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We also hand build custom alloys. Rims by Pacenti, Stans, HED and Kinlin. Hubs by Miche, WI, Chris King, DT, Tune and PowerTap.

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Thursday
Nov062014

Is Dengfu the next huge bike brand?

A few times a week, we get sales emails from various Chinese vendors of carbon bike things, which go straight to the trash file never to be considered. These all contravene our number one iron-clad rule of sourcing: we don't want to buy from the companies that want to sell to us. Yesterday, however, we got one from Dengfu. It also went straight to the trash, but Mike commented that this obviously meant that we've now made the big time. In just a few moments, I became convinced that Dengfu will become the next major bike brand.  

For those unaware, Dengfu is a Chinese outfit that sells on eBay, Alibaba, and direct. With stunningly imperfect information, I'd say that they're the most visible brand coming out of that cohort, with FarSports perhaps being close. My technique for writing these is best described as stream of consciousness (more a Richard Brautigan than a James Joyce fan), so at the outset I will say a few things 1) this topic will likely have to be broken down into several posts 2) I will try to stay value neutral in all of my wording, despite a generally very negative view of Chinese carbon supply as a whole and 3) yes, there is still a chasmic difference between a Taiwanese company and a Chinese company even though people think I'm being pedantic when I militantly correct and clarify. The lines can get obscure - for example Reynolds manufactures the vast majority of their rims in China, few in the US, and none in Taiwan. Same with Cervelo at the point of my last awareness, and same with many others.  Most understandably want to obfuscate their Chinese production, as the sublety of the distinction there is lost on most. The difference between a Chinese company and a US company producing in China is pronounced, and in our experience the Taiwanese companies (especially those producing in Taiwan) are run much more like US businesses. 

You also have to be aware that almost none of the Chinese brands that show up are actually producers, despite their claims. They are trading companies, but claiming to be the producer is incredibly common practice. If you really want to dive into this, read "Poorly Made in China" by Paul Midler. It's getting a bit dated, but I was in mainland China last spring on a non-November consulting deal and everything that Midler talks about is still in plain view.  

Okay, so, why did I come to the conclusion that Dengfu is going to be the next big brand? First, let's look at the obstacles that they face. I'll finish out this post with the first parts of that side of the equation, and then move to why I think they will ultimately win a spot in the "really big brand" pantheon (which, for those keeping score, Mike and I have reverse interest in joining - our aim is to be as small as we can possibly be yet still swim in the big pond - read "Raising the Bar" by Gary Erickson if you want our perspective there).

Obstacle #1: The Race To The Bottom - The way that Dengfu gained awareness for themselves was through low prices. They played the "knock it off and sell it cheaper" game as hard as anyone, and they still do. Their current bike lineup flatters the bejeesus out of Scott's product team, with previous production having taken clear cues (I'm struggling with euphamisms here, clearly) from other notable brands. Knock it off and sell it cheaper is at best a transitional strategy, at best. They once had the lowest labor cost, now they don't. At some point, people will demand actual design innovation from them. The proposition of being a valued brand is almost opposite to one where your customers think "eh, if it turns out to be a pile of crap at least I won't be out a ton of money."

Obstacle #2: Inelegant Sales Process - Just now, I pointed by browser over to their site to see what their prices were, in order to make another point. You have to inquire to learn the price. That will turn a pile of people away right there. Pricing integrity and process transparency are cornerstones of November's philosophy. Everyone loves to a deal (we'd likely sell more if we created an inflated price and then gave everyone a deal - research shows that works), but not having any indication of what the price is goes really far to the other side of the line. People will do it, but most people won't.

Obstacle #3: Bad Info - "High-temperature fibre and resin for the brake surface , and with high braking temperature about 160~280 degree generated from high speed braking." Okay... where to start with this. This is actual copy from one of their wheel pages. Is this f or c? I'll give you a hint, it ain't c. 280c is 536f. I visited an awesome carbon shop last week that had made parts for this boat, and the guys who'd made some carbon parts for the engine mount (when you commercialize the internet, you make enough money to afford boats with carbon engine mounts) were working with 400f layups. Not that hard to do, as long as money is no object.  But as we showed this summer, the difference between 160f and 280f heat resistance is the difference between toasting your rims on pretty much any significant hill, or having a pretty good safety margin (for the record our rims test at roughly 350f, which we state as many places as possible).  So what is it? Prospective customers POUND on us for HIGH resolution information - 1w makes a difference. You can't get away with useless information in the mainstream.

Okay I've well exceeded my word limit so we'll have to pick this up in another installment.  

Wednesday
Nov052014

November in January at The Cycling House

In case you missed it, we're doing a trip to The Cycling House in Tucson from 1/27 to 2/1.  The photos mostly speak for themselves, but after a month or so either dressed up like the Michelin man or on the road to nowhere in the basement, riding in short sleeves and bright sunshine in stunning locations sure is nice.  

Each day starts with a great breakfast, followed by a light core or yoga session, and then a ride. Rides distances are generally around 60 miles and range from rolling to Mt. Lemmon.  Mt. Lemmon is a twenty-something mile fairly gradual uphill with shocking scenery and a few dozen microclimates, on which you are nearly guaranteed to see most of the domestic pro peloton out training.   

