Wednesday
Mar022011

The Flywheel Effect

I was talking to a couple of our customers yesterday about indoor winter training. Their position was that they're sick of it because they've been doing a lot of it; mine is more of a lamentation that I haven't done enough. Quickly though, the conversation shifted from practice to products, as is often the case when bike guys start talking about anything. One brought up the Lemond Fitness Revolution trainer, and talked about its realistic road feel due to the weighted flywheel. "You can stop pedaling, and the bike keeps on coasting!" he enthused.

Putting aside the fact that coasting isn't the best way to take advantage of your trainer time, his comment on "the flywheel effect" stuck with me throughout the day. Momentum is a powerful force in bike racing, and an elusive one. Many of the features in our own products, in fact, aren't designed to produce or preserve momentum, but to compensate for its loss. We went with an extra-stiff frameset so that when you need to accelerate after scrubbing off speed, the power you push into the pedals goes straight to the road. We source very light rims for all our wheelsets to help you spin up to speed quickly, since you just lost all your momentum by following that guy who took a lousy line through turn 3. And Dave is driving me positively batty with his email per day musing over new rear wheel lacing patterns that might squeeze out a little more rigidity and snappiness.

None of this would be necessary if bike racing was about getting up to speed and staying there - in the way TTs or triathlons are. Instead, bike racing is all about changing speed. The winner is the one who carries momentum the longest - either by getting off the front and staying there, or (much more commonly) finding momentum faster than everyone else at the 200 points in every race where it's lost. 

Business, it turns out, is a lot like bike racing in that regard. Especially ours, which is predisposed towards bike racing metaphors. There were times over this past winter when Dave and I sure wish we were training with a flywheel, so we could coast for a while and still keep our momentum. But starting a new business affords no such luxury. It's more akin to hill repeats on a 18 percent grade. Stop pedaling, or even ratchet back on the power by 50%, and you don't just slow - you topple over. 

But now, what we have going on is starting to feel suspiciously like that elusive momentum. The number of earnest inquiries about our products are up; we're selling through our inventory of frames and wheels; and we just had to go back to our rim supplier to add onto a pre-order for our new RFSC 58s since the extra inventory we took sold out as soon as we closed the order. We're still on a hill, to be sure. But I was expecting it to roll back onto us at the top. Instead it's flattening out a bit. If we punch it hard now and accelerate over the top, we could head into the fastest part of the course with some of that magical momentum we've been chasing since last summer.

And that's exactly what we plan to do. We'll be very visible at races and group rides this season (from the Mid-Atlantic to the Tour of California, but we can't talk about that for another few weeks), making it easy to demo our wheels and throw a leg over our bikes.

You'll see more of us on the Internets too, trying something with online media that other bike brands haven't thought of yet.

And you'll see our stuff on the line at your local races - under racers who bought it with their own money, not pros paid to ride whatever their director is able to secure for them. Go ahead and ask them their opinions, knowing that they're not contractually obligated to say the bike "is one of the best handling bikes I've ridden as it is stiff and has the ideal geometry."

Someone even asked if we're going to open a store soon, the same day I sent Dave an email with a commercial real estate listing alongside a well-traveled group ride route where I remarked, "Plus there's a kitchen, which is mint for serving espressos, brewing our own beer and filling water bottles." (Yeah, we look at brick and mortar retail differently too.)

We're having a blast and are thrilled every time another cyclist finds us and likes what we're doing. And we'll be even happier when we start delivering to our pre-order customers our wheels (being hand-built starting this week and beginning to ship next week) and our frames (sailing for NYC right now aboard this ship).

So while you are waiting for your products to arrive, don't just sit there being patient. Be demanding - tell us what else you want us to start selling, ask us to sponsor something your team is doing, invite us out to drinks. We're listening.

 

Monday
Feb282011

Wheelie Big News (2 of 4): Demos, Demos, Demos

You call 'em demos, but we ride limos, too.  Thanks, Chuck D.  I love that song.   

People want to try our wheels, and we want people to try out our wheels.  We will be at some of the early season crits/circuit races with wheels available for people to demo in those races.  Here are the races we plan to be at:

  • Black Hills Circuit Race, Boyds MD, 3/19
  • Chantilly Criterium, Chantilly VA, 4/16
  • Carl Dolan Memorial Circuit Race, Columbia MD, 4/17
  • Fort Ritchie Classic Criterium, Cascade MD, 5/7

"Gee, Dave," I can hear you thinking right now, "that sounds great and I'd love to try that out.  Where do we go from here?"  Here's where we go...

  • Find our tent about an hour before your race (we may or may not be at all events for any given race, so don't make this your plan A for race wheels, m'kay?).
  • Demos are first come first served (see note above about not making this your plan A for race wheels, m'kay?).
  • Choose between FSWs, RFSWs and RFSC38s, as available.
  • We'll install carbon-compatible brake pads (as necessary) and make sure your limit stops are set correctly for our hubs.
  • Wheels will come equipped with really nice rubber (no better way to have you think the wheels are "meh" than for us to put mediocre rubber on them, right?)
  • You pay us $30 for carbon and $20 for alloy wheel demos, cash on the barrel, 100% of which is applicable as credit against any subsequent wheel or frame purchase.
  • Hand over your driver's license as security. 
  • Return them when your race is over.  Don't forget to grab your license.
  • Go home and hit "Buy Now."

