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Friday
Feb052016

The long con, or there is no "free" shipping

A lot of blog topics are created when we get the same question multiple times. The question in question (which isn't really a question) is "in this day and age of Amazon and free shipping, I'm surprised I have to pay shipping on wheels." Shipping is a hard cost. You either bury it in the price of the product or keep it out as a separate item. Same thing with "free" rim tape, skewers, extra spokes, t-shirt, water bottle - whatever. We include rim tape because it's a necessity for using your wheels, and because we can efficiently supply very good rim tape. Same with skewers. The rest of the stuff, you shouldn't or don't need. Any amount that we would have spent on that is instead put into getting the product out at the lowest price we can make it. Things may be included in the price, but they're not free. 

 

Mike has always described our strategy as "the long con." You may picture us wth Dick Dastardly moustaches (if I grew a moustache, it would cause an Amber Alert - the moustache is NOT a good look for me), having a nefarious laugh about how we'll pull the bait and switch and abscond with the piles of cash. That's not what he means. 

Instead, Mike means that we'll never sacrifice tomorrow for today, next week for tomorrow, or next year for next week. We've had to fluidly adapt to a constantly changing marketplace, both upstream (supply side) and downstream (demand side), but the strategy has always been the same. Deliver the best product and service we can. Excellent prices and price integrity (the whole "you don't pay more because we gave someone else a bro deal for less"). Minimize supply chain, overhead, and promotional expenses. Stick to our knitting and execute. Prioritize reinvestment in the company. Consistent manageable growth. 

The biggest diversion to that strategy was when we decided (really, I pushed us into it) to sponsor a women's team last year. It failed for 3.5 reasons: 1/1a. It diverged from our more important long-standing strategy, so while we committed meaningful material to the project, we didn't make our involvement with the team a bigger operational priority 2. Sponsorship below the WorldTour level doesn't meaningfully create awareness (not even 100% sure WorldTour level does) 3. Bad partner choice on our part. Sometimes you have to get slapped in the face, and I've apologized to Mike a couple of times about this foray. 

To our strategic end, we're both quite similar to and different from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). We don't have access to or rely on the capital markets to fund our growth. It's not a lark that I use their ticker symbol for the link - Amazon is well-known among astute anaysts for their constant reinvestment strategy, which is a big part of why they've been able to become one of the world's biggest companies by market cap and most other measures, without showing consistent or meaningful profits. But without the willingness of others to invest in AMZN and fund its growth, they would have been out of the game long, long ago. We fund our growth entirely through operations and a small line of credit (under 10% of gross revenue). We're also just in this bike business; there's no "November Web Services" or any other auxiliary business that secretly piling up the profits, facilitated by our bike business work. 

Kind of a klunky bit of blog writing, but you get the point. And in my mind, I'm still riding in shorts among palm trees next to beaches, so cut me some slack would ya?

 

Monday
Feb012016

"Factory" vs "hand built" wheels

These two category labels have very broad, often contradictory, connotations. So broad, in fact, that I've seen instances in which our wheels have been put into each category. The two labels are so inconsistently applied that I'm not even sure which category into which our wheels best fit.

Our basic parameter for a wheel set is its performance. We've invested a lot of time, money, and brain cells into learning about how to achieve certain characteristics - durability, handling, stiffness, weight, aerodynamic speed, brake performance, and compatibility with specific types of tires.

We don't build wheels to fit any price point without their having first cleared the bar of requisite performance against any of the criteria above. The DT R460-based builds are a bit less expensive, and we like having them as a wheel that slots in where they do in the relative cost spectrum, but if they did that without having the performance that they do, we wouldn't sell them. Having just spent several days and several hundred miles having one of my best friends harass me all over the roads of the greater San Diego metropolitan area while using a set of our DT-based builds, their performance in all respects is further confirmed. They happen to do it in a cost-effective package.

Nor do we seek to achieve any given aesthetic. As cost follows function, so does form. The big aesthetic thing that a lot of people look for is spoke count. Spoke count often gets conflated with aerodynamic performance and weight. We've learned a lot in our work in the wind tunnel, and we know how to use scales pretty well. A wheel weighs what it weighs, whether there are 16 or 28 spokes in it. All bladed spokes are not created equal. 