Rides are fully supported with food, water, clothing, and spares. A healthy host-to-guest rider ratio means you'll be able to go at the effort and speed that are right for you. You get supported like a pro without having to ride like one.

We'll bring a bunch of great gear for you to try. 

Post-rides feature chances to go explore, do a trail run, read a book, get a massage, take a nap, whatever - it's your vacation. TCH will take care of your bike, you just take care of yourself. 

Dinners are something else. If there wasn't so much riding and other awesome stuff going on, you might call it a foodie trip. Between Brendan, Zander, Mike, and me, you'll never want for a good beer selection. Or wine, if that's your thing.  

Traveling is easy, just fly into Tucson and TCH will pick you up from the airport. You can bring your bike, but TCH also has an outstanding rental fleet. 

Weather is generally awesome, but come prepared. If nothing else, the descent from Mt. Lemmon can be a bit chilly. 

Bring your sense of humor, your sense of adventure, your appetite, your liver, and your personal gear. Everything else is taken care of.  Riders of every ability level will have a great time.

Space is limited. If you have any questions, contact us or hit us up with a question in the comments.  

Wednesday
Oct292014

Interesting Times

There's an ancient Chinese curse (at least so the internet has told me) that says "may you live in interesting times." Whether a blessing or a curse, these are interesting times. A short while ago the question was whether 11 speed would have massive uptake (of course it would, of course it did - although Mike and I are both still on 10 speed for a few weeks more yet), now the rate of change has increased exponentially, mostly having to do with how you slow down more than how you go fast. Of course, the impact that how you slow down has on how fast you go is a prime consideration.

I'll admit that I've slowly been coming around to using discs for cross, the transition to which has been eased for me since, after all, it's my job to build and ride crazy nice wheels and learn how they work. The emergence of road disc looks all but inevitable at this point, and if Mike has become as big a fan of tubeless as he has in the amount of time he has (the old Life cereal commercial comes to mind: "let Mikey try it, he hates EVERYTHING!") we're fairly bullish on that as well.  

Parameters that weren't a consideration just a short time ago are THE parameters now. Interesting times, indeed.  

Sunday
Oct262014

Project Updates

We tested the Grail builds fairly thoroughly this week. Two sets got built for testing, a set of 24/28 with some old house mtb hubs, and a set of 24/24 on White Industries CLDs. The 24/28 got one wrap of tape and was used with Kenda Kwickers, while the 24/24 got two wraps and a Maxxis Padrone 23 on the front and a Hutchinson Intensive 25 on the rear. 

The rims are quite stiff. Weights on the ones we got were a bit higher than advertised - our average of 6 rims was 482g each, against an advertised 465.  Aluminum rims can vary quite a bit as the die wears. We don't freak out about differences of this magnitude, but we do note it. Finish quality was very good, with one superficial flaw in the whole lot.  

Thanks to the benefit of 135mm spacing, 24h rears are an option. I still prefer 28 since there's only 20g of downside and you get a stiffer and stronger wheel with 28, but for people who don't weigh a ton and aren't going to flog them around off road, 24 is an option.

Tubeless setup is outstanding. I put a few good rides in on the Kwickers including yesterday's race. We set these up exactly per the Stan's team setup, and I have utter confidence that you can use as low a pressure as you want. Interestingly, maybe Kwickers are just very supple, but I actually wanted to use more pressure than what I thought the bottom limit was. I used 27f/30r, and it just felt like less than that.  

Road tubeless setup was great until...

 

Apparently I ran over Freddie Kreuger about 1/4 mile away from home, after about 30 miles of riding.  Yoinks. For the record, sealant doesn't help with a slash that big.

We also got to test the 2:1 lacing, with 16 drive-side and 8 non-drive spokes. Immediately apparent is how much this balances tension.  You get about an 80% non-drive to drive side tension balance with this setup. That's awesome. Unfortunately, stiffness-wise, 24 spokes is still 24 spokes. The Kinlin rims are stiff enough that there was no appreciable difference between measurements at the spokes and measurements between spoke groups. We will have to try it again on an 18:9 setup. The tension balance is attractive and offers a lot of promise, but the stiffness measurements at 24 total spokes are less than what we like to see.  

Thursday
Oct232014

Why We Race

There are a million different ways and whys to ride a bike. One of the most important to us is racing. I'm not saying that we're mint at it, as even though Mike has his moments, generally this blog is a place of honesty and let's face it I aspire to a consistent mediocrity with occasional bouts of "not awful." So what's our why?

Schirm doesn't look like this except in races

We sell performance oriented stuff. Not that you have to use it in races, and I'd guess that slightly less than half the stuff we ship out ever sees a race (which is actually a gigantic percentage compared to the world at large), but racing reveals flaws. I'm not going deep and talking about character here (that would clearly imply self-incrimination), but rather flaws in stuff. When you race, you press hard, damn the consequences. My power files from races stand in STARK contrast to what I can do in training.  When you race, you know not logic nor pain nor concern. You just know you've got to hold that m-f'ing wheel, whatever the cost. Wind tunnels and bench tests are great and we rely on them for sure, but nothing makes the cut until we've raced on it.  

Dialed in and flying