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Shock horror - commuting gear is getting darned sexy

The Taiwanese company TH Industries took the opportunity of last week's Sea Otter Classic to launch a number of interesting items under their Full Speed Ahead (FSA) brand - all as yet unpriced for the UK - mostly and unsurprisingly for top-end or middling lightweight racing and sportive riding.

But perhaps their most interesting item was - gasp - a commuter product under a brand-new brand.  We may be going out on a limb here but we think that the Metropolis PT crankset is a genuine innovation that will shortly be all over the place. City bike designers must be currently very busy integrating it into their 2011 plans. 

The 20th edition of the Sea Otter Classic just finished in Monterey, California is a days-long festival of everything that is wonderful about cycling in California but up until this year it wouldn't have come up on radar for road cyclists as it was pretty much devoted to off-road bikes. The burgeoning interest in road riding, however, has made it irresistible for manufacturers to be showing off their new roadie wares even if it's in the form of quiet insider previews. And there were road races and a programme of "Gran Fondo" - doesn't that better than "Sportive"? - rides for mass participation among the vineyards surrounding Monterey.

Along with all the bike companies you would expect to see in California in the spring, the usually unheard-of name of TH Industries was there taking it seriously as an industry show, along with its rather better-known brand name of FSA. Starting with the more mundane parts of the bicycle like handlebars, stems, seatposts and more recently chainsets, the FSA people have built for themselves a solid reputation as an original equipment manufacturer (oem) of panache for the big bike brands who mostly build, or have built, their products in Taiwan.

They have, in a few short years, got themselves onto most of the "cool" company's bikes partly, we're sure, because they're a good reliable supplier of these parts at the right price but, from our perspective, mostly because they've added vavavoom to these erstwhile ignored and under-appreciated areas of the bike.

But they've branched out lately into boutique products as well, of the type seen in your local bike shop's illuminated glass display cabinet and apart from some size and cosmetic changes to their excellent K-Force and K-Wing chainsets, handlebars and seatposts, there's a brand new Team Issue family of super light components - 170g for the stem - as seen on the bikes of, for example, Astana.

Brand new claimed 765g FSA Energy compact chainset with integral BB30 bottom bracket. Hollow forged alloy arms, alloy spindle, alloy bolts, CNC-machined rings.

Remember anodized coloured parts on mountain bikes? They're back with a vengeance for fixies now with these purple or black variants of the popular and rather lovely Gimondi track crankset with cold-forged and exquisitely polished arms.

What really arrested our attention was the new Metropolis-branded two-speed PT crankset (for Patterson, Sam Patterson the engineer who worked at SRAM for years and helped develop the original GripShift) for city utility bikes. And there are matching bars, stems and seatposts, obviously.

According to the good folks, "Metropolis is positioned right where the confluence of the past and the future meet in the form of uniquely styled products." Mmm. What we liked was the equivalent of 45 and 28 tooth chainrings in an internal planetary mechanism that works off a simple thumbshifter.

We have seen at least two, two-speed non-derailleur chainset systems over the last few years but this is the first one that fits on a perfectly standard 68mm bottom bracket with standard cable runs. So there are ample opportunities for you or your favourite mechanic to retro-fit this yourself once it becomes available in shops later in the year.

Due to the integral chainguard design, it's certainly the first we've seen where you could wear non-bicycle-clipped trousers, which has got to be a plus for city use. Two interesting thoughts: suppose there was a belt drive version? And suppose you married it to the new (say it quietly) Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal-geared rear hub?

By the way, the dates for next year's Sea Otter Classic will be April 13th - 17th 2011 and we think we'll be going.

17 comments

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 6 years ago
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170g is not light for a stem.

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nick_rearden [436 posts] 6 years ago
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That's true cat but a) FSA is one of the companies in our experience whose products tend to weigh less than their claims and b) without wishing to curse them, I have yet to see a recall notice for one of their stems but I might be wrong there. And I suppose c) it's not exactly heavy, either  1

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 6 years ago
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It must be a misprint. I just bought a 110 mm Salsa Pro Moto stem for £40 which weighs 175 g. Unless this an example of the carbon fibre version of a product actually weighing more than its aluminium equivalent.

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Tony Farrelly [2868 posts] 6 years ago
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That new PRO Vibe Mark Cavendish stem weighs a claimed 170g for the shortest 105mm version and PRO felt sufficiently proud to brag about it - the 130 weighed closer to 195g. FSA don't say what stem length that weight applies to but it could well stand up as a pretty light stem… that's not to say that you can't get as light components in aluminium - for less money as the KCNC components we've been reviewing lately show.

