Friday
Feb282014

Gratuitous Color Friday

Pink looks nice.  Note that this hub is for Campagnolo, hence no spacer.  You can use this on 9, 10, and 11 speed Campagnolo.

The classic red hub.  This is for Shimano/SRAM - note the spacer.  This hub can be used for S/S 8, 9, and 10 with the spacer, and 11 speed without it.  The rubber band is just to keep the spacer on during handling and shipment - always remove it. 

We include spacers with every 11 speed S/S hub we sell.  If you have a Shimano cassette that comes with a spacer, consider that spacer to be a part of the cassette no matter which hub you are using.  Always use it. 

 

Thursday
Feb272014

Running 10 Speed on 11 Speed Hubs

We get a (to me) surprising number of emails questioning whether you can use an 11 speed hub with a 10 speed drivetrain.  The answer is yes, I've done it every time I've used my road bike for about a year now.  Let me illustrate with a picture I stole from the internet:

 

The keen-eyed observer will note a thin (1.8mm thick, to be exact) spacer ring on the inboard end of this cassette body.  If you are using this 11 speed hub with a 10 speed drivetrain, keep that spacer on when you install your cassette.  No re-dishing of the wheel is necessary.  No adjustment of the rear derailleur beyond what you might expect when going from hub to hub (i.e. may be a click or three on the barrel adjuster) is necessary. 

If you are using an 11 speed drivetrain with this hub, simply remove the washer before you install your cassette. 

As G-Love said, yeah, it's that easy

Wednesday
Feb262014

The Problems With Sponsorship

This isn't about our sponsorship.  We don't do it for a bunch of reasons, one of which I'll discuss below.

I've been a fan of the "new school" of drink mixes.  They just plain work well for me, in that I drink more and get stomach aches less while riding.  The problem with them is doping.  What?  Yup, doping.  You see, the face of Brand S was sort of the face of what happens behind the scenes in doping for a long time.  I can appreciate that the guy faced a somewhat immovable object in endemic doping as he developed his career, but that doesn't make it all go away.  There's at least a very heavy tinge, and as someone (perhaps Mr Brand S himself) said, the prevalence of doping throughout the recent era very heavily marginalized any learning that was done about the training of non-doped athletes.  Basically, when you talk about training top-level elite cyclists and training, none of what was learned is directly applicable because doping turned people into machines who could go hard all the time.  I remember talking to a friend while he was doing a workout prescribed to him by his then-coach (Pete Cannell), who turned out to be a big doper.  Said friend (I would sooner suspect my mother of cheating at her floral design contests than said friend of doping) was clearly brutalized by the workouts, just his decription of them made me want to hurl.  He's way better than me, so I kind of said "well, that's what it takes to be a 1" and left it there.  On hindsight, I wonder if said friend didn't actually have way more potential that was being quashed by workouts only a doper could survive.

So Brand O made it easy, since their products work just as well for me, and have nice flavors.  Then I learn that they're partnering with CTS.  Are you freaking kidding me.  As I said in the email I sent to them (something I never do - my brother is the big "I'm going to write a letter!" guy), they have a bunch of coaches who I'm sure are good and clean and doing good work (although I can't understand how any of said coaches can continue to be associated with CTS), but that's a fish whose head stinks so badly there's no way any of it can taste good to me.  I got a nice, very prompt, response, saying that their partnership was founded on CTS' committment to science, glossing completely over the evidence that Mr C himself is about as rotten as they come. Finally, I was told that the brand I'd be switching to, Nuun, might actually be harmful and I should read their most recent blog post to find out more.  For the record, I haven't and won't read said blog post. 

I'd rather fill my bottles with cat piss (and Mike's got plenty of cats to supply same) than use a product that, knowing what's now known, chooses to associate with these people.  It just doesn't make sense.  If Mr Brand S was reluctantly riding in the back seat of the car, Mr C was driving it, honking the horm, screaming out the window about how cool the car is.  CoolCar(tm). 

It's pretty hard to avoid products that benefitted from and were complicit with doping.  I have a pair of Oakleys that I guess I should burn, and some Nike gym shorts that ought to go out too I guess.  The particular galling thing about Brand O is that they could have been COMPLETELY CLEAN, so easily.  There are SO MANY red flags around CTS, how they could choose that association is beyond me. 

 

Tuesday
Feb182014

This Year's Model

Hat tip to Elvis Costello, from whose second album (which includes such staples of my itinerary as "Pump It Up" and "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea") I have inelegantly ripped off today's title.  As difficult as it is to come up with blog titles all the time, and I'll admit I pulled this one sort of out of thin air, it did work out rather handily that the substance of this post is the Rail 34, our second Rail album as it were.

