A brief history of November, part 4: The Range

A brief history of November, part 4: The Range

Before getting into today's post, we are down to the bottom of the box on Boyd Altamont Ceramic rims. These are discontinued, and while Boyd will be launching a new rim brake rim in 2021 (thankfully), it will be less deep and less ceramic than the Altamont. So if you've been on the fence about jumping on a set of these, jump. There is one set of 20/24 left, and 3 sets of 24/28. The linked page shows only the White Industries T11 build, but we are happy to build with any other of the few available rim brake hub sets - DT350, DT240 EXP, Onyx Vesper. 

The Range... The Range was a great idea, on which we did a ton of stuff correctly, but suffered from some externalities that cut its run too short. For those of you who missed it, the Range was a 45mm deep, 20mm internal/27mm external, offset, disc specific tubeless ready rim. We began development in the fall of 2015, and delivered them in summer 2016. After a short initial run, we decided to discontinue them along with the Rail rims.

From a product perspective, it came from the same impetus as the Rail: to do something that we thought was needed, that no one else made. In this case, that was simply a disc specific carbon rim of moderate depth and width, suitable for road and cross. It's hard to even think of this now, but 6 years ago what you got when you bought a carbon "disc" rim was a carbon rim brake rim that didn't have a brake track. The profound difference between the two, as we've mentioned in a ton of places, is that disc brakes get to use low temperature resins, which is a big deal. We also thought to put an offset in it, which can be a good thing but it also increases the degree of difficulty at a price I no longer think is worth the benefit in such a deep rim.

We went with an entirely different supplier for the Range, the thought being that we would potentially switch any of our rims to them, and definitely unwinding a relationship with our Taiwan guy that was devolving into a mess. Neither Mike nor I have any fond memories there, but we'll keep that all to ourselves. We tried a whole bunch of sample rims and eventually picked a supplier that molded exceptional rims (by which I mean consistent rims molded to exact tolerances with good finish), and were very responsive to working with us and didn't seem to mind what a PITA I was. Their then-current ability to make rim brake rims was an absolute joke - I could reliably melt a set on a local hill of a type that anyone might encounter on any "not hilly" ride - but since disc rims, no problemo. 

The specs, at the time, were right. This was a time when 25mm tires were kind of threatening to become the new normal for road, and maybe some people were thinking about 28s. Cross tires still work really well on 20mm internal rims, and cross was a much bigger market for us (and everyone) at that time. Gravel's parents were dating, but hadn't yet gotten to third base (who'd have guessed they'd have octuplets on the first try?), so there wasn't any kind of mandate to consider 38 or 45mm tires. There weren't many tires like that even made. Cafe Racers and RCGs, not much wider, are still some of our best and best selling wheels. The 45mm depth was spot on, and if we had to knock our product range down to one depth that would be within a hair of the depