Premier Tactical: A Bike for the Proletariat
As a former bike maker myself I always found myself in the following conundrum: Do I make what I think is the best product I can, damn the customer’s wishes? Or do I make what the customer wants even if it violates my own sense of what’s best? The choice of whether to lead or follow can’t be binary, and weighting each imperative properly can make all the difference.
The author of this project has heavily weighted listening to rather than getting too far in front of his customer. The maker is Dan Kennison and if the name is vaguely familiar, it may be for one a couple of reasons. First, he’s dkennison on our Reader Forum. Second, he’s the chain fellow. I just wrote about his methodology for optimizing chains.
Let’s talk about this bike, and then we’ll talk a bit about Dan.
The Good Book exhorts us to “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” Dan has treated this bike as if it was his mortal soul, working it out with that kind of care. I have never in 30 years in this business seen anyone spend so much painstaking time working out the details of a bike. He came and sat for not one but a pair of week-long F.I.S.T. Bike Fit Workshops, learning everything he could about how bikes fit and handle. He listened to and read everything I said and wrote, then he read everything you wrote on our Reader Forum, and tried to put all the best of it into a bike.
He endeavored to find out what worked and what didn’t, going so far as to cut molds for parts that he did not intend to use, just to see how they tested in the wind tunnel (more on that separately, but you'll see some of these fairing "props" in the image below of the bike in the tunnel).
The result is a fairly standard rim-brake, double-diamond frame, 700c-wheel tri bike. It’s got its own fork, aerobars, seat post, brakes, little-to-nothing bought or borrowed from a sub-assembly or accessory maker (except drive train and shifting). There is no open mold product on this bike with the exception of the wheels. Dan heard you loud and clear on the price of wheels.
In that sense he’s followed TriRig’s Nick Salazar, each a one-man-show finding the opening for products designed to catch the imagination and tickle the sweet spot of the market. The difference is Dan’s hard attachment to a specific price point. Not that Nick’s Omni is out of reach, pricewise, it’s this: I am a lean-liberal person who behaves personally like a staunch conservative. Dan is a lean-conservative that prices his products as if he was a Communist: He feels you all deserve a product priced for the proletariat.
His company is called PremierBike, and the bike model here is the Tactical. The Tactical sells for $5,500. The bike comes as you see it, and you don’t yet see it all (we’ll talk about the case in a moment). It’s a Shimano Di2 Ultegra drivetrain and shift kit, except for the chain, which is that optimized Wippermann that – if engineering and technology still have purchase – will kick the spit out of any bike chain in any friction test over the duration of its life. And this bike comes stock with two of those chains.
The Tactical comes with an 88mm carbon rim on the front, disc wheel rear. These are not special in any way, rather simply are commodity wheels built around Chosen hubs and spokes. What’s on the wheels is rather special: The Tactical is spec’d with Conti GP4000 tires.
And there’s more! Which I’ll get to.
Dan Kennison has noted that the long/low bikes geometries have gone away, largely due to bike companies erring on the side of how fitters (often badly) positioned riders during the first decade of the century. A consensus midrange geometry has emerged that skews toward the tall, and this either is or isn’t apparent in today's complete bikes based on the front end spec’d on any particular bike. Trek, for example, gets away with this midrange geometry because the proprietary front end on the Speed Concept can range quite low. Likewise the aforementioned TriRig Omni, which is pretty much a midrange frame geometry but the TriRig aerobar is a very low-profile bar.
What Dan wanted to accomplish was the accommodation of riders who wanted a low position coupled with the ability to pedestal the bike high for riders who are more conventional in their positions. Geometrically, then, the Tactical takes on the motif of a low-slung missile that is pedestaled to suit, and the Von Rafael and the Storck comes to mind as bikes that look fabulous in their execution of this style.
The attached fit matrix shows the fit ranges of each size. Each rectangle represents the range of pad x/y positions achievable per size. These charts are easy to read. Imagine the bottom of one such rectangle. That’s that size frame with no pedestals, bottomed-out. If your pad x/y position is a dot on the bottom of the rectangle, midway between fore and aft sides of the rectangle, you’re exactly in the middle of the fit range for that bike. If your “dot” is toward the rear of the rectangle, you’ll have to resort to whatever measures the bike affords to move the armrests rearward (slide the extensions back in their brackets; move the pads rearward on its bracket; etc.).
I haven’t ridden the Tactical. The only one I know who has is Ian Murray, also on our Reader Forum and also one of our F.I.S.T. Fit Instructors (and a GURU fit instructor, USAT highest-level coach and so forth). So far, so good per Ian. But here’s the thing I really like and that I wish I’d thought up. We’re all familiar with rear replaceable dropouts. This bike has front replaceable dropouts. Not that anything ever happens to front dropouts. Rather, there’s a slot in these dropouts where the front wheel axle nests (as is the case with any fork-end with anything other than a thru axle). This slot is offset in the dropout. If you swap these dropouts, left for right, you end up with a different fork offset and a resultantly different trail and front/center. In other words, you can “tune” the handling of this bike to suit. Brilliant! I don’t know if anyone else has ever done this, but it’s just terribly smart.