Easy, right?  But what if you want to go with what you know for your race and just take a quick roll around the parking lot?  Well, we can do that too.  Bring your license, keep your cash. 

Send us a note to coordinate. See you at the races. 

Thursday
Feb242011

Wheelie Big News (part 1 of 4): 58mm and 85mm carbon clinchers

We have a number of deep-section announcements to make about our wheelsets. We could cram it all into one post but instead we're going to space them out over the next week or so to give you a chance to consume, chew thoroughly, swallow and digest. (Man I hate the part of the year when I'm focused on reaching race weight - I get a little preoccupied with food.)

The first is about our newest RFSC wheelsets, which will soon be available in 58mm and 85mm depths. The rims are from the same supplier that makes our excellent (and internally beloved) 38mm RFSCs and are nearly identical in construction except of course for the deeper sections. We just received a couple sets of the deeper rims to inspect and demo, and of course these same rims have been in service around the world for over a year so their reliability and performance was well-established before we even selected them. Even if you have not yet raced them yourself, you've probably gone shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who does.

The RFSC 58 Spec:
 - Rim: 58mm carbon clincher
 - Rim weight: 485g
 - Complete wheelset weight: 1550g
 - Spokes: Sapim Laser 20/24 (Sapim CX-Ray upgrade available for +$60)
 - Price: $885   
 - Pre-Order Price: $745 (see below) 

The RFSC 85 Spec:
 - Rim: 85mm carbon clincher
 - Rim weight: 605g
 - Complete wheelset weight: 1790g
 - Spokes: Sapim Laser 20/24 (Sapim CX-Ray upgrade available for +$60)
 - Price: $985   
 - Pre-Order Price: $845 (see below) 

 

Our New Pre-Order Pricing and Policy

We have decided to move away from a strictly pre-order policy for wheels. Part of the reason is based on demand: wheels are more of an impulse need-them-immediately-now purchase than a frameset and we want to have product on hand when racers feel the need for speed. But the other reason is supply. It is less expensive and risky to stock wheel goods than frames since we do not have to forecast different sizes in the same way we would for frames. If we have a set of RFSC 58s in stock, they will appeal equally to a 120-lb woman as they will to a 240-lb man. Having some inventory in wheels does not require us to price them significantly higher - even if they're in stock, they will still be the best deal you'll find.

But the heart of our model is unchanged: don't pay for anything that you don't value. So if you want to pre-order the wheels you can save $140. We have an order window that's closing in just a couple of days that we are taking advantage of (it's Taipei Cycle Show soon and we need to get an order in ahead of that to beat the rush). The rim supplier is forecasting 60-90 days, so it looks like we will be able to deliver wheels around mid-June at the latest (they came in on the early side of the forecast last time). 

We do not intend to stock a 755,000 square foot warehouse with wheels, however. If we could buy a few hundred pairs of each to have on hand, we certainly would. But the only way we could afford to do that is if we charged you twice as much for each wheelset you buy. So we'll have inventory, but it won't be deep inventory yet. Pre-ordering also ensures you will actually have a set of wheels with your name on them.

Inkling for speed? Tell us please.

If you want to pre-order the RFSC 58s or 85s, drop us a note. And "want" here encompasses "definitely want", "might want", "have a mildly discernible interest" and even "I'd consider them when they come in". We're new at this inventory thing so measuring demand - even if it's not immediate demand - helps us a lot.

Friday
Feb182011

Where in the World is my November?

It's sunny and 65 today in the Mid-Atlantic, prompting several of our customers to inquire, "when can I ride my new Wheelhouse / Max Perkins / RFSWs / FSWs / RFSCs?" A good question, to which we now have answers. This past week has faster than the first 5 laps at Clarendon Cup, but not only did we avoid getting dropped - we're actually in very good position. To wit:
  • The rims for all the wheel orders arrive in DC on Monday. 
  • The hubs for the wheel orders arrive about a week later. The spokes we source from right here in the US so we can start building the wheels once the hubs arrive. This puts us about 7 days ahead of our original wheel schedule, which I believe to be awesome.
  • The Wheelhouse frames just came out of production the other day and are in boxes ready for shipment. We're filing all the shipping and customs paperwork now. Once done, the frames will be on their way across the Pacific. It could be by today, if not then early next week. We won't have an exact delivery date until the shipment is executed. When we do we'll communicate it here, and also the date by which we'll be able to deliver to customers.
  • The gruppos and build kits for the Max Perkins bikes we get from a distributor here in the states. Some we have already and the rest we will pick up before the frames arrive so everything is ready. We've been monitoring inventory levels to watch for backorder situations so we can work around them. (There's a huge labor problem in China right now, which puts a lot of items in threat of backorder. Sure there are a billion workers, but there are almost as many factories. People leave for Chinese New Year and the factories have no idea who will come back and who will start at a better job at a different factory. This doesn't affect our frame or wheels because they're in Taiwan, but many of the other components by the brands you know are made in China.)
Overall, we're very pleased with the schedule and are on track with our original timetable. Our big fear was Chinese New Year - if we didn't have our products well into production by then, there could have been significant delays. But putting the order in by mid-November made all the difference for us, and we avoided the production bottlenecks many other brands will face. Hooray for us, and you. 

