It's easy to make a bike that looks durable, and expensive, but rest assured there are some big differences between them.

So, let's lift the lettuce, and push the pickles aside and find out "where's the beef?":
Well, in these $3,000+, 'built for durability' bikes you'll find 'the beef' in several places of importance. For reasons of 'holding the reader's attention' I've limited myself to just a few:

1.) Buy a shop, not a bike. Although this article is supposed to be about components, I still have to mention this. Some shoppers are so focused on a bike they read about in a bicycle magazine, or the lowest price they can possibly get, that they miss out on an opportunity to work with great people. Although there are differences between bikes, the difference between shops is much greater. No matter what brand you end up with, you'll be counting on accessible, good, experienced, mature staff members to make your new bike comfortable, and keep it running smoothly for years after you lay down the big bucks. You'll want a guarantee that your shop will be willing to work with you for as long as it takes to make your bike right. This is where a good shop that's committed to fit and customer satisfaction can really make riding your new bike fun.

2.) Frame/Fork. Of course the frame and fork are important, but this article is about durable, serviceable components...so, I'll shut up and talk about components already!

3.) Hubs. On a tandem or loaded touring bike, hubs take an especially rough beating. Hubs often get ignored by the shopper, but it's the next place to look if you're spending over $3,000 on a tandem or touring bike. It's expensive to rebuild your wheels if the hubs can't hold up, and there are hub manufacturers that make specific hubs designed for tandem and heavy use. Look at the hubs. If they're a 'house brand', who makes them? Does the hub manufacturer have a track record of decades in the industry, or just years, or maybe months.....have you even heard of the hub manufacturer? For the bike manufacturer, a pair of Phil Wood hubs is roughly 600% more expensive than 'house brand'.

4.) Bottom brackets. This is an area that manufacturers can ignore because a shopper doesn't even see the bottom brackets until a mechanic down the road is showing them the worn out pieces of it. These are the bearings and spindles that hold the cranks onto the bike. There are $8 options that work fine, but on a high-end bike, intended for heavy use, that someone is investing thousands of dollars into, maybe something a little more substantial would be nice?

The bottom line:
This was a hard article to write, because I could really write about 60 pages on this subject, but that would bore you all to tears.
Our dedication to keeping our bicycle specs at the highest quality possible runs through the entire bike. Scott and I spend several weeks each year trying to hunt down the parts we want to use on the bikes. It's a much more time consuming job than it used to be, but the end result are bikes that reflect dedication to quality that we can stand behind. For instance, the frame materials we choose could be much cheaper if we used an imported 'house brand', but then we wouldn't be using the best, and the bikes would be heavier. If you look at any of our tandem parts packages, as well as our Ultimate Packages for travel and touring single bikes, you'll see that Phil Wood is all over them. This is a MAJOR cost upgrade over the competition's offerings.

Phil Wood products are made in America and have a track record of decades. In fact, they started in 1971 (2 years before we started up). I see tandems come in the shop that are 20 years old and have their original Phil hubs and bottom brackets still functioning smoothly. Basically, we select the parts for our bikes like we would want them spec'd if we were spending the money. When a bike calls for extreme durability, that means that we have to use Phil Wood hubs and bottom brackets, regardless of cost.

So, if you are shopping for that durable, serviceable, go anywhere touring or tandem bike, would you rather have 'The Beef' (Boca for you vegetarians), or would you rather have 'fillers and additives'?