I hope everyone who rides seriously has read the VeloNews report of a failed Mavic R-SYS front wheel by now. It's getting some blogosphere traction, and with good reason -- an exploding front wheel that allows your fork to drop on your front tire at full speed isn't exactly confidence-inspiring. To paraphrase an engineer-biker pal, you don't mess around with the parts that keep your teeth off the pavement.
Now I have a hard time slamming Mavic with all the blame here. The rider in question was a self-professed 190-pounder. Sure, Mavic didn't put a rider weight limit on the wheel in question, and 190 isn't exactly tubby by normal American guy standards, but dude, c'mon. If I took some reading material into the bathroom, we'd be able to wrestle in the same weight class when I came out. We're the guys that rim manufacturers are thinking of when they Swiss-cheese their hoops with 32 (or even -- dare I say it? -- 36) holes. Are you really getting that much of an edge pushing into a corner on a glued-together pile of carbon splinters most likely designed for somebody who weighs as much as my right leg (which is the one with the titanium upgrade)? Find a good wheelbuilder, buy some nice Ultegra hubs, have them laced to a couple Mavic Open Pros with a thick handful of shiny steel butted spokes, and go ride. If you get dropped, pedal faster.
Where I do blame Mavic is in the cleanup. For a company with so many marketers, their public relations are imploding like... well, an R-SYS wheel under my fat arse. Let's review: The wheels were released to the public once. They started failing. Mavic did a recall and redesigned the wheels. Then this issue popped up. And, instead of saying, "Oops, we did it again," Mavic is backpedaling like a brakeless fixie rider in traffic. The response seems to be, "Wait, you put these wheels on a bicycle and rode it? Well, there's your problem right there."
For a case study in how to do this right, think back to the Kryptonite Lock Debacle of a few years ago. Don't remember the Kryptonite Lock Debacle? That's why it's an example of PR done well. Here's a review: Someone figured out that you could jimmy the cylindrical lock core of a Kryptonite by jamming the end of a Bic pen into it and wiggling. That somebody took a video of himself doing just that, dropped the video into the magic tubes of the Interwebs, and it went absolutely viral among bike nerds. People were freaking out. I immediately went to the hardware store, bought a chunk of the heaviest chain they had, dropped that into a piece of old innertube, added a flat-keyed disc padlock, and consigned my Krypto to paperweight status.
So what did Kryptonite do? Add some fine print to the packaging that said, "Not for use around writing utensils"? Nope. They said, "Our brand identity is unbreakable locks. We either fix this or we die." And they immediately issued a recall of all the affected locks -- basically everything they'd sold since the dawn of time. My paperweight U was a good ten years old at that point, its receipt long gone, and when I sent it in, they sent me a brand-spankin' new one with an un-Bic-pickable flat key in a matter of days. I'm still using that lock today, I'll keep using it, and when I stop using it, I'll probably replace it with another Kryptonite. Brand identity saved, customer loyalty preserved. It probably cost a LOT, but what's a reputation worth?
So, Mavic: Your reputation is dependable wheels, and most of your hoops live up to that. You stepped out too far on the bleeding edge with the R-SYS, and the crunch of carbon spokes was the sound of that edge giving way. Take a couple steps back, stop blaming your customers, fix this the right way, and save yourselves. You don't want to be the Lambert/Viscount Death Fork of the 21st century.