EUSA SkiBike Meeting - Part 2, The Bad Bits

Posted: Monday, 11 January 2016 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , ,
6

At the start of part 1 I asked a few questions:

  • Is the sport producing mass produced bikes suitable and reliable enough to go into the future?
  • Will the bikes themselves be sassy enough to make the younger BMX rider or ageing rocker desire to give them a go?
  • Will we, as a sport, fit into the lift company’s slot of taking our money in exchange for a day’s lift pass and create no more cost to the lift company than that of a skier?


Will we, as a sport, fit into the lift company's slot? - source Thierry Avrillon

Sorry guys and girls, without pointing fingers at anyone manufacturer or group, sadly I feel we are failing in almost all of the above questions. It was very evident from the assembled skibikes on view and I include the majority of home builds in this as well, that we are really in first generation design mode, having not yet worked out the solution of design to fit harmoniously in with the skiers and lift systems as well as the basic needs of getting around the mountain.
As soon as you see skibike front skis being taken off to ensure the bike fits into a 6 man gondola you know there’s a problem. When you see 10 skibikers in a group taking up 10 gondolas in a row, then you know skiers will get fed up waiting and the lift company’s eyebrows being lifted. When you see standard bike frames labelled as a commercial skibike, then after all these years, why have we moved forward so little in our design thinking?

Why have we moved forward so little with our design thinking?

So why is this the case? Yes there are economics, the standard bike frame is made in huge numbers and skibikes are not, but unless we as a group come up with a solution that lets the ski lift company benefit from our presence ( by taking our hard earned cash for no more effort than a skier or boarder  ) then the sport is probably doomed to failure.
The current designs we have simply do not benefit the lift companies, but in most ways have a cost attached by increasing the man power required to get us to the top of the mountain. We will need to sharpen our design aims fairly quickly, or once numbers start building of bikes on the mountain, then be prepared to lose our right to be there, lift companies do not want extra hassle in increasing numbers. Certainly in my view, that scenario is rapidly approaching.

So why aren't the current designs morphing towards something better suited. From speaking to most of the designers and builders it would seem that two quite disparate historical design routes were taken. One from Skibob history, where contrary to North America, ski-bobbing in the 60’s was incredibly popular in Europe, these are highly tuned and engineered pieces of equipment that do a dedicated job, that of going about as fast as bullet being fired down the mountain doing the occasional turn. When the local champion ski bobber, talks of beating professional GS racers such as Hermann Maier by 1.5 seconds, down a GS course, then these things are exceptionally fast. So we see bikes such as the SledgeHammer with its leading edge forks and dedicated fine carving attributes.

SledgeHammer - fine carving attributes - source SledgeHammer

The other route is that of the Bull Skate and to a lesser extent, Lenz skibikes, where Snow Parks and jumping and tricks and all things exciting like flips are the design brief. Long travel to soak up the landings and quite heavy construction to take the impacts.

Yes these bikes do the things they are designed for, but how many people frequent only the Snow Parks and on an average can you carve down all the slopes, the answer is very few and no the majority time is spent sliding sideways on narrow paths and avoiding other skiers. I feel the manufacturers are missing the true large potential market, that of the average skier / skibiker who simply want to ride around the resort, this is the real market, not the niche Park skier or dedicated carver/racer.

So let’s look at a classic skibike that is changing and looking to the future. The Lenz Launch was the star of the manufacturer’s line ups for me,  if the high foot peg heights came down, put it on a diet, lose the long travel forks and suspension and lose the high price, then we might be just seeing a glimpse of the future. Lenz has been probably around as long as most and probably altered his designs year by year, the most,  you can see this is probably a bike that is slowly morphing by incremental design, to a point where it is starting to fit into its skiing and ski lift surroundings. I can remember the first Lenz designs that were big, bulky and had that real MotoX bike look, with its long seat. Look at the Lenz Launch now, much slimmer, much much smaller, tiny bike seat and starting to lose the long unnecessary suspension travel.

If the number of skibikers grow, we are going to have to change our designs

So here it is, the blunt truth guys and girls, if the number of skibikers continue to grow, we are going to have to change our designs to be able to participate in the lift system of the future. If we don’t then I think it’s probably not unreasonable of the lift companies to simply say no. We have to be able to load the bikes forward facing on chairlifts, either beside or as some do, between their legs. Already that is possible as with the three companions one skibike with, we load four riders onto a four man lift. We have to get a minimum of three riders and skibikes in a six man bubble gondola, get the design right and it is possible, again we load four bikes or two bikes and three skiers into one six man gondola. This is just simple good engineering design, it’s not difficult, but unless we get these key points right, then don’t expect to be welcomed by the ski companies, many of who are trying to cut manpower and costs back.

6 comments:

  1. Another great post.
    There is also the issue of perception by the ski lift operators. Ski biking in France recently I found many of the lifties automatically slowed the lift when they saw me. At the bottom and even more so at the top. I did not ask for or indeed need or want this. This is another sure fire way to annoy other mountain users. Having worked 2 seasons as a liftie I know bosses listen to liftie gossip, if they hear the lifts are constantly being slowed or stopped for skibikers it will not help the skibike cause.
    Though you did not go as deeply into the middle point of the three key challenges - it is an observation close to me. My Dad is indeed an ageing rocker. At 70 I am proud to say he absolutely shreds on a snowboard (which he took up at 55). His knees are in appalling condition and I know the boarding causes him high levels of pain (though he never complains). So he is a perfect skibike candidate… though it’s still going to take a fair bit of convincing to get him to try one.