Ease of Maintenance and of Travel
I’m seeing a trend. Both Cervelo with its P5X and the Tactical have as selling features ease-of-use. Few tools required. Quintana Roo was really the first to kick this trend off, with its PR series bikes that can be worked on entirely with 4mm and 5mm Allen wrenches. The P5X went further with a collapsible pursuit bar, and that bike and the Tactical go one step beyond with a bike case made just for the bike.
But the Tactical really outdoes the rest by including the bike case in the $5,500 price. I’ve seen the case, it’s a hard-shell case, not quite the wall thickness of, say, a Tri-All-3 case but thick enough to protect the bike.
Finally, if you're not yet convinced, this bike comes stock with a left-leg Pioneer power meter.
Invent it or steal it, that’s my motto. Trek invented the Speed Box and it’s now something that many enterprising bike makers steal, and rightly so. If you’re a bike maker and you’re not a bit of a klepto you’re not doing it right. The Tactical has one of these rear storage gizmos. There may be more storage coming for this bike. I’ll write a follow-up article on storage that can exist in modular sub-assemblies and the aero impact of these. For now, the Tactical’s behind-the-seat-tube storage is it. There is no integrated fluid storage. Why?
It’s in the nature of the geometry. Imagine the Scott Plasma. It’s got a pair of stems, the TT stem and the TRI stem. Its integrated hydration system works only with the TRI stem. The Tactical employs that pedestaled-missile motif and integrated hydration just hasn’t so far been compatible with that kind of frame. If you want front hydration with your Tactical that’s got to be an aftermarket decision you make.
There is a white paper from which I will liberally borrow. Testing was done, and I believe Mike Giraud, former of the A2 tunnel in the Carolinas oversaw testing at the San Diego tunnel used now by so many bike companies.
Dan Kennison rightly understood, I think, that his competition was going to be the Felt IA series bikes. Yes, Cervelo is the best selling tri bike brand, But Cervelo’s sales exist throughout the price point range, from $2,800 to, now, $15,000. An IAx in an electronic build is a fair fight with the Tactical. Dan gave the testing over to Jim Manton (ERO) with the following charge: Let the chips fall where they may. It’s Jim who constructed the white paper. The idea, originally, was to produce both wind tunnel and Alphamantis velodrome tests, but one hitch after another foiled the velodrome testing. Alphamantis testing is not in the white paper but that testing is forthcoming (this month, I believe).
What seems clear from this round of tunnel tests is that the Tactical slightly “wins” at low yaws and the IA wins at yaws above 10 degrees. It’s in that 7.5 to 10 degree window that that bikes flip, the IA gradually “winning” as the yaw increases. This should be good news for this bike when taken together with the findings of Nathan Barry and Damon Rinard (of Cannondale), and others who’ve tested real-world yaws seen by riders in races.
Who and what is PremierBike? It’s quite clear that the value is outstanding, besting even the opaque, brandless open mold “values” that come from the Orient. But who remembers Falco? Here was a slick and sexy beam bike, but the company seems to have vanished, leaving Falco owners asking questions, responses to that company not forthcoming.
PremierBike is an American company, based in Chicagoland; yes the bikes themselves are manufactured in the Orient. Dan Kennison has lived a couple of prior business “lives,” most prominently in the medical appliance manufacturing business, where he also manufactured in the Orient. His entre into the world of Asian bike manufacturing was smoothed, he told me, by introductions made by factory contacts from his prior ventures, such intros establishing his bona fides among the factories necessary to make the Tactical.
The Sales Channel
Then we have the sales channel to talk about. I’ve been in the bike business for about 30 years now. In fact, March of next year will be my 30th anniversary, for better or worse! Back then, and again 20 years ago, and 10 years ago, a consumer-direct sales channel for complete bikes was suicidal. Parts? Yes. Bikes? May as well light your Benjamins on fire, get it over with quickly.
Not so now. Diamondback is here, TriRig is imminent, Canyon is coming, PremierBike will deliver its first Tacticals in a couple of months. Here’s one more unheard of premium attached to this bike: Within 2 months of a purchase of a Tactical, you may avail yourself of a bike fit from a F.I.S.T. Fitter and PremierBike will pay for the first $200 of that session. Bringing your consumer direct purchase to a retail fitter, who is probably in a local bike shop, is the clash of cultures we can expect to see, and must be eventually reconciled.
