Production Bikes are Better Than Prototypes
Production Bikes Are Better Than Prototypes
By Mike Wirth
There is a very good reason companies build prototype bikes. They build the latest and greatest to push the envelope of development. They then give those prototypes to the fastest riders in the world for riding and racing. It’s true that those prototypes are some of the lightest and fastest bikes on the planet and are also very drool-worthy. They come with custom flashy paint schemes that attract attention or muted black ones to conceal their real identity in a crowd. Those bikes are the future of mountain biking, no question about it; however, they’re not within your grasp yet for a reason.
Prototypes are built to be broken. They’re built to find the weaknesses in a design and prevent the final product from having those same flaws. The bikes are given to the pros for three reasons as I see it. First, they may offer a rider an advantage over other racers, as the prototype may use a technology that nobody else has. When you’re racing against the clock and every millisecond counts, a new experimental technology can mean the difference between a podium and a mid-pack finish. On the flip side, new parts can also cause a DNF (“did not finish”) should the bike or component fail. Second, should the bike fail, there is less likely to be an explosion of media coverage when the failure happens to a rider who’s on the payroll instead of a paying customer. Have you ever seen a pro rider head to social media after an equipment failure to complain about it? Didn’t think so. Finally, and most important, these are the riders you want testing the product before you are able to get your hands on it. They’re the ones who spare us from the bad ideas and champion the good ones. Trust me, there’s not a bike company in the world that doesn’t want to deliver the best product on the trail. That’s what bike companies do, and it’s why the marketplace is so competitive. Companies prototype incessantly.
I once spoke to a designer and founder of a big bike company and asked whether he’d rather ride an aluminum bike or a carbon one. His company was making the transition to building nearly all carbon bikes and tossing the alloy ones to the curb. His answer was that he could build a much lighter bike out of aluminum; however, he knew that the frame would not last more than a few rides. That’s not the kind of bike I want in my stable. I’d much rather have the production carbon version of the same bike, one that’s been rigorously tested and proven.
It might be cool to ride a bike with a “prototype; not for sale” sticker on the downtube, but it’s also not something we are able to do often—and I’m thankful for that. There’s no worse excuse for a product failure than the one we hear most often, which is, “That was pre-production and we’re working it out.” If there are any bike-industry types out there reading this, please stop sending us anything that you’re not confident can hold up to our testing because you haven’t finished the design process yet. We don’t want to be your guinea pigs. Moreover, we want to be riding the exact same bikes our readers can buy. We want to be sure that the ones we’re recommending are not different, for better or worse.