  1. What an interesting, constructive, objective article and it confirms many of my own thoughts and experiences. I've watched and read with interest the "footskis" v "Pegger" debate and the two different styles that fall under these banners, more commonly known as Skibobs and Skibikes. Going back 15 years when I first discovered the Brenter (Skibob) models, we seemed to be the only ones out there shouting from the rooftops that there really was an alternative to skiing and snowboarding! But as Wayne so eloquently points out, it’s not going to be any easy ride for everyone.

    Re: Point 3 - Whilst in Austria our skibob style bikes are allowed everywhere on anything (and it now seems that the resistant Italians have finally accepted them too) mainly due to heavy marketing by Brenter, rental stations at major resorts, wearing footskis and an open-minded attitude to “adaptive” type products for the less abled, the general skiing public are not so all-embracing!

    We are obliged to sit at the ends of chair lift seats as the bikes length from tip to tail means that we take up less room if the tails extend out past the chair end. The design is such that the bike has to be lifted and placed across the knees. Up to that point all is the same as being a skier, the bike is narrow enough to be stood at the side of you as you pass through the last swing-arm gates (and the bike acts as useful crutch when the moving floor propels you forward then stops abruptly!) and they nice and light to lift. The issue is that on a 6 seater chair, we obviously have to share the space with other passengers and they have little understanding of the fact that the security bar cannot be fully lowered for them to use the footrests, because this would force the bikes into our thighs. They are not happy about this, feeling they have been short-changed an opportunity to rest their legs! We have tried to deter others accompanying us, but as usual, the panic to get back up the mountain as fast as possible means there is little chance of them waiting 10 seconds for the next chair and I do understand that it’s unreasonable to expect a piece of machinery designed for the uptake of 6, to be occupied by only 2, especially when it’s high season and there are queues!

    Small gondolas that usually carry 8 or 10 people: Here we score quite well with the Brenters. On the newer models the front ski moves backwards (disengaging from the bottom of front fork) almost halving the overall length, this means we can stand the bikes upwards their tails and have them in front of our knees on the benches, taking up very little space. We make sure we are first on to get them in postion, so last off. We have had instances where the space is limited and skiers having already put their skis in the outside holders, then discover there is no room for them inside the cabin, panic ensues in case their skis then go off up the mountain without them but we cannot account for those that don’t pop their head in the cabin first to see if there any seats free!

    To summarise, I think Brenter and their team have tried their best to make the transport of their Skibobs as practical as possible, causing as little disruption to other lift users as possible, but in doing so I have to accept that design compromises have been made to achieve this. They are no competition for the Stalmach range of Skibobs, that are the Ferrari’s of the skibob world, but again, even on these, the skis have quick release fittings for easy lift transportation (but they are heavier and more cumbersome). These manufacturers have proven that it can be done; perhaps there has to be an acceptance in the Skibike world that performance compromises may need to be made, to facilitate acceptance and access to the uplift systems. After all, there is no point in having a high specification Skibike if you can’t get it up the mountains!

  1. Thanks Sharon, that's some great feedback. In case you haven't seen it before there's a neat little video by Richard Platt which demonstrates how a skibob can be safely carried on the outside seat of a chairlift and not cause the problems you have described with the safety bar and crushed legs.
    I have adopted this method for my style of skibike, I just don't have the luxury of gliding off the chair so fluidly. In France you would have a leash to prevent any possibility of dropping the skibob or skibike off the chairlift. The type designed for kayaking are popular and inexpensive.
    Video link = https://youtu.be/1spLlefjS3w

  1. Sharon, you valiantly try to condone the fact that you take additional space up on ski lifts and that other users are unable to close the safety bar let alone the plexiglass cover that protect the other users from the elements.

    Yes back in 1990 you may have been able to say that was OK, but in 2016 with increasingly costly lift passes, the other users expectations for their lift pass, is to use the lifts unhindered.

    We also face the increasingly common fact that on almost all new lifts, unless the safety bar can be locked down, the lift safety system wil prevent the departure of the chair, I presume that was due to the 2 young girls who slipped to their deaths last year from the Italian lift, due to them not lowering the safety bar correctly.

    So as much as I sympathise with your statement, Skibobs are just as much of a future problem as skibikes and unless we address those issues, then it is only a matter of time before we are limited to gondolas or more likely prevented from accessing the mountains.

  1. Thanks Mark, yes I've seen that YouTube demo and many more like it just to make sure we are using the best method and that is exactly how we do it, but we have not come across a chair lift like that in many years, the modern ones have a more sophisticated safety bar, that comes right down on your knees. Some videos show you taking your hands off the bike and swapping them to holding the bike from over the safety bar, then having to switch your hands back to holding underneath when the bar is about to be lifted. This I think is dangerous as you cannot determine when others on the chair lift might decide the lift the bar. We wait to the death, others like to lift it long before you should. And swapping the hands around that are holding the bike mid air would terrify me, even with a leash! The video clearly demonstrates the issue with the front ski encroaching on the adjacent seat/leg space and I can't see a way round this with this design Skibob.

  1. Wayne - I don't particularly condone it, I can't see a way round it. But I disagree with your predictions. As Austrian resorts actively promote the use of Snowbikes, which now appear on their tourist websites as an alternative adaptive method of using the mountains and more and more hire stations are setting up, they are not going to be banned anytime soon! On the contrary, there has been a recent explosion in the use of them. We used to be a rare sight and hire stations few and far between, now there are in most major resorts and lessons are going on everyday, with groups of 20 at a time. We have to reserve our hire bikes months in advance of the holiday because there is such a high demand. Italy that had always banned them, has now opened the doors to them and is actively promoting them. We will just have to keep muddling along as best we can, just like skiers had to when snowboarders first arrived on the scene and were frowned upon as they shuffled along awkwardly and caused pile ups when they disembarked!