Mike's last post talked about the creative brief for our advertising (in a blog he titled "The Creative Brief for our Advertising" - who's the creative genius, again?).  This is about the design brief for the 34.  Why did we make a 34? 

In our old wheel line, the 38 was the head and shoulders volume leader. Without canvassing each and every person out there about why they chose 34s over other wheels, we kind of know.  People like light, snappy wheels, and a lot of people are resistant to "deep" rims.  Whether it's for real or perceived cross wind troubles, or just not wanting to be "that guy" with deep wheels all the time, people like the whole program of mid-depth wheels.  When we came out with the 52, THE VERY FIRST question we got asked was "when will you make the shallower one?"  Retrospectively, that answer was "Winter of 2014."  Oddly enough, the question of when we'd make a deeper rim soon followed that.  If 100 people initially asked about a shallow Rail, a very small handful of people asked about a deeper Rail.  And we still don't plan to make one, and we're sorry about the guy we lost as a customer for not having made the wheel he wanted us to make but we can't be all things to everyone.

For way further back than when Mike wrote this blog about road feel, we've been fans of the concept.  Basically, the minute that Mike tested his first set of wide-rimmed wheels, he was sold and our move to all wide rims was afoot. Now we're starting to see the actual "road feel" nomenclature spring up in a lot more places and become part of the vocabulary.  The 52 has exceptional road feel, and believe it or not has WAY more crosswind stability than our old 38s (a lot of 38 customers bought Rail 52s, and this feedback has been universal), but we still wanted to bring the road feel and stability of the 52 to a shallower wheel.

One thing we didn't want to do was create a high redundancy area, where the differences between the 52 and its shallower sibling were splitting hairs.  A huge number of people wanted a Rail that was useful for mixed surface (if the phrase "gravel grinder" didn't nauseate me I would have used it there) riding and races, and for disc brakes, and for cyclocross, and for general every day ever ride use.  The 34mm depth was basically as shallow as we could keep the integrity of the Rail design philosophy, and about as deep as we could make it to optimize all the other factors. I've ridden them in very very windy conditions on this loop in Newport, RI, where you might as well be on the ocean, and they're simply invisible to cross winds. 

Many of you have been waiting for me to talk about weight, and that was one of the first questions we got when we announced the 34.  Pre-production rim weights are in the 440-450g range, which is simply what they need to be in order to do what they need to do.  Wider rim designs need more structure to maintain their shape under spoke pressure, but I'd struggle to call 34s heavy by any metric.  The thing on that is that they're durable as get out, we fully back them for 'cross and unpaved use (you can still damage them in those uses, but what damages a 34 would likely obliterate an alloy rim or a carbon rim with a lesser constitution), and they are STIFF.  Depending on which hubs you use, you can get them under 1400g for a set, and that's pretty freaking light.

We used to call the 38s a "Swiss Army Knife" set of wheels, and we now bestow that on the 34s.  They do everything well.  Plus they look dead sexy. 

Thursday
Feb132014

The Creative Brief for our Advertising

For a long time we took a hard stance against advertising, on the grounds that incremental marketing expenses would chew through our capital and require (and allow) us to raise prices. We launched with a mission of organizing our entire operations around streamlining expenses so we could keep our prices as low as possible. That, coupled with a candid approach (executed largely though this blog) would help tell our story better than ads. And it's been successful. Most of our exposure has been a result of our word-of-mouth friendly approach, which causes quite a few people who do find us to point their friends and teammates this way.

We still have the same desire to stay small, so aren't interested in ramping up marketing in order to scale or take the business to some mythical next level. But since we launched in 2010, a few things have changed. First, the number of pop-up bicycle brands has multiplied, many making similar product and pricing claims to ours. This makes differentiation more challenging, as we didn't stand alone either on price or product. And even if these pop-ups (I can use that phrase since we were one ourselves) churn pretty quickly, they're replaced each year by a new venture, keeping the market nice and crowded. The other change that's occurred since 2010 is the increasing visibility of direct-from-China as an option for bikes and wheels, putting a lot of price pressure on anyone in the market who chose to acknowledge the swelling demand for $500 carbon frames and wheels as a threat. We did, and we still do, so we made some changes.

