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Two quick things:

1. People are going bat s**t crazy over the cross frames.  Everyone on the team tells me that people stop them regularly to ask about them and generally check them out.  Please feel free to do this. 

2. Apparently we are going to have to make the CX team kits available for people to buy, as people might even be asking about that more than the CX bikes.  I designed them so don't worry I'm not getting a big head over how cool they look or anything.  And everyone is loving the Verge kit.  Really good stuff.  So we've got to figure that out and we will soon.

3. It's CX season but the road frame pre-order closes on 11/7.  There's a lot of interest and we've had a pleasantly surprising number of orders so far (we know how you people are with pre-registration and such - we half expect all the orders to come in :20 before we close the order), but there's no penalty for getting in early.  If you want to be on one of our road frames next year, get in on this, man.

Okay, sponsorship.  We hate it.  The single stupidest thing to me in bike racing is when you have a rider in a kit with "Company Y" plastered all over it, perhaps the team is even named after Company Y, and 85% of the riders aren't riding Company Y bikes.  I have no interest in having my company's name on the jerseys of teams where less than A HUGE percentage of people on that team are riding our bikes and/or wheels.  We've never asked any team to put our logo on their kits.  Some of them do anyway.  It's a cool looking logo. 

Anyhow, our whole premise is that the prices of the bikes and wheels are as low as they can be, for everyone.  A lot of teams I know are getting their "team deal" offers for 2012 and from what I'm hearing they generally suck.  Higher MSRP's and thinner discounts for teams.  Well our discount for teams is as thin as it can be - 0% - but our MSRP is stupid low.  We know a lot of people perceive that they're getting a better deal when they get a $3000 frame for $2100 than when they get a $745 frame for $745 but we're not going to accomodate that feeling. 

If no discount on frames and wheels, what then?  Well, we do get some macking pricing on a lot of stuff, and we offer the teams we work with pretty excellent deals on that stuff.  Everything from gruppos to rollers to helmets to tires and pedals and well there's a lot of stuff.  And it's not some twice a year thing, we have regular orders, so you can actually make good use of it.  You still need to have a little planning, but you can make cycling A LOT less expensive than it would otherwise be. 

So there's that, but the new wrinkle for this year is that we want to sponsor 11 teams.  One team for every month, except November is taken.  And we want to work with teams that are working for some greater good. Saving baby seals?  We LOVE baby seals.  Preventing childhood obesity?  We HATE childhood obesity.  You get the point.  We don't have the roll to just stroke a check to your cause's coffers, but we think we have a better idea.  Think of it as a bake sale - your team, during its month, creates a special set of stuff that makes sense around the cause.  Say that the team is working on breast cancer issues (we REALLY love breasts), and that's generally a pink theme.  Well, during that month we sell wheels with pink Chris King hubs, and pink spacer kits, and pink bar tape, and pink tires, and you get the point.  And we share the proceeds with your cause.  Not all of them - we can't afford that - but you help us get the word out and shake the trees to sell some of the stuff, and your cause will directly benefit. 

We're also loudmouths with a pretty big soapbox and a loud microphone.  We'll help you get the word out about what it is you're working for, and how other people can help.  Promoting a race?  We're on it, and will make it our personal mission that if any fields aren't full, it sure ain't for lack of people knowing about it. 

So that's the gist.  We've gotten some sponsorship applications (and we hate the traditional sponsorship concept so much that we're going to figure out what else to call it) - some of them aren't going to go much of anywhere, but some of them have a lot of potential.  If you want to find out if we can work well together, then please by all means contact us.

Thanks, and we'll see you at the races.  And I will put you in the tape, I swear it. 


Where's Waldo This Week?

Like probably most everyone else who's involved with cyclocross in the middle of the Mid Atlantic, we'll be at DCCX this weekend.  That's right it's once again time for DCMTB's "how in the sam hill did they get the go ahead to have a race there" paragon of wonderment and pain.  Our team will be out in full strength, with Paul trying to defend his lead in the MABRA Super 8 series, Katie throwing her hat into the "A" race ring for the first time, Laurel back in action on her new carbon wonderbike after a brief midseason break, Callum and his new and improved back (now with no spasms!) and no rocks in his shoe, and me once again definitively proving how much faster my bike is than Gus's (even though he has like an 85 person head start on me in the grid). 

At the tent, we'll have all the merriment you can stand, plus road and cross bikes and wheels (Mike promises to bring the 85s) for you to ogle.  Stop by say hello.

