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Featured Build

We're psyched to offer USA made Industry Nine Torch hubs in our latest Featured Build. Paired with Easton R90 SL rims (in rim or disc brake) they build into a highly satisfying wheelset in the 1550g range, customizable with your choice of 11 color hubs. Starting at $820

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Wednesday
May252016

CX Sprint Spokes

Sapim recently made CX Sprint spokes available to wheel builders. The CX Sprint is a very slightly wider version of a CX Ray. A CX Sprint is to a CX Ray roughly as a D-Light is to a Laser. And that becomes an important comparison for us.

Previously, they'd been an OEM-only spoke for builders of massive scale. We're an OEM too, I know, but we don't have anything like massive scale. The most notable use of CX Sprints is by Zipp in their Firecrest series. As they introduced the Firestrike and NSW lines, they switched to CX Sprints all around in Firecrest. So this isn't some Johnny-come-lately spoke that's got some freak use profile. 

This blog started out quite differently from how it's going now, and as I got into it I realized that it would have to be cut up into probably 3 posts. So there's a bunch of sort of technical stuff and links to previous blogs to show once again that yes we test all this stuff, and that will all be included in subsequent posts. Think of this post as the liberal arts segment of the topic.

The hydrangeas on the porch are about to bloom, and are much nicer than boring spoke photos

As Mike has eloquently pointed out in recent posts about feature builds (and the current one is a good one), people continuously ask us for bladed spokes. Objectively, they do some very nice things, but subjectively we've always considered that as a value play, what they do wasn't really worth the price of entry for most applications. The message from the market in general is "yeah, screw that, I want them anyway." So we're making some streamlines to the product mix that will emphasize bladed spokes. And the majority of those setups will include CX Sprint spokes on the drive side of the rear and the disc side of disc front wheels. 

We've become big fans of differentiated spoke selection on the load and off side of many wheels. We've been doing it for almost a year and there's no question it works. We did a few test builds with CX Sprints and we like what they do there as well. So as we align more with customer request, we'll integrate CX Sprints into the mix there. And there will be instances where we'll be able to make slightly lower spoke count wheels work for more of you (what do you people have against spokes, anyway?!?!?!? - just kidding).

Some pundit among you will point out the cost difference and raise that as our hidden agenda. Retail on a CX Sprint is $.50 less than for a CX Ray. As you can imagine, our cost difference as a large-ish buyer of spokes is just a portion of that. We're using them for at most half the spokes in a wheel set, our pricing to you reflects that pricing, and if we weren't convinced that there is a benefit we wouldn't do it anyhow. Rails aren't going to use CX Sprints because quite simply, they don't need them. The shorter spokes and greater bracing angles of deeper rims mitigate the benefit. 

This concludes the liberal arts portion of this discussion.

Friday
May202016

Matchmaker matchmaker

Selling wheels is actually hard work. The differences that do exist between wheels are reasonably contained (let's face it there are some bad wheels out there, and there are also wheels designed around divergent purposes), so when you're earnestly trying to help someone make their best choice, rather than a just a good choice, it's kind of a full contact process, mentally speaking. It's also time consuming. 

The way it works out, selling the wheels is the only way to monetize that consultative process, and that's the way it works out in most retail-ish things. I'd actually love a business model whereby we just took a fee for consulting wheel purchases for people. The sales/service side and the operations are both hungry beasts, and HAH! if you think you can multi-task them. And please - sales isn't a dirty word - in your life as a consumer, good salesmen/women are some of the most valuable people in your world. They help you spend your life using things that add value to your life instead of things that suck. But the operations are how you get paid for the sales/service part, that's just how it is. And the price of the goods has to reflect the cost and value of the sales and service, otherwise the supplier is screwing himself. 

We actually steer most people towards our lowest margin wheel set, which is the opposite of what most sales organizations do, and is actually pretty dumb from a business perspective. We'd supposed that the benefits of that set would be so self-evident that it would involve about as much of a sales process as someone buying a Coke in a gas station. What's happened as often as not is that said product is a better fit and value for the customer's needs than some higher margin thing they'd originally asked about, and we wind up spending a lot of our very finite time explaining that. So that's something we have to look at, but we aren't going to shut down the sales process side. To do so just wouldn't be us, and we enjoy it anyway. But it's worked out that we're kind of punishing ourselves for doing a good, so we have to look at it. 