On the other hand, we do offer a lot of choices in terms of different hub and spoke types and colors. You're not forced to march lock-step with everyone else in how your wheels look, that's for sure. Our prices for these choices reflect an accurate assessment of our costs in bringing them to you, and are as low as they can be. While some of our builds cost more than others, none of them are expensive in any absolute sense, given the inputs going into them. We may not be the absolute lowest cost option out there for any build, but we're also certain that our prices are very good relative to the general market, and our build quality and service. 

While we definitely don't fit any accurate factory built definition, our somewhat "walled garden" approach probably precludes us from inclusion in the broadest sense of what hand buily might mean - even if each and every one of our wheels is absolutely 100% built by us, by hand. We just won't build or sell what we don't want to ride ourselves, and the maintenance of expertise within that domain demands that we respect some limits. While we actually fulfill that romantic ideal that the people building your wheels are actually very committed bike riders and have your best experience squarely in mind, we think it's more important to you that we're skilled and committed wheel builds who have your best experience squarely in mind. Beyond those, other artificial distinctions count for very little. 

Friday
Jan292016

The Busman's Holiday

What do you do for your vacation when you spend all day building and geeking out on wheels? Go ride your bike and geek out on wheels, of course! It was a tough move not to spend another week with the excellent people at The Cycling House, but with Nate temporarily living near San Diego, we had to give it a go here. Leaving the East Coast on Friday the 22nd seems to have been the smartest thing I've ever done, 100% avoiding Snowzilla, and enjoying near perfect weather here in the trade.

Of course we wouldn't be us if there wasn't a bit of a testing agenda, and the new Rails (preorder through Sunday) have been under the microscope on this one. People can't seem to figure out why exactly it is that I aim at all the rough spots in the road. I do it for you. Yes, I do it for you. We've had several different brake pad compounds on them, and for anyone who thinks brake pads don't make a difference, well... that's just wrong. They make an absolutely enormous difference. Yesterday, we rode up Palomar Mountain. Big hill. Takes a bit over an hour to get up (somewhat less if you're Chris Horner, who we saw out riding the other day). The descent is pretty psychotic, where you accelerate like a rocket out of each turn, to be confronted with the next hairpin nearly immediately. It's shorter than Mt. Lemmon by far, but you don't need brakes coming down Lemmon. If your brakes failed on Palomar, you'd be dead within seconds. Having really great braking made the descent fun as hell, and I was able to take it as aggressively as my spleen would allow. 

Yes, Virginia, the Palomar Mountain climb (squiggles at top)is crazy.This isn't the kind of thing where we'd recommend using carbon clinchers, really. "It can be easily done" isn't the same as "it's the best idea," and rarely is. I'm a confident, some would say reckless, descender. The road conditions near the top would have most people in full pucker factor when going 35 or 40 mph, and they'd then wind up riding the brakes. I honestly would call a cab if I got to the top of this thing and it started raining hard - alloy wheels, carbon wheels, rim brakes, disc brakes - there's no way I'd drop down this mother in really wet conditions. 

Of course, it's not ALL work and no play. Stone Brewing Company might have gotten in our way after yesterday's ride (and why I'd been sleeping on Vertical Epic, I have absolutely no idea - it's fantastic), and plenty of Mexican food like you don't get in RI has gone down the old gullet, and the batteries are recharging nicely. 

I'll finish this one with a few nice pics, and if you follow along on our Instagram, we'll be posting trip pics through the beginning of next week.

Preorder your Rails

On top of Old Smokey somewherePlenty of room at the Hotel California (RIP Glenn Frey)From sea to shining sea - the view from Double Peak

Cheers! 

Thursday
Jan212016

Throwback to the Rim Roundup

With the launch of Nimbus Ti Open for 2016, the rise of some new rims, and the reintroduction of some old ones, it's a good time to throwback to this post from November 2014 and look at alloys.