So, there you go. Wow. I told you all in August to strap in, we were going to have ourselves a time with very interesting new tri bike intros. We’ve seen QR’s and Canyon’s lower-end intros, TriRig’s Omni, Cervelo’s P5X, the Diamondback Andean, BMC’s new TM01, and there’s more coming! I’ve known about the Tactical for some time because, as noted, Dan Kennison has been at his bike for awhile.
The Tactical is going to pressure the market not just because of the features of the bike, but because Dan’s a conservative with a rogue Commie gene: The Tactical is truly the bike for the proletariat. Here's more in this bike.
A Better, Cheaper Race-Ready Chain?
What is the most efficient way to “buy” speed in the form of reduced drivetrain friction? There is a technology, not quite new, but not yet seen in the bike industry. If all parties execute up to their verbal warranties it's going to debut in our industry in a very few weeks.
First let’s report on the status quo. Last week Ceramic Speed bought the remainder of Friction Facts. The first stage in that purchase was the process by which drivetrain parts were subjected to a special preparation. Ceramic Speed bought that process, known as the UltraFast Optimization (UFO) chain, and the Friction Facts owner, the well-regarded Jason Smith, retained his independent testing facility.
Last week Ceramic Speed bought that too. The Danish ceramic bearing and bicycle component manufacturer brought Mr. Smith aboard as its Chief Technology Officer.
The process Mr. Smith designed, and which Ceramic Speed bought, gives the rider a projected 2 to 5 watts “on competition day.” After 200 miles “under clean riding conditions" the chain still contains “traces” of the treatment. The 11-speed version of the chain costs $135.
A new company, PremierBike, is soon to release its own new tri bike for sale. In addition it is about to begin selling its own “optimized” chains. These are alleged by PremierBike to offer benefits that are much longer lasting than the technology Ceramic Speed is currently using.
The idea is to reduce "parasitic drag” through a surface treatment process known by the acronym CAVSF. It stands for chemically accelerated vibratory surface finishing, and the process is described in detail elsewhere.
PremierBike’s owner, Dan Kennison, has built a suite of businesses over his adult life and one involved this process used to treat engine parts in high performance race cars. In a discussion I had with Mr. Kennison he stated that Indy car engines so-treated would last about three times longer. Working with Indy cars formed the basis of Mr. Kennison’s business, but he said he knew of other companies performing the same basic service for those on the NASCAR circuit.
The operative metric is R(a), which is average roughness in μ-in, that is, micro-inches (millionths of an inch). In layman’s terms, removing the microscopic peaks from surfaces that rub and wear against each other decreases friction, which increases performance and extends life.
Rather than cleaning the factory lube off and adding a wax/PTFE lube mixture, which is how Mr. Kennison describes the process as executed by Ceramic Speed, the chain is first subjected to an isotropic surface process (CAVSF). Kennison’s company then adds to this the surface impregnation process in combination with the typical wax/PTFE/MSO2 coating, that is to say, he first makes the chain surfaces smoother, and then he does something akin to what Ceramic Speed does during its chain treatment.
The numbers I’ve seen are a reduction in the R(a) (surface roughness) of about one-third on each of several chains tested, meaning the R(a) decreases by about a third (the number gets a third of the way from where it starts to zero). Mr. Kennison subjected several chains to the process, recording R(a) before and after. In each case R(a) was reduced by about one-third. He also found, surprisingly, that Wippermann chains had less surface roughness before his CAVSF process than other chains had after the process. In other words Wippermann chains begin their lives very smooth. Nevertheless, Wippermann chains also saw about a one-third reduction in R(a) after the CAVSF process. It is a standard, untreated, stock Wippermann 11sx chain pictured here.
Mr. Kennison expects to sell new post-process chains consumer direct for a price in the $105 to $110 neighborhood. He will use Wippermann Connex 11sx chains, which are nickel chains with stainless inner links. That chain, untreated, from Wippermann, sells for $89 to $99 in the U.S., and $59 from ChainReactionCycles in the UK, as of today. The chain will go through the CAVSF process, followed by a wax/PTFE/MSO2 coating. That latter coating will only lasts 200 or so miles, just as with chains sold today, similarly treated. But the PremierBike chain, according to Mr. Kennison, will then retain all the benefits afforded by the CAVSF process: longer life, less friction. These chains will work on both SRAM and Shimano-outfitted bikes.
At face value it seems an astoundingly good deal, if a chain that costs not much more than an untreated chain will last twice or thrice as long; will lose less power through friction; and will still come with the slippery coating. But the chain is not for sale yet, and I haven’t seen it, touched it, ridden it.
Mr. Kennison said he expects to begin selling chains to consumers on or about the 1st of December, 2016. There is no site or place to send Slowtwitchers at the moment. Expect a future article when contact and purchase info is forthcoming. As Mr. Kennison is a habitué on the Slowtwitch Reader Forum, he will probably field questions there.