We've always been, but seem to have become more so recently, a high touch supplier. Pretty substantial pre-sales contact is the norm, as are post-delivery follow ups. And we like this, it's a natural fit for us. There are instances when it gets a bit excessive, and we struggle with those. We have a weakness for trying to make sure people feel well served. We're also small, so when you contact us, you're going to hear from one of the guys who's stood there in the wind tunnel, or done the brake heat testing, or measured all the tires, or burped the tubeless cross tire that didn't work as well as it was supposed to. The flip side of this is that we're small, so as we're trying to give you perfect info, there are also things that aren't happening then. It's part of running a small business. 

 

Friday
May132016

Superstition, the Mosaic Theory, and Sheldon Brown

It's Friday the 13th. Make of that what you will. This ends the superstition portion of today's blog. 

Mosaic Theory generally applies to investment management. The nickel tour of the concept is that an investment manager takes a huge array of information, directly-, indirectly-, and seemingly unrelated to a specific company, and fits those pieces together to form an overall picture - a mosaic, if you will - of the company's (and thus its stock's) prospects. The negative connotation is that it's used to cover insider trading, which it undoubtedly does. We live in the real world, people - the truth is stanger than Bud Fox, Gordon Gekko, and Bluestar Airlines. But the Mosaic Theory does have an accepted positive connotation, and there's no denying that some investment managers have a spidey sense that's no doubt attributable to some form of "mosaic" principle. Peter Lynch, Bejamin Graham, Warren (no relation to Jimmy) Buffett - they've all written extensively about their stock picking methods, but they also definitely picked up on a lot of things other people missed, and were able to make better cohesive wholes out of disparate pieces.

What does this have to do with bicycles - a question we've caused you to ask innumerable times on this here venerated web log, or "blog" as the kids call it. Well, I'm about to tell you.

When bikes are your job, and you're generally a pretty obsessive sort, you're constantly tuned into things. We must have spoken before about the way we triangulate things - piece of information A relates to piece of information B in such a way, and they both relate to piece of information C, that piece of information C obviously either does or doesn't make sense. We do this constantly, continuously even. 

You who are reading this are probably generally inclined to believe that we have general truth as well as your best interests at heart, hopefully mostly because we've given you good reason to over the last gazillion posts and other actions (and Mike is currently prepping a big site shift so we have recently counted the blog posts - gazillion it is). Sometimes we wade into forum topics and provide a perspective, and people assuming we've got an agenda that we just don't poke their virtual finger into our virtual chest and say "show me the proof." Well, we might have ready links to two or three things that could begin to give an impression of the overall picture. But the real and honest answer is "pay withering attention to this topic for ten years, read thousands of pages of background info, with senses that are tuned not only to what information is presented, but also to who is presenting it and how their presentations are generally shaded, within the context of the overall zeitgeist surrounding the topic, and bring to bear all of your disparate experiences and seemingly unrelated knowlege, and have your professional life depend on your ability to make an accurate picture out of that, and you will see my point better." I've never actually written that in a forum, but I might someday, because it's the truth. 

I say this as reverently as is possible to do - a TRUE bike dork

As part of this, we've probably reached a point where many people are unfamiliar with Sheldon Brown. He died getting on toward about a decade ago, and a lot of people riding bikes now probably weren't riding bikes then. Since the info on his site is getting a bit dated these days, it's not quite the constant reference it had once been for me, but it sure is always there as a background. The number of hours I've spent poring (and that's the right way to spell that, btw) over the info he accumulated, developed, and shared provide a HUGE amount of my personal "bike knowledge mosaic." Compared to Sheldon's, our interest in bikes is quite narrow, but sometimes you read something about a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hub from 1970 and it helps you figure something out about today's hubs. Even though he was as good as anyone was at early internet cataloging (I have no idea if that's the right way to spell that, btw) and linking, at some point all the freaking absolute imperial tons of info he shared just sort of coagulate into "mosaic."

