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« When steel frames fail, and why | Main | The Wave »

Selling the Benefit

Go to any seminar, or read a book on selling, (Or marketing as people prefer to call It.) and you will learn that you always “Sell the Benefit” to the consumer.

In other words, “How will the consumer’s life be made better” if he buys whatever it is you are selling. In the case of a bicycle, how will it improve his performance?

One can build or manufacture just about anything then put up some wonderful sounding argument stating why it is of benefit to the user. Most of these statements cannot be proved or disproved.

Even when these theories are disproved, nobody really cares least of all the company who has made a lot of money, and everyone just moves on to whatever the next trend is.

In the late 1960s Cinelli built a frame that was absolutely devoid of all brazed-on fittings, stating that braze-ons weakened the frame. Gear levers, cable guides, etc. all had to be clamped on to the frame. (Picture top left.)

Some years later people realized that the clamps held moisture and started rust spots, and the clamps sometimes caused stress risers and tubes often broke adjacent to the clamp.

For a while every other framebuilder followed suit, because it saved a tremendous amount of time. (Which was of course the real reason.) Cinelli had stumbled on an incredibly simple way to cut labor costs, then actually sold the idea to the consumer as a benefit.

At the time Cinelli charged double what anyone else did for a frame. The psychology was, it costs more, and therefore it must be better. Also if it costs more you win the one-upmanship game. A psychology that is still being played out in today’s high end bicycle market.

Weight saving is always an easy sale to the bicycle enthusiast. Push weight saving to its limits and in the case of a frame, it becomes flexible. Then you sell the idea that a flexible frame is an actual benefit to the rider. The big question here is, “How much flex?” Aluminum for example makes a very strong and lightweight frame. However, it has little or no flexing qualities.

Back when I built frames they were made by brazing a high tensile steel tube into a lugged joint. In the case of Columbus, the tubes were heat treated and were like a very strong steel spring. When the framebuilder heated the tubes to braze the joint it actually softened the tubes, thereby losing a tiny amount of the strength, and spring qualities.

Remember Cinelli’s argument that braze-ons weakened the frame. Actually there was a grain of truth in that statement. However, brazing the lugged joint and attaching braze-ons is part of the frame building process. The tubes are actually designed to withstand losing some of the strength during the building process. Brazed correctly, the end product is still far stronger than it need be.

This is why steel tubes are butted, (Greater wall thickness at each end.) so there is still adequate strength left after the joint is made. The trick is to use just enough heat to get the job done, but not heating the tube a greater distance from the lug or braze-on than necessary, thus retaining as much of the tube’s inherent strength as possible.

Because a frame is like a very stiff steel spring, when the rider makes a sudden effort as when he jumps in a sprint, the frame gives or flexes slightly. This is desirable, but the operative word here is “Slightly." It is like the difference between an athlete jumping from a concrete track or floor, and one jumping from a Tartan track surface or a floor made from wooden boards.

There is an old Briticism, (A saying from the UK.) that “Bull shit baffles brains.” So whenever you are reading the sales pitch for the latest and greatest high tech wonder. (Not just bicycles, but any consumer product.) Keep an open mind.

They are selling the benefit. Your life will somehow be better for owning this product. Turn that idea around and ask, “What is the benefit to the manufacturer?” Is this product really better than the old one, or has the manufacturer found a cheaper way to make it.

Or has the manufacturer simply come up with something "New and Improved," that serves no real purpose other than to make the old one obsolete.


Reader Comments (11)

Another great post - I now appreciate why I need to periodically check under the clamps and to monitor for any negative effects. Thanks Dave.

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJack

How right you are.
Of course frame tubes were butted long before heat treated steels, in that case simply to reinforce the joints where the stresses were higher.
I have seen a frame fail at the downtube shifter braze-on. The down tube was installed backwards, the short butt was at the top so this braze-on was installed in the thin center part of the tube. It weakened it enough that it buckled there.

I am fortunate that my Al fame is old enough that it was before they went to ridiculous oversize tubes, since it is the tube OD that governs stiffness. That means that my frame is way too flexible, but my old body appreciates that.

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteredstainless

Dave - did you just happen to think of this, or have you seen another product recently where the so-called "improvement" sounds like a vendor's trying to make a benefit out of a cost-saving?

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPlain Jim

Or, as my father the adman told me

"Sell the sizzle, not the steak"

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteveP

Again simply stated truth. You might have paraphrased my old sales pitch about resonance and stiffness, "would you rather run barefoot on concrete or in basketball shoes on hardwood. The first is stiffer, but, the hardwood is faster!

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTerence Shaw

Hi Dave, in your post you said;

"Even when these theories are disproved, nobody really cares least of all the company who has made a lot of money, and everyone just moves on to whatever the next trend is."

Absolutely.! I followed a link on an online bike magazine to the "best tech from 2015"

At one point the bloke doing the talking referred to "consumers" that buy these and other cutttng edge products. No reference to rider, bikie, cyclist or any other name to associate with a bike rider. As this blurb is scripted I can only assume that this was a deliberate use of the word " consumer."

When was the last time that any of us can recall seeing the question asked by a magazine review, a pro, a team, et. al. "is this stuff necessary"

Bikes and riding them for the most is becoming just another company/consumer driven marketing strategy based on bits and tech. of questionable value.

However, given what I see when the local bikeshop needs a hand, the average bike buying punter is part of the problem you describe " bull shit baffles brains". So in some ways I don't blame the the marketers and focus groups using the theory of P.T Barnhum.

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKeith. British Columbia

Thanks for the good read. I enjoyed the article.
Quote:"Cinelli had stumbled on an incredibly simple way to cut labor costs, then actually sold the idea to the consumer as a benefit."
It may have been a cost cutting measure but, Cinelli did get it right.
I hate it when the "benefit" of the next hot thing turns out to be stupid like the creak-prone-high-maintenance BB30 design which also was a way to cut costs.

December 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRandy

i do remember the discussions over braze-ons vs clamps back when i was a shop rat and for a time i bought into the clamp-on argument -mostly because i was always swapping out equipment and reconfiguring my bikes to suit whatever my current whims were. i felt that brazed-on fittings limited my options. That opinion has changed with time.

i noted back then that certain (mainly French) manufacturers cut costs in other ways, mostly by "cheaping out" on components -mainly pedals, seats,derailleurs, and seatposts of dubious quality, doing really terrible paint jobs, and using cheesy logo stickers.

Today i see that same cheaping out trend in the limited available frame sizing (S,M,L), sloping top tubes, press fit bottom bracket, threadless headsets, etc...

December 9, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermike w.

The only braze on's that I ever had on frames in the late 40s early 50s where for mudguard attachments.. Single fixed one front brake. I bet Campag etc. loved the no braze ons must have made a mint with selling clamp on fittings. Looking at the old TDF pics. Riders even taped on the cables for the rear bakes to the top tube. Now with Elec gears and brake cables in the tubes much cleaner look.

December 9, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

Used to be when the Circus came to town, you knew the House of Mirrors was an illusion, the Freak House was just that, and the Potions sold there didn’t really work. But it was fun to go, and maybe a bit sad to see it leave.

Now the Circus is companies owned by Corporations who kept the same business model. Too bad it never leaves town.

December 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I have often wondered what the difference is in frames and forks? Why, if you give, say 5 builders all the same material to work with, why one would be better than another? Reading this fine post from Dave, I am now starting to see that its the little details that matter. Paying attention to what you are doing and not been so concerned about how many you can make in the shortest time. But after riding now,close to 70yrs on steel frames and forks, I have never had any problems.

December 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump
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