What makes SRAM Zef? Maybe it’s due to the audacity of marketing a functionally identical shifting system differentiated primarily by weight across three gruppos. Or maybe it’s Zef because SRAM comes to the game wholly without road racing heritage or the baggage that comes with it. Or maybe it’s because even though the stuff has its weaknesses, SRAM’s customer service is so dang good that it will only be a matter of days before your busted parts are replaced with shiny new ones.
Apex. APEX. APEX. APEX. Apex.
Here in Tativille, we’ve spent a lot of time with the least expensive SRAM road gruppo: Apex. It doesn’t get a lot of air time, Apex. Pros don’t use Apex. Shop owners don’t use Apex. Heck, even most weekend warriors don’t use Apex. Very few bikes are spec’d with Apex as standard equipment. And you know, all that is a big fat shame - because 2013 SRAM Apex reminds me a lot of Shimano’s Ultegra lineup in the 90s, or their 105 gruppo today. Yes, it’s a little heavier than its spendier cousins. Yes, it lacks fancy carbon fiber bits. But we all know that the genius of SRAM road kit is in the fundamental Doubletap design: it’s hella simple, hella fast, and hella cool. And Apex shifts just as well as its brethren. It’s very racer-friendly stuff. And it breaks less often than Rival and Force, so there’s that.
The thing is, we’ve crossed a threshold in the performance bicycle world. I don’t really know when it happened, but it’s happened. Folks today simply don’t expect components (or frames!) to last as long as they once did. We’ve pretty much accepted planned obsolescence and rapid replacement cycles. This is especially true in the amateur racing world, where it’s become conventional wisdom that (if not Cat 5) Cat 4 racers need a 17 pound, $3,000 “starter” road bike… which doesn’t even get us to the question of 1,200g carbon wheels, which of course are standard issue across Chicagoland these days.
This kinda sucks. It sucks because it creates the false impression that bicycle racing need be a rich man’s sport. It sucks because it causes poverty-stricken racers to work more and train less in order to save their shekels for stupid stuff. It sucks because after their have saved up for a couple years, and get that fancy carbon rig and inevitably crash and crack it, they’re forced to stop racing altogether. It sucks just because it sucks.
Show Me the Money
But let’s be real. $3,000 is a lot of money. But so is $2,000. And so is $1,000. And we all know that you can train and race and win on a used $500 rig purchased on craigslist. And then there are race fees! Licenses! Kits! And all the other things novice racers will eventually bust over the course of a season. Even Zef idealists aren’t going to change the fundamental economics of bike racing.
Furthermore, it’s not like there aren’t options out there. Bike shops like to pretend that the internet doesn’t exist, but the fact of the matter is that you can easily purchase the equivalent to pretty much any given big brand road bike for 40% less on the web. And that, my friends, is below wholesale. So if you’re poor and smart, but still want something new and shiny, and aren’t really sensitive to being needled for being “that guy,” then you’ve probably already checked out the Velovies, the Bikesdirects, the Pedalforces of the world. This is a growing trend, and it’s not going away. So that’s kind of the context to this project.
We accept, then, that the entire sector has pretty much commoditised and kind of collapsed in on itself. This isn’t to say that the LBS is dead, not at all! Trek, Specialized, Giant, and the rest… continue to battle it out and offer novel and interesting “price point” bikes. And you know, a lot of them are actually pretty good! You’ll pay a little more, but bikes like the Allez, the CAAD series, and their ilk… all nice bikes. Nice bikes that you’ll probably end up upgrading or tweaking over time because, well, the reason they’re price point is that product managers somewhere holed up with their spreadsheets have, many months ago, squeezed every last cent out of the spec. And so you’ll kind of get what you get - even things like bars, stems, handlebar tape, saddles… super personal components that make almost no sense to standardize… are standardized for the sake of efficiency and frugality. And let’s not even talk about wheels and tires. That’s just a dark, dark topic when you’re considering entry level road bikes.
So What’s Zef?
What’s Zef is racing on stuff that won’t easily break, but when and if it does, it’s easy and affordable to replace. Zef means having a super sick looking bike even if it costs a fraction of the rigs the pros ride. Zef means slammed stems, Concor Light saddles, and handbuilt wheels. And tubulars. TUBULARS. Tubulars. Zef means tubulars.
It’s not about the bike. It’s about the engine. True. But if we are going to talk about the bike, it’s not the bike. It’s certainly not the frame. It’s not the components. It’s the wheels. It’s the tires. It’s the wheels and tires and their grip, lateral stiffness, rotational weight, and stability. It’s the wheels, and not the rest of the bike, that will determine whether or not you can carve a corner at 55km/hr. It’s the wheels, and not the rest of the bike, that will spin up in time for that final 80 meter sprint. It’s the wheels that you’ll cherish. It’s the wheels that you’ll fantasize about. It’s the wheels that others will envy.
I asked around a lot. I’ve asked around for several years now about something like this. And over at Tativille, the Hulot project came to be about two years ago. Hulot is pretty rad, and maybe a little precious. Hulot is for the person who reeeeeeaaaalllllly wants to be involved in the design process of their bike, but lacks the funds to buy a Calfee or a Parlee or whatever. That’s super cool, but that’s not Zef. Zef is gloss black decals on matte black powder coat. Zef is big ass round aluminum tubes, stiff carbon forks, and 130mm stems. Zef is unbranded. Or sotto voce branded. Zef is a super affordable legit racing bike with handbuilt wheels worth more than the gruppo. Zef is a super affordable legit racing bike that will save you enough clams to still watch the overpriced tickets to Die Antwoord the next time they’re in town. Aaaaaaaaand race a crit the next day.
Zef is 1,300g wheels on a $1,200 bike.
Zef is coming. Zef is coming March 1, 2013.
- Murdered out matte black colorway ONLY. Minimalist gloss black decals over matte black powder coat.
- Race geometry aluminum frameset
- Full carbon fork
- SRAM Apex gruppo
- Custom Handbuilt Wheelhau5 wheels. LIfetime guarantee. Starting at 1,300g.
- Tubulars are stock. Clinchers are $50 extra.
- Full dynamic fit by TATI Cycles
- Seatpost setback, stem length and angle, bar width/reach/drop all custom.
- No pedals, saddle, tires, or tape.