I don't have any idea if Sheldon would take any joy in my remembering him on a Friday the 13th, but I specifically, along with cycling in general, owe a huge debt to the guy. He was one of a kind. 

Tuesday
May102016

Scarlet Letters

This confessional from a "reformed" bike reviewer has been making the serious rounds lately. To be honest (a theme which will carry through this post), it wasn't much of a revelation. Pay to play isn't anything new, and while we wouldn't necessarily expect you to know about it, we sure do. But then Mike sent me this yesterday, and it made us both really glad. Apologies are wonderful and all, but they aren't magical "make everything better and remove the original sin" cards. 

Brief interlude here. Before I go further, we've had to apologize - absolutely. Yesterday I had to, as we're late on delivery of a set of wheels and we didn't do the job we could have of keeping the customer informed. We've missed shipping extra brake pads and shipped two front skewers and various things like that. We've had warranty stuff happen, too. We're not perfect, we've never claimed to be, and we seem to proclaim our imperfection more often than most. Interlude over.

Like any other company in the bike business, we've struggled to define what differentiates us. Of course we think our wheels (and whatever else we sell, but really we sell wheels) are pretty crazy nice. Even if we're using the same parts and pieces as others, there's still the small matter of assembly, which really isn't a small matter at all. It's not always perfect, but man is it good, and consistent, and we're always trying to make it better. Rail 52s are still fast, still incredibly easy to handle, and still corner so well it's almost unfair, and we keep working to make them better and better. 

The value of our products is of course very strong relative to alternatives. There's no magic behind it, it's just a case of empathy. We're not quite 100% ready to go open book on showing our costs, but it's something we've toyed with for sure. We think the more likely backlash if we did that would be of the "you guys actually aren't charging enough" variety, rather than the other way. But it would just be too disruptive, and we don't want to spend 2016 talking about that. But the point is that our pricing is exceptionally customer friendly, which wouldn't matter if we didn't use exclusively products that we've vetted extensively and that we wouldn't feel great about having any rider in the world use and evaluate us on. 

Our service is good, too. We definitely count the blog as service - even though it comes with a scarlet asterix of being "the world according to our perspective." More on that in a minute. When our email system isn't fouled up and your spam filters aren't on hyperdrive, you can expect responses from us within surprising time frames. And though we can't always provide the depth of response that people are looking for (some of which, literally, would take a week to reserach and write), we always give the most complete and straightforward response that we can. We try super hard to get you to your best wheel solution, and when we aren't it we'll tell you right away. Warranties get handled promptly. We're proud of all that.

But really, the first decision that we ever made defines us, and that decision was to be profoundly honest. Say, for instance, a company goes out to the world and says "this is our super rad new frameset that we designed from scratch and it's ours and ours alone and you should but it, it's super awesome. Party!" And then they say "okay, it's not exactly precisely exclusively ours, but we did specify the layup and it's super awesome and you should still buy it. Party!" And then they say "okay, it's actually precisely the same frame as is being sold here and here for profoundly less but you should still buy it from us because we're rad and it's an awesome paint job. Party!" If they do that, why would you ever take them at their word again. And yes, I'm talking about the company you think I'm talking about, and the crime here is abso-f'ing-lutely NOT us calling them out for something that's super well documented to have happened. Their paint jobs ARE awesome, and they do in fact do some cool stuff, but there's a level of credibility they'll never have in my opinion. When we sold open mold frames, you knew it from the word go, and in the rare instances when you could find them elsewhere, we offered at least as good a value as you could find. 

