D. and I had a man-date Friday to go and check out Predator Cycles on Abbot Kinney in Venice. I had spent the last few days compiling my tri bike maker list and had been turned on to some custom bike makers around town. I heard of Predator from Coach Brian, who was out on an 112 mile Ironman training ride last Saturday and on his second loop ran into a pack of guys riding Predators. He asked them about the bikes and they said that Predator did a whole computer diagnostic thing to custom make a bike to that rider’s power output. He asked them how much it cost, “they just laughed”. When he told me this I had to go – pseudoscience AND astronomic pricing? Show me the way!
For those not familiar with Venice, it is a collision of old beach culture appropriated by the exceedingly rich. Old HUD housing turned crack house is nestled next door to Frank Gehry’s house/compound. House after house alternates between gang-infested drug and murder den, beach bums with little to no gardening or house updating skills, and multi million dollar ultra modern houses featured in Dwell Magazine. Abbot Kinney is a stretch of commerce that caters to this eclectic blend of debris. Predator Cycles is set up in a postage stamp house recessed from the main street. Their shop is pleasant, but there’s not much there to browse. Their web site is underwhelming and doesn’t reveal much unless you’re looking for keywords like “custom”, “speed”, and “computrainer”. Also, Nate Loyal is my bike fitter and he led their aero camp, so I saw a name I already trusted. I arrived early and talked with one of the guys working the front desk. We talked about comic books and movies of comic books and that he was going to do his first Ironman next year in Kentucky. The other guy in the shop was going to show me the works, but I told him that I wanted him to wait for my friend so he wouldn’t have to do the sales pitch twice. This was for my benefit. I despise hearing repeat information, which plagues my screenwriting. People need plot points telegraphed a few ways (often action reinforced by dialogue) and this sort of dumbing down makes me crazy. In a sales situation I want to chew brass hearing the same thing twice.
D. arrived shortly into an embarrassing conversation where I was talking about the people I’d like to see killed. While D. believes it’s good to have a nemesis, one should be friends with them in secret like Ali and Frazier. I have a nemesis, an anti-Max screenwriter that I believe has done incredible damage to the movie industry by writing idiotic drivel and taking some of my few beloved pop characters and destroying them. I figured I could talk this kind of crazy in a bike shop called Predator. I was right.
Aram is the owner and he showed us the works. The shop is spartan. They stock a few replacement tires, CO2 cartridges, and other staples. There isn’t a wall of different aero bars to fondle, or a dozen seats to choose, or a big, sponsored clothing rack with Kermit the frog jerseys. This is because what Aram does is take a rider and put them on a Calfee bike measurement platform. This mechanical horse contraption allows a complete biomechanical measurement of a rider’s optimum position to get maximum power transferred to the cranks and subsequently the back wheel. He puts the rider in this geometry onto a computer system that measures wattage output and torque transfer, making adjustments to the geometry until the perfect setup is found that meets the rider’s performance objective. Once he gets a complete set of measurements dialed in, he determines what set of gearing and components will work in harmony with the bike geometry to achieve pure performance. This comes with a price tag, based on what components are chosen, upgraded, or downgraded. Options such as internal cable routing, brakes hidden behind the frame for aerodynamics, and so on are all available. If you want to get your dream machine built, they take a 50% deposit based on the overall cost and then Aram goes and builds the bike. Manufacturing is done at any of 15 local businesses for fabrication, coating, welding, etc. Once the bike is built the rider comes back to the shop and another process gets underway of making the minute adjustments to make the bike perfect. Predator bikes are built for a single purpose: speed. The entire process is designed to find the way to make the fastest bike possible for your body. Comfort is in there, but for most racers comfort takes second place to speed.
There was a one built bike in the shop waiting for pickup and it had a ridiculously steep seatpost height, and low reach aero bars. This was a pure time trial bike. Too aggressive a pose for any triathlete to sustain for long periods without completely frying the legs. D. asked to be shown the most pimped out bike they’d built, and Aram pulled up a model he built for a teenage cyclist who was going pro and had essentially unlimited funds. It was a gorgeous bike. His real beauty is one built for a local team that prides itself on an aggressive branding attitude. This bike also was a work of art in black matte finish. Hed aero bars and tri spoke clinchers, an aggressive seat position and long reach on the bars. The bike screamed mean. At one point, talking about his brand identity and attitude, Aram said, “we’re called Predator bikes for a reason”.
It’s not the bike itself that I find dead sexy, it’s the idea behind the bike. (Though I can quickly envision one looking like a Batmobile.) If Aram is true to his word, and the science is there, a custom aluminum bike will yield a better performance than an off the shelf carbon fiber package. The carbon fiber package, no matter how kitted out, still shoehorns a rider onto a mass produced frame. Trek says that the bike you can buy in the store is the same bike that Lance rode in the Tour. Does that mean you can ride like Lance? Aram also said something I found revealing. He builds bikes for teams that are sponsored by major brands, and then paints and stickers the Predator frame with the sponsor’s markings. They have a huge box of stickers for the major bike makers so that pro and sponsored athletes can remain loyal to their contractual obligations but still ride a custom bike that gives them an advantage. This is scandalous, and underscores how sponsorship of athletes is not about gaining a competitive edge, it’s about brand image.
Aram believes that his bikes are targeted at the beginner all the way through the elite pro. The beginner gets a great bike that gives them an immediate advantage, and the pro gets a bike that might give them a slight edge over a competitor riding a stock frame; even a $10,000 stock bike from Specialized or Trek. Most shocking of all is that Predator’s bikes are not $10,000. They can be, depending on what components you want on them. One of the bikes e had built was pretty north of $10K. But partly because you can drop $2,000 alone on a good set of race wheels. However, when we talked brass tacks, Predator prices are much less than I expected for a complete, custom bike.
As for me, I think I will get the $150 fit session to find out how much a fully custom built tri bike from Predator will cost. I have my fit dimensions from my bike fitter, but this is a different process. I want the education, I want the hand-holding, and I want to see what kind of kit I’d ride. Mostly, I want to experience the process and groove on the bike porn.