Chief among them, as you may have guessed, was the Rail 52 - designed in-house, developed expressly by us, validated in the wind tunnel and brought to market. All in plain sight, in real time, right here on the blog. We elected to do it that way because we knew a lot of people would be skeptical if we kept the whole operation under wraps until suddenly one day - poof! - a proprietary design that competes with the best on the market, from this value-priced open mold outfit. Our objective was not expressly to sell more wheels, but to increase the legitimacy of our brand so we could compete better with established brands and avoid being lumped in with the pop-ups and Alibaba. To achieve this objective, the process was as important as the product. 

That same motivation is why we've begun advertising - not to sell more wheels (I've worked at the Interactive Advertising Bureau and have consulted with many online advertising companies and can assure to you that running online ads is no way to sell more product), but to help tell that story of legitimacy. The ads pictured here are now running on CyclingTips, and will start running on some other cycling sites soon. 

We used a creative brief to tune the message. "When fast matters most" is siimple, but also aims squarely at our objective. I'll take you through the brief to see how we got there.

The first thing we did was identify the Highest Hurdle to Clear. More than just the challenge we face, it's the heart of the heart of the problem. Finding it requires acting like a 4-year-old. "Our greatest challenge is that people are comparing us to China direct at half our price." Why? "This makes them not see real value from our product." Why? "Lumping us with unbranded doesn't elevate unbranded, it erodes our position." Why? "Instead of taking a chance with the whole unbranded / off-brand / underbranded category, they feel safer with brands sold through their LBS." Why?

We kept going down that road and ultimately realized that the greatest challenge has to do with a product's price being a shortcut to perceived quality. The more something costs, the more people think it's worth. We are less expensive not because our product costs less to make, but because it costs less to sell. Still, we suffer in the market expressly because of our value-oriented operation and positioning. Ironic, no?

The second step in the creative brief is to identify the Market White Space - some need that our customers have that isn't met currently. This step was a little easier, and less annoying. Pretty quickly we alighted on a key insight related to what we found in the Highest Hurdle step. People really dont like to pay a lot. Instead, they want to pay a little for something that costs a lot. What percentage of $2800 Zipps and HEDs and Mavics do you think have actually been bought at full retail? How many of the sets you see at the business park crit or the coffee shop ride have been obtained through some sort of a team deal? You can't know, but you do know that that guy is sporting some fine ass 3 bills wheels. And that guy is more often than not happy to let you believe he dropped that kind of bank to be (ok, look) so fast.

So yeah, ego is involved in the purchases road cyclists make. That may sound more self-evident than insightful but it really influenced our understanding of the challenges we face. Cyclists want to have nice stuff - both to give them confidence in the purchases they've made and also because the equipment we use (and display) defines who we are as cyclists. It's simply more gratifying to have a set of wheels that people think costs $3K than it is to have a set that ostensibly costs less, and have to apologize for them in some way. So the unmet need we identified is that it needs to be somehow acceptable to have cycling gear that costs less, for reasons aside from the fact that it costs less. In this industry, you can't win on "because they're cheap." But maybe you can win on "They're good. (Oh, and also they cost less.)" There's more detail on that thought on the blog here. Wouldn't it be great if you could spend less money on wheels and bikes and feel exactly the same way about them as if you paid twice as much for a different brand? That's the unmet need.

The next step is to find the Brand Ceiling. How far can we realistically push an idea so that it influences the way customers view us, and still remains credible? In the context of the first two steps, we first sought to figure out how we might give less expensive a bit of caché. But then we realized that we can't try to pump up the cool factor of paying less. Rather, we'd do better to obscure the price by focusing on the product. Make the price an unexpected surprise once we sold the product in on its performace and design. So the brand ceiling we spotted is that November means cycling performance and quality. Period. And the low prices? Let us not speak of those again. 

Put all of that together and you have a creative strategy. We saw that the way through all that morass was to build Aspiration into our products and brand. Instead of leading with what they cost, turn up the volume on what they will do for you - whether that means your sprint top speed, your bike split or your ego is left deliberately vague. 

"When fast matters most" is one way of tying it all together. For some people, we expect (hope?) it will build credibility for the brand because it begins with a product benefit instead of a price. But we also want to address the unmet need of wanting to pay less and still get something that inspires confidence and envy. For some people, perception matters more than performance. But if fast matters most to you, the price you pay is secondary. (Some of our competitors use a similar positioning to justify high prices instead of low, which I find to be a delightful counterpoint.)

You'll see this same strategy employed in much of what we do moving forward - from website copy to blogs and emails and other ads. It won't always be the same language, but for a marketing strategy to work the message has to be consistent and persistent. Fortunately both Dave and I are stubborn SOBs, so consistency isn't really a problem for us.