We'll be notifying customers individually about the exact availability and delivery of their products. For the customers who bought complete bikes, we're lining up some build options so we can give you the option of taking a fully assembled bike. There will be an extra expense for the build for the customers who want it done, and of course anyone who wants to build themselves and save the money has that option.

For those of you who are not yet our customers, you can still buy a Wheelhouse, Max Perkins, FSW, RFSW or RFSC out of the arriving inventory.

As ever, contact us with any questions or craft beer suggestions.

 

Wednesday
Feb162011

Wheel Builds

When I'm not running around playing top flight bicycle industry executive, I spend my time managing construction projects.  Specifically, I've developed a specialty in interiors.  Generally this means that once the drywall is up, I take over and get it through final finish.  The skill that I've developed during the time I've done this is both a blessing and a curse. 

It's a blessing because my work gets a little bit easier with each project completed.  The last two years have been unusual in that I've run several projects singlehandedly.  I don't prefer to work like this.  My ideal is to be able to focus on a relatively contained part of the picture and really drill into it.  It's a curse because I can't walk into a building and just enjoy it.  I automatically critique like every little thing, and even though I know better than most that, in building stuff, you are often making deals with the devil in order to get things done, little things that no one should notice just scream at me. 

Wheels have become a similar kind of thing to me.  I simply can't see a wheel without checking it out to an annoying degree.  How true is it?  How consistent is the spoke tension?  Is the dish right?  Is it round?  I hear new wheels ping when tires are installed on them for the first time and it drives me nuts. But in order to make sure that we're doing the best job we can in having your wheels built, we have to be this kind of obsessive about it. 

At first, we'd considered doing machine built wheels.  Machine builds offer convenience, speed and are cheaper than building by hand.  There are LOTS and LOTS of wheels out there that are built by machine, and there are some really nice wheels that are built by machine.  There are, however, some issues.

I had a set of wheels that were machine built.  I liked them, they were good.  I knew a lot of people who had wheels from this manufacturer, and most of us had problems with rear spokes breaking.   Knowing what I know now, I'm 100% sure that this was because they were machine built with spokes that are very susceptible to windup (which is when a spoke twists when you turn the nipple, rather than the nipple turning on the spoke threads), and there was not an adequate procedure for dealing with this. 

Windup is sort of a fatal thing.  It often corrects itself when you stress relieve the wheel (which machines do very capably), but often doesn't.  What happens is that you get a spoke whose tension comes from it being twisted rather than it being tensioned mechanically by the nipple on the threads.  When you ride the wheel, that spoke becomes "unweighted" at the bottom of the rotation, then the friction between nipple and rim bed is relieved, the spoke unwinds, and it becomes loose.  Loose spokes are more subject to cyclical loads, and the eventually break at the bend. 

The easiest way to counteract windup is to use bladed spokes.  I'm convinced that this is why so many machine built wheels use the bladed spokes from Pillar or others.  The machine can grab onto the flats of the spoke and hold it in place.  No windup.  But we didn't want to use those spokes, as we much much much prefer Sapim Lasers for their strength, weight, general quality, and long track record of hig performance.  Being a 2.0/1.5/2.0 double butted spoke, Lasers are very susceptible to windup when extreme care isn't taken to prevent it.    When you build by hand, it's quite easy to feel when windup is happening, and to prevent it. 

We also wanted to have our wheels hand built for the craftsmanship component.  There is indeed an art to putting great wheels together.  This art is made tremendously easier when you start with really good components.  The rims we are using have been an absolute joy to work with, as they are true in the vertical plane and perfectly round when they're delivered.  They are also really consistent, with no hard spots in the layup.  What all of this does is allow for very even spoke tension throughout the wheel.  You aren't cranking down a few spokes to overcome a hard spot in order to keep the wheel round.  We're able to get the wheels to comfortably sub-millimeter tolerances in roundness and true, with generally +/- 2% spoke tensions.  With that kind of spoke tension consistency, wheels should stay true, spokes should last a long ass time, and your wheels should be a joy to ride for a long, long time. 

Like anything else, this whole thing is a process of learning.  We'll try hard to never become jaded or complacent about improving how we're doing what we're doing, but man are we psyched about the way our wheels are put together. 

And if you've lasted this long, you deserve to know that we just got some great news on delivery.  Awww yeah.