2016 Edits/Additions: 

1. We haven't done any new alloy wind tunnel tests since the original test, so none of the new rims have aero data

2. The Pacenti SL23v2 has been out for most of a year now, and most of you probably know our thoughts on that one. Average rim weight is 425g, inner width is 20mm, outer width is 25. Tire mounting is easier on the v2, and overall quality and finish level are improved. HED rims still hold a small advantage there, but it's way closer than it ever was. We like these a whole lot. 

3. The Pacenti SL25 has also joined the fray. Aside from the matte blasted finish, it's similar enough to the Grail that you could almost call them interchangeable. 465g average weight. The cx tubeless testing we did showed that they both work wonderfully for that application. 

4. DT Swiss R460 and R460 disc weigh an average of 465g per rim. 23mm height, 23mm outside width, 18mm inside width. For a durable, do it all, budget rim, these can't be beat. Finish is a tiny step down from Pacenti level, but with their added heft they last forever. This rim is really the heir to what the Mavic Open Pro used to be, with huge advantages over it. Why this rim isn't fantastically popular, we have no idea. 

5. Ryde Pulse Comp and Pulse Comp Disc are new, from the company that used to be Rigida. We've been on the Pulse Comp for a few thousand miles and it's a big thumbs up. Average rim weight is 430g. 25mm tall rear 26mm tall front, 18mm inside, 23mm outside. The Pulse Comp has an all black finish, and front and rear specific rims. The rear is offset, like our new Range carbon disc rims. This allows much improved tension balance between the drive and non-drive (or disc and non-disc in a front wheel) sides of the rim, which with 11 speed, discs, and the rim compression that tubeless tires impart, makes a nice difference. Disc version is coming out this month, again with offset spoke beds. Somewhat expensive, but very very nice. 

6. HED Belgium+. Everything people like about the C2, + (see what I did there?). 470g average, 25mm outside, nearly 21mm inside, tubeless ready, beautifully built and finished, with a price tag to match.

ORIGINAL NOVEMBER 2014 POST 

There are more ways to get in trouble with the naming of this post than you could shake a stick at. Since I'm about to be a fun sponge anyhow, prattling on about stiffness and the like, I'll just play it safe.

We are often asked for recommendations on rims to go with a certain build, and have long had it in mind to do a survey of the rims we use in order to help people make the decision.  Herewith, we present our first rim survey. This is also doubtless going to engender two responses which disagree with us: our subjective ratings are wrong, and we should sell rims that we don't.  I'll give the only responses I can to both straight away. To the former, these judgments are our best assessments after a lot of experience with each one. We are happy to build with any of them (that's why we sell them), and all of the alloys are available from a lot of places besides November. We aren't trying to sell one thing over another here. To the latter, you just can't sell everything. We sell as broad a range of stuff as we can maintain expertise with, within our limits.  

 


The Rail rims are included as much as a foil as anything else. They score well in a lot of regards, but you will notice that their finish and structure scores aren't quite as high as the HED rims. I've scored these on a curve: even though Rails build as round or rounder than HED alloys, carbon rims have the advantage of not having a joint. What I'm saying there is that a HED alloy is darn near at the limit of what an alloy rim can be, fit and finish-wise. And they charge for it. This isn't to say that there are carbon rims out there that are the carbon equivalent of what I find HED alloys to be - I've built several carbon rims and they have their strengths and weaknesses. All of the rims in this test score more than acceptably well in the subjective categories, otherwise we wouldn't sell them.  

"Stiffness" is a relative score, as measured on our lateral deflection rig. No surprise that Rails are stiffest. To me, the Pacenti is the standout in this column. For its weight, it is very stiff - it approaches Rail stiffness, and Rails are the stiffest carbons we've tested (if you paid attention to our wind tunnel tests it should be obvious which ones that includes). The point of stiffness testing is primarily to indicate spoke count, but other factors come into play there.  We still think 28 is the minimum for an acceptably stiff, strong, and durable alloy rear.

"Weight" is averaged across a large lot of each rim, expressed in grams/10 (a rim scoring 50 weighs 500 grams). This helps the chart make sense. Claimed weights are ignored in this chart.

"Tubeless" is subjective, 5 being "it's as easy or easier to install a tubeless on this as it is to install a tubed tire." All of the rims here have been used tubeless by us. Pacentis can offer an unholy challenge in mounting, the rest won't reliably inflate with a floor pump. That's the whole story there. The HEDS are tubular.