Or when a company sells thousands and thousands of wheels based on one bullet-proof iron-clad can't-miss "we even used COMPUTERS!" wind angle (aka yaw) analysis, telling you that based on this flawless analysis that their wheels are definitely the best, and then turns around a few years later and says "our new wheels are better because we found out that you actually experience these other wind angles way way more when you ride so you should buy the new ones." Really? I mean, according to their new wind angle analysis, a Rail 52 is faster than a Firecrest 404 because it's better at shallow wind angles. And based on a pretty simple but very time consuming analysis, we knew when we sat down to design the 52 that you really ride in low angles. But how did we present the situation? Using the broadly accepted Tour Magazine wind angle weighting protocol, which showed our wheel performing realtively less well, because that was a presentation that we thought was accurate enough and gave people a very solid basis from which to make a purchase decision. 

If our builds weren't world class, or the pieces that we use to build them weren't as good as you'll find, or our prices were out of line, none of the foregoing would really matter, but since all that stuff actually is in line, really you might want to give us a look because we're honest and meticulous and because since the first second of our existence all that we've been about is transparently providing you with the best solution that we can. 

Wednesday
May042016

The case for shallow carbon (or, is there one?)

My perusal of the morning's news and headlines took a turn for the perky when I noticed that VeloNews had reviewed the fairly new Enve SES 2.2 clinchers. Bearing in mind that I was still mulling over their knee-jerk "upgrading to a snappier set of Zipps or Enves would be our first move.." line from a recent review of the BH G7 Disc, I was curious to see where this one went. 

Of course, the background to this whole issue is the steady stream of emails that we get wondering whether we still do the Rail 34 (which we don't - original post about that here). As I said in yesterday's blog post, we want to make decisions with the best possible information that we can. In objective product decisions, that's pretty easy. Figuring out the subjectives of what people want is a little tougher. Subjectives count, we know this, so when they don't conflict with an overriding objective principle, we'll happily go with them (more on this shortly). The objectives were that Rail 34s, and the landscape of shallow carbons in general, are that they aren't generally lighter than aluminum alternatives, don't offer notable stiffness gains (especially the 2.2, according to Velonews), don't offer significant aerodynamic gains (and can in fact come with an aerodynamics penalty to aluminum alternatives), and do all of this with the significant extra expense and braking limitations of carbon. A lot of people love carbon for the sake of carbon, which is why shallow carbons do sell and will continue to do so. But though we do have soft spot for the Corima 32, we've stepped off of the shallow carbon train.

Back on track, as I said, the knee jerk editorial response to any "meh wheels on a new bike" situation seems to be "just throw some Zipps or Enves on and you're all good." No one ever got fired for buying from IBM, right? And maybe you should be budgeting somewhere between $2400 and $3500 for wheels to replace the ones that came on your $4800 bike, but that thinking leaves us ice cold like a corpse. Like a corpse. There are a lot of options out there, from us and others. So I was curious in extremis to see what they had to say upon deeper inspection of these new-ish wheels from one of their go-to recommendations. 

They didn't like them. 

They headline the review with “Exceptionally light climbing wheels ideal for the weight weenie.” Let's take a look at it. The 2.2s weigh 1350 grams. That's light, but an $840 20/24 set of Pacenti SL23s with Tune hubs is about 25g less. So lower than "exceptionally light" weight, at 25% of the price. Yes, 25% of the cost. We usually recommend a 20/28 build with this set, which puts them at weight equal to the Enves. You can et within 100 grams of the weight of the 2.2s in a $645 set of Nimbus Ti. For those of you keeping score at home, $645 is 18% of $3500. And we're not talking about compromised components, here. Tune and White Industries hubs. Top line Sapim spokes. Class leading rims. You could also do a Corima 32 build from us that costs nearly 40% less than the Enve reviewed. 

This isn't a rip on Enve, though it will undoubtedly be broadly received as such. Enve's business is carbon, and they'll sell more 2.2 clinchers this year than we'll sell wheels. By a TON. They have ProTour(tm) teams which demand super light wheels (they'll all be using the tubular version, btw), and in order to convert on their whole strategy, they have to do it. Same with the other big brands and those who want to seem like or become a big brand. But as we told our moms, you know we're not like other guys (will anyone get the reference?). We can't make shallow carbon clinchers make sense, so we can't put undue resources into them. 

Some of you are old enough to remember this.