According to LP there will be both beer and fighting.  I look forward to both. 


Cross frame feedback from Paul Rades, team rider

Joe Mallis takes excellent pictures. Thanks, Joe.Dave mentioned our cross team the other day - the November Bicycles CX Experience. We didn't pick riders for the team based on past or expected results (but if we had, boy would we not have been disappointed), but rather for their ability to provide us with some highly qualified feedback on our bikes. Paul Rades is one of our team riders and is positively killing it this year. He's currently wearing the leader's jersey in the MABRA Super 8 Masters Elite category after a string of 2nd place finishes, and has also taken the top step of the podium at the Sportif Cup's Psycho Cross race. I mention this not to somehow fasten our brand securely on his coattails - the dude would be killing it on a Sears Free Spirit. Rather, it's like the 68 year old guy who tells his doctor, "Doc, I'm sleeping with a 24 year old woman." The doctor answers, "Why are you telling me this?" to which the guy replies, "I'm telling everybody!" Nice work, Paul.

Anyway, Paul has the skills and experience to evaluate equipment. And he also has a discerning palate, which isn't always the case with a racer, even those at the highest level. He sent us the following email after this past weekend (where he blazed to a 6th place finish in a stacked field at Granogue, even though I didn't sleep with a 24 year old woman) with some feedback on the November cross bike he's on. He didn't know I was going to publish it when he wrote it.

Paul, I'm going to publish it, OK?


I gave Dave some gut-level feedback right after Sunday's race, but it wasnt too specific beyond, "F-yeah!". Here's something more detailed:

1. Low center of gravity. Standover and BB drop is markedly lower than my Ridley, which is notorious for for high standover. I felt really confident and safe diving into grassy, loose-dirt corners at speed. The off-camber switchback just past the tower at Granogue felt easy to softpedal with no/minimal slippage, despite the fact that I was running aggressive tread clinchers at slightly high pressure (I opted for high b/c of the sharp rocky section in the woods, which caused me to pinch flat and DNF last year).

2. Lightness. Holy lord. My first side-by-side weigh-in w/the Ridley (which, BTW, is the lightest aluminum frameset on the market) didnt reveal much. I was even a little disappointed when my November felt the same as my Ridley while doing bicep curls with them. Field-testing, though, was entirely different. I dragged the November one-handed through Granogue's run-ups, and consistently cleared the stairs by lifting the entire bike off the ground by the stem. If I can lift a whole bike with little more than a wrist-flick, the average bike racer shouldnt need more than his 9-year-old-girl's upper body strength to easily clear barriers using two hands. Even deep into the 54th minute of a race.

3. Stiffness. I rocketed straight up the billy goat climb to the tower, and drilled the straightaways, almost like my feet were fused to the drivetrain. Yeah, I know my power-to-weight ratio or whatever probably skews a little high, but I'm sure the November's stout BB shell is a key variable. Further, I was running 4-year old pedals w/loose  and unstable bearings, which I'll promptly swap out for brand new sillies later this week. Given a more stable foot-pedal interface, power transfer should feel even better.

4. Front-end tracking. My Ridley has the beefy, tapered head tube. so I didnt really notice any difference in tracking or front end stiffness. If I did notice a problem here--squirrliness, fork chatter, etc--that woud be a serious issue.

5. Fork mount cable guide. Didn't notice any difference from the more common headset cable guide. No news is good news. That said, a barrel adjuster--standard with TRP's model--would be nice for dialing the pads in just-right.

6. Component mix. I'm using the same reliable parts mix that I've run on my Ridley Excalibur (road race frame): SRAM Force; 3T Ergosum Pro bars and stem; Thomson post; Selle Italia saddle. Only CX-specific differences are Empella Frogglegs brakes (got em last season for 50% off--TRP copies these with their EuroX), and a Thorne 46T chainring (Stu Thorne's house brand for SRAM makes 46T rings, but they sell out fast early season. Specialtes TA makes 'em too, if you want to spend $75 for a single ring.    

7. Tires. Im diggin' Clement's PDX clinchers. Slightly wider (700x33) than Challenge "open" tubular Grifos and Fangos, so I feel more stable and can run slightly lower pressure. Tread is a tad aggressive for some courses we've done this season, so I'm going to run Clement's LAS this weekend at DCCX. None of the big dogs in my fields run aggressive knobbies on grass, dirt, and hard-pack mud... I splurged on an FMB SSC to replace the Challenge Grifo that I blew out Saturday. I'll let you know after a few trials if FMBs are worth the $20-$30 per tire premium. 


