Thursday, 13 December 2012

Meeting the Wizard and Peeking Behind the Curtain: My day with 3T Cycling

I've spoken in the past about my love of all things 3T Cycling – the bar, stem and fork specialists based out of Brembate, Italy. I have used their bars for as long as I can remember. They are now my bar and stem provider for all my bikes: road, track and time trial. I've used their aero bars en route to both my World CHampionship titles and couldn't dream of using anything else. (See my review of their Brezza Nano Aero bar here.)

Recently 3T has branched out and has dipped their toe into the deep section carbon wheel market also. I've had a chance to use their Mercurio 80 wheels and can report they offer a superb aero ride on par with some of the best names in the business. I'm looking forward to the release of their 40mm carbon clincher wheelset next year – which should offer a great option for longer racing or training trips where I don't want to use my tubular Zipp wheels. And lastly, 3T are responsible for creating the rather unique aerobar designed specifically for use on Cervelo's P5 time trial bike, which coincidentally I will be riding next year! In short, 3T is all about speed and aerodynamics.

After the Paralympics I needed a break. I mean I REALLY needed a break. I hadn't had any time off worth mentioning in almost 3 years. And if I was going to try and refocus and dedicate myself to another 4 years of racing and have a go at making it to Rio, I needed some time away from the bike to clear my head and let the body recover. So, along with my girlfriend, we hopped on a plane for 3 weeks to visit Italy. Although I've been there a few times, it's usually been for racing and haven't had time to enjoy myself.

Checking out bars
It made sense that I should go and visit the 3T offices, especially as I was virtually passing by their location on my travels. I had spent so much time trading emails with people there and as a huge fan of their products, I couldn't resist the chance to go and see where the magic happens. Unfortunately there was a bit of bad timing to my visit, and the president and my main contact person were both away in Hawaii for the Ironman World Championships. Nevertheless, Rene (the president) made sure that I would be welcomed warmly.

I was greeted at the offices by Claudio Santi, 3Ts Worldwide Sales Manager. The offices once belonged to an architect's firm and are stylishly modern and open. Spread out over several floors, there are meeting rooms (galore), offices for sales staff, a basement full of product and a design centre where their small team of designers work on computers trying to come up with the 3T products of the future.

Claudio showed us around the entire office and introduced us to all the staff. We were able to sit and speak in great length about the history of the company, it's products, the way products are designed, produced, sold, and so on. For the layperson it probably wouldn't be all that interesting – but for a bike geek like myself it was heaven.

Richard and I discussing bar widths
We were also introduced to the head designer, Richard McAinsh. Richard is a Brit that now makes his home in Italy. His background before going to work for 3T was working as a designer for Ferrai's F1 cars. Richard, despite his self-confessed lack of a bike of his own, knows carbon fibre and he knows how to make it go fast.

Richard had just come back to the offices with some new 3-D prototypes of some new bars they are working on. Basically (and I hope I get this right), they design products on computer with CAD software and then are able to have 3-D protoypes 'plotted' (or cut) from a solid block of plastic. They can then take the plastic prototypes back to the office to attach to test bikes (on a turbo) for fine tuning. They aren't road-worthy by any means, but it's a fascinating way to see what products will look and feel like in real life before going to final production.

Myself, Richard & Claudio talking about the design process
I was fortunate to get a glimpse of some of the new products they have in the pipeline (some good stuff coming) and satisfy my inner geek by getting an eyeful of the design process. Richard also sat with me and spent a great deal of time talking about their design philosophy and the way products come to life.

The conversation continued over an authentic Italian meal where Claudio and Richard continued to indulge me and allowed me to pick their brains. I knew very well that your average member of the cycling community doesn't get the red carpet treatment from a company like 3T, but I could tell they were genuinely proud to have me there and their continued support of my efforts to win more World titles (and hopefully that elusive Paralympic medal) shows their forward-thinking. Not many companies with their reputation (they are the official supplier to the Garmin-Sharp Pro Cycling Team) would give someone like myself the time of day, let alone give me their ENTIRE day! 
Presenting a jersey to the 3T designers

Before leaving I had the honour of presenting them with a signed World Champs jersey (which proudly bears the 3T logo on the front) for their offices. I'm hoping it ends up framed and placed on the walls next to the signed World's jersey of Thor Hushovd!

In short, it is a day that I shall remember forever. It was one of those rare moments where I actually felt like a World Champion and was given ultimate respect for my endeavours. It is why I am proud to be a 3T athlete and why I choose to you their products. I hope they realize what an impact they made on me that day! (They will after reading this...)