Width and depth measures should be self-explanatory. Again, the tubular HEDs don't show an inside width.

"Aero" is a relative score, as measured by us at A2 this summer.  No external references are made - the 52 is the fastest of this bunch, so it gets maximum points. If we didn't test a rim at A2, it's not in here. Eyeball aerodynamics tests are worth no credit.  

"Structure" is necessarily subjective. This is basically "how easily and reliably can this rim be built into a shining example of everything we think a wheel should be." As mentioned above, HED alloys do well here. Stan's and Pacenti are quite similar, and if you look at the serial #s in the rims I think an explanation is right there. The Grails seem to be a small bump up in structure - they are quite nice. 

"Finish" is again obviously subjective. If I were Michael Kors (Katie used to make me watch "Runway"), I would express this as "how expensive would you guess each rim is, based on how it looks." Again, HEDs do well, but you don't find them at Payless either. The Kinlin's finish is a bit shiny, and it's graphically bereft. That's preferable to bad graphics, by far.  We're working on a thing there.  

This will be memorialized in a link from our custom builds page for reference, and if we feel the need to update it, we will baseline any updates to this post.  We'll also follow with a brief write-up of each rim.

Friday
Jan152016

2016 Alloy Wheel Pricing

2016 prices go into effect on Monday the 18th, and as previously announced, we're including (in some cases re-including) new options for this year. Mike was recently heard saying that "the only way we could keep our prices as low as they are, and keep quality and service as high as they are, is if we were a money laundering front for a meth ring." We may be prone to a bit of hyperbole on occasion, but he's not totally off base. The traditional route to gaining a bunch of exposure for our Nimbus Ti builds would have been to spend a lot of money on ads, sponsorships, "brand ambassadors," and other stuff that doesn't add any value to the people who matter - you, who might actually buy them. Instead, we put all of that and more into giving people a phenomenal deal, getting them out into the market, and getting people talking about them. As George W Bush so effectively taught us, "mission accomplished" can be a regrettable thing to say, so instead we will say "mission well under way" on that. 

While I may have put you into full pucker mode with that, the 2016 pricing is still great in a noteworthy way. Bear in mind that Nimbus Ti hubs are every little bit the functional equivalent of their T11/CLD equivalents - there is no compromise other than aesthetics (can I admit here that I actually prefer the Nimbus look?). If you compare our spec, build quality, and service to anything out there, we're much more than comfortable with what you'll find. 

Okay, enough of that, let's drop the robe...

Standard Builds (Nimbus Ti or Nimbus Ti CLD hub, black Laser/D-Light spoke mix, black brass nipples)

Rim Brake - Pacenti SL23 rim: $645

Disc Brake - Pacenti SL25 rim: $665

Open Builds (Nimbus Ti or Nimbus Ti CLD hub, black Laser/D-Light spoke mix, black brass nipples)

DT Swiss R460 (rim): $595

DT Swiss R460 (disc): $615

Stan's Grail (disc): $675

Stan's 340 (rim): $685

Ryde Pulse Comp (rim): $715

Ryde Pulse Comp (disc): $735

HED C2 (rim): $740

HED C2 (rim, tubular): $740

HED C2 (disc): $760

HED Belgium+ (rim): $780

HED Belgium+ (disc): $800

HED Belgium (disc, tubular): $800

All clincher builds come with tubeless tape installed. All rim brake builds come with skewers. Disc builds are available in all known axle formats. Tubeless valves are available as an option. All builds are available for Shimano/SRAM, Campagnolo, or XD driver formats. 

All of the above will be available in custom builds, which give a greater range of hub and spoke options. Custom options start at $60 more than the Standard or Open build, and as ever, there's no "contact us for best price" BS going on here. 

While we hope that people choose to buy from us for reasons other than, or at least in addition to price, we obviously realize that price is an important consideration. We may or may not be the lowest available price on any given option, but we know that each option is a great value, is built by hand with exceeding care, and backed by people who care more than you could possibly imagine about how good your experience with us is. We also respect you and you rmoney enough to create unusually equitable pricing, and to have a frank discussion about it.