Embracing Change

 Woodsy wins at the Vuelta

Woodsy wins at the Vuelta

Digital Transformation. I’m sure many have heard the term in the last year or 2. 10 years ago, it wasn’t on many organizations’ radar, let alone started to be implemented. But, what does digital transformation really mean? Ultimately, it’s about change in how we do things and how work is processed. Human nature’s first reaction is to resist change. “What I have is already working for me”, we might say. Or, “let someone else try it first” is a common response. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” gets used a lot, even if we don’t say it out loud.

Think about the cycling industry and some parallels to digital transformation. We’ve seen plenty of change…remember when everyone had a mountain bike with 26” wheels and 29” came out. What a crazy concept to have these huge hoops to roll around on. To boot, 27.5” came hard on the heels and it was confusing and maddening to some degree. How many tires and tubes was I going to need? Did it really make that much difference? Well, I think we can all agree that over the last few years 26” is all but obsolete, now only used for kids bikes and crazy downhillers! 29” and 27.5” wheel sizes are simply good choices to have depending on the type of riding that you do.

I even harken back to the first Cannondale aluminum road frames that had the huge, oversized downtube. No way that any pro team was going to use those behemoths and lo and behold the Italians, the most conservative of them all, were one of the first pro teams to start racing on them.

Electronic shifting has gone through its trials and errors. Mavic had actual production e-shifting in the early 90’s. It worked, sometimes. The die was cast and the battle was on. Shimano was certainly been at the forefront but SRAM and Campy have been equal or some might say better to the task as the years have quickly rolled by. Imagine in 1995 if I would have told you that you will be able to change a rear derailleur with a couple Allen keys and an app on a portable phone! Cable shifting certainly has its place but electronics on our bikes is here to stay as the technology has worked out the bugs and improved year on year.

Disc brakes, ahhh, disc brakes, those pesky discs. Working in the bike industry in the 90’s, I has discussions with product managers who were talking about disc brakes being a common spec on most mountain bikes, in the “near future”. We were just rolling out the latest version of canti brakes, which are essentially laughable now. Mountain biking embraced disc brakes whole heartedly and grudgingly, cyclo-cross has come on board as well. It just makes sense to have the brakes on a rotor, cutting through mud, rain and grime. Now we get to road and all the change resistors.  “Disc brakes are dangerous and heavy”, was the consensus of the dissenters. Certainly, early versions were a bit cumbersome but as the frame designers integrated the systems into their design, the added aesthetic and functionality of discs have become obvious.

Road racers still use tubular tires that are glued onto the rim. When a rim brake is applied, the friction of the brake pad can heat up the rim to the point that the tubular glue begins to melt and the tires starts to roll of the rim. It’s a moment in time that I will never forget. During a race in the Alps, on a technical descent, I suddenly started feeling a thump, thump, thump in my front wheel. Something was obviously wrong so I gently pull over to the shoulder and spun the front wheel. It had a huge bump in it. I reached down, released the quick release and grabbed the wheel by the rim to hold it in the air for my mechanic to see me. Just as quickly, I had to drop the wheel as I’d received first degree burns on my hand, through my glove. Needless to say, I was more careful with my brake application for the rest of my career.

Having now used disc brakes on a road bike on fast technical descents, I can only wish that I was a bike racer in today’s technically advanced world. With the tires now completely separate from the brakes, there is no concern about overheating the rim.

As we’ve just seen, the UCI, in their infinite wisdom, have finally approved disc brakes for full time use in road racing. It’s taken much too long in my opinion but change is inevitable and for the most part, good things come when humans test the boundaries of what’s possible.

Canadian professional cyclist, Michael Woods, could easily have said to himself that his career as an athlete was over when competitive running caused continuous injury. Instead, he embraced the opportunity to change and started bike racing. I’m sure he battled internal negative thoughts on his road to becoming a professional cyclist but the positive narrative obviously won out. Winning a stage of the 2018 Vuelta and 3rd at the World Professional Road Championships capped off an amazing season for him.

 So, the next time you hear the words “Digital Transformation”, pay attention to the first thoughts that creep into your head. If you are one that resists change, maybe think of an alternative narrative that can turn this on its head and keep the tire from rolling off your rims!

 Gluing tubulars on by myself was crucial to survival!

Gluing tubulars on by myself was crucial to survival!

Alex Stieda

Alex Stieda Cycling, West Edmonton, AB, T5R 3N3