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nick_rearden [436 posts] 6 years ago
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Sorry I mentioned it now but the claimed 170g is for a 110mm but, citing George Hincapie's interesting incident at Paris-Roubaix a year or two ago, I don't think we should get too wrapped up in how much stems weigh. They also need to be strong, rigid, easy to fit and adjust as well as lovely to look at. Oh, and cheap. Was it Keith Bontager that said, "Strong, light, cheap: pick two"? Assuming the sort of numbers FSA are making and that they absolutely have no choice but to make them strong enough and that they are generally priced against their competition at the "value" end of the price spectrum I for one won't begrudge them an odd 20g. Just for perspective, I've just checked a Torqgel Banoffee-flavoured energy sachet in my cupboard and it weighs 45g  1

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Simon_MacMichael [2450 posts] 6 years ago
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I remember a few years ago in its new kit section one of the cycling mags showed a spoke magnet that was claimed to be lighter than any other on the market... target audience presumably people who are just a little too obsessed with shaving a bit of weight off.

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Mr Sock [155 posts] 6 years ago
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Quote:

target audience presumably people who are just a little too obsessed with shaving a bit of weight off.

sorry does not compute

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Barry Fry-up [187 posts] 6 years ago
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Quote:

Unless this an example of the carbon fibre version of a product actually weighing more than its aluminium equivalent

That's pretty common with stems: an aluminium tube is hard to beat when it comes to the forces a stem has to cope with. Good quality alloy ones can easily undercut their carbon counterparts. The KCNC one we just tested was 98g, there's plenty to be had in the 100-120g bracket. You have to pay a lot of money for a Carbon one that light...

Having said that, I'd have to agree that 170g isn't that special for a 110mm Carbon one, unless it's built to withstand the Manx Missile's sprinting in which case it's pretty tidy. The FSA one looks nice though. but not as nice as this...

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nick_rearden [436 posts] 6 years ago
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Wow, that is a nice stem. Let's see; 630 Euro for 68g. That's a 102g weight saving for, I suspect, at least 500 extra Euro. There's a formerly 38-stone chap over on the forums losing that weight every hour on his weight loss programme; he'll be doubly chuffed  1

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 6 years ago
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Nick Rearden wrote:

Sorry I mentioned it now but the claimed 170g is for a 110mm but, citing George Hincapie's interesting incident at Paris-Roubaix a year or two ago, I don't think we should get too wrapped up in how much stems weigh.

It was Hincapie's aluminium steerer tube which broke, not his stem.

I was under the impression that the new Team Issue ranges was pitched above FSA's other product ranges, but it seems it is not. The stem is carbon wrapped aluminium.

Their new Energy BB30 cranks look very nice: light, should be very durable, and good value too.

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Tony Farrelly [2868 posts] 6 years ago
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yep in fact the Hincapie steerer incident was actually down to them giving him something heavier that they thought would be stronger - a fork from a Trek hybrid

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Alankk [135 posts] 6 years ago
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An earlier crash was the reason for it snapping. Certainly having stiff carbon wheels won't help either.

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 6 years ago
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Alankk wrote:

An earlier crash was the reason for it snapping.

Big George says he was "just riding along" and it snapped.

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packer [28 posts] 6 years ago
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"And suppose you married it to the new (say it quietly) Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal-geared rear hub?"

... then you would have a ridiculously wide range of gears, half of which would be un-useable.

The Alfine 11 will have almost the range of a triple chainring setup as it is, so doesn't make sense to combine it with something like this.

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neilwheel [130 posts] 6 years ago
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Does the Metropolis chainset run on fixed?  39

The Gimondi chainset is a looker, but what were they thinking of when they gave it that purple ring? (please, no tittering at the back!)
Not quite as hot as the original though;

The stem is a bit samey; if you want stem porn, look no further than this piece of filth . . .

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nick_rearden [436 posts] 6 years ago
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packer - I would only say "ridiculously" if you live somewhere flattish. However, imagine an unfit commuter, living in Bristol, carrying a heavy pannier, wearing their street clothes and wishing to arrive at their office at the top of Park St (it must be 1,000m at 10%) in a reasonably decorous state. I'm guessing that the kind of folks who will buy a bike like this will want it to be able to do anything pretty well and for most people of course they'll mostly be using the same three gears. Unfortunately, no bike manufacturer (and that's who'll be buying 98% of these) knows which three gears. So a choice of 22 reliable, durable, shift-first-time-every-time gears isn't so bad.

neilwheel - that is a very good question and one to which we are now applying the full force of our intellect and experience. Mmmm. Failing that, we can't see any reason why not. Interesting.......

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scotter [55 posts] 6 years ago
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hmmm, we could melt four of them together in a mould to make a stem... *tasty*