If you've got questions for Paul about his feedback, go ahead and leave them in the comments.

Paul, people may have questions for you, which they will leave in the comments. Is that OK?



Real Customer Experiences Caught on Video

I think a lot about the differences between domain expertise and functional expertise, and how much of each is needed to run a company. For us, domain expertise is knowledge of the bike business - manufacturing techniques, economics, the competitive landscape, and of course having a racer's understanding of what specific properties in a bike or wheelset are desirable, and why. There is no big mystery in domain expertise - you just have to decide to become a student of an industry, which Dave and I did. If you follow this blog at all, it's likely that you've made the same decision. If not, then our open kimono policy here on the blog probably comes across as an act of indecent exposure.

The functional expertise required to run a business varies by function, naturally. We're still pretty centralized over here so between the two of us Dave and I have to cover all the functions. We do have some division of labor to avoid redundancy, but some functions require both our attention. Like Customer Service. 

It's remarkable how much of our job is customer service. We get a ton of questions - about our own products, about how to use or install them or install something onto them, and about how to choose, use and install products that might one day be in the same room as our products. Currently Dave and I respond to all of these ourselves, but we've started videotaping our customer interactions for training purposes, so our employees will better anticipate questions and get a sense of the customer-focused culture we're creating.

Here are a few of our training videos. The first is Dave responding to a series of questions about our wheels - rim composition, brake track width, hub pawls, origin of components, etc. You'll see that each response yields more questions, yet Dave remains unflappable in his willingness to engage the customers. 

The training lesson from this video is that you can never have too much information for some customers. And even though these actually left without buying from us we love them anyway because they're engaged enough with us to ask, and because they actually expect us to have the answers and deliver them promptly. That's one of the ways we try to differentiate, and we're glad when customers take us up on it.

Sometimes we make mistakes with customers though. Here's an example I'm not too proud of. I've been working on the Custom Configurators for the Wheelhouse custom bikes in the current pre-order, which will allow our pre-order customers to build up their SRAM, Shimano or Campagnolo Wheelhouses any way they like. We offered this service last year but it was done through email and phone and took a ton of time. This year, we're programming it into the site. The reason is that it's better service to let the website deliver answers to all the "what if" pricing questions ("what if I go with the Ritchey carbon bars instead of the WCS Curve?"), freeing me and Dave up to answer questions like the ones we saw in the first video.

Anyway, this video is from last year. It was very close to the pre-order deadline and I must have received one too many "what if" pricing and substitution emails. The custom configurator ensures we don't feel we have to respond to our customers this way again.

There are some inherent dangers in our "love the customer" approach. The risk is that our customers could try to take advantage of us. I went to college with a guy (a jackass of a guy, actually) who found a broken set of Ray Bans on the ski hill one day. They were smashed and bent beyond saving but he put them in his pocket anyway. "LL Bean has a policy where you can return anything you're not satisfied with and they'll replace it, no questions asked. They carry Ray Bans." (That tells you how long ago I went to college.) A couple weeks later he was wearing brand new Ray Bans from LL Bean, the result of the company's good deed not going unpunished. 

We're bound to get our share of loophole seekers as well, but we have an advantage over LL Bean. Our whole approach is to be candid about our business and our economics, which makes it easy for us to talk to our customers as if we were both reasonable people. LL Bean's blanket promise to customers doesn't allow the brand to say no when facing an egregious violation. Ours does.

 Race smart.


Only 6 Months 'Til Road

Every year at the first couple of road races, as we're waiting to start, some smartass makes with the "only 6 months 'til cross!" crack.  It always gets a big, if very nervous, laugh.  The first road races of the year are nervous affairs, after all - has everyone remembered how to corner in close quarters, have I got the fitness to hang with the guys who've spent the ENTIRE winder banging out intervals in their basements, and is my equipment where I need it to be, and a bunch of other big questions.  The foundation for the answer to a lot of these questions is laid in the next month. 

Our pre-order is open until November 7th.  Pre-ordering a bike or wheels saves you a pantload of money even beyond what we normally charge, and ensures that you'll have the gear you want next spring, when you want it.  It's just like doing your base training - hit the snooze bar on getting ready and before you know it, you'll be standing on that start line thinking "you know, I really wish I'd gotten my act together back in November." 

So yeah, while we've been at the cross races lately, working on our new frames (which, btw, are f-ing awesome and helping our team to soak up a ton of results), we're also thinking about and working on road in the background all the time.  Maybe you should too.