Different to be different, or different for a reason – either way, why? Or, perhaps more to the point, why not?
In recent times, Parlee have released two new bikes – one is their ESX ‘aero’ frame, the other is their Altum (which also comes in a slighter heavier ‘R’ variant). The ESX is Parlee’s first entry into the ‘aero’ market, whilst the Altum is set to replace the Z5 as their flagship light weight production model. Both models exhibit a prominent bump on their top tubes. Whilst this might be an ‘aero’ feature on the ESX, on the Altum it appears to be nothing more than either visually tying the model in with the ESX or is purely a point of difference.
And that got me thinking: If this shaping were “just for the hell of it”, is that actually such a bad thing?
You probably haven’t heard of Oddity Cycles but I stumbled across their bikes recently. They’re certainly different but upon seeing the road bike design curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask them what their aim was.
“Honest intrigue regarding the road bike: Is there theory behind those tube shapes, or is it shaped like that to avoid being “just another road bike”?
“We like curvy tubes. We like slack top tubes. For this road build, we wanted to spice-up what we see as the norm (straight tubes, high stand-over) and roll with our standard s-bend down tube (which adds a rigid component to the front triangle), and our undersized (for lack of better words, and for better compliance on the bumps) seat stays that run into the top tube. There’s nothing fancy about the chain stays other than they were bent in-house (as are all our tubes). The 44mm head tube allows the customer to run just about any fork they want. The curved seat-tube is once again a standard for all of our builds, which derives from the increasing desire for short chain stays (mostly on mountain bike builds).”
I guess the answer isn’t entirely clear, but what I gleam from this is that it’s part “just for the hell of it”, and part “because we think it’s better this way”. Irrespective of why they do it, the fact is they do create a striking point of difference. Some people will hate them, and for the exact same reason that many people will love them. If they can justify those differences and those justifications help sell their bikes, good for them, but I’m not so sure they need any justification for trying something out of the ordinary.
One final example with regard to points of difference is the recent resurgence of aluminium.
Most bike companies seem to play down their aluminium offerings as a lesser value option – choosing, in some cases, to offer high spec aluminium bikes at a price point that is very different to what the same bike would cost if it were carbon. Others only offer aluminium as a range-starter. Either way, in doing so they lead the consumer to believe that the aluminium bike is of a lesser quality. Despite all of this, custom aluminium bikes from the likes of Rock Lobster, Gaulzetti and Zanconato are now growing in popularity. Speak to the owners of such bikes and they absolutely rave about them, to the point where some ride nothing else despite owning a number of higher end (and higher value) bikes.
The difference here is that these aluminium bikes – and particularly the more pricy custom examples – are going against the “carbon is best” grain of the marketing hype and proving to us that there is another option. There’s genuine benefits to riding aluminium, but because the marketeers want us to believe that all aluminium is harsh, uncomfortable, heavy and irreparable (ok, the last one is essentially true) it is disregarded by most as a viable option. The interesting thing is that a carbon frame is probably, usually, cheaper to produce, despite it’s higher retail price.
Back to that Parlee Altum – at first I kept looking at it thinking: “if only it didn’t have that top tube bump it’d be a good looking bike”. What I now realise is that without that top tube bump it would actually just be another bog standard double-diamond road bike. I’m not so sure the road bike market needs one of them, and on that basis alone I applaud Parlee for including the bump, regardless of whether or not it actually has a purpose. Besides which, I’ve grown to quite like it now…
‘Steve’s flat bar road’ by Ron English (photography: Tina Buescher)
Different is good and should be celebrated. In fact it’s actually a selling point for me – and yes, even if it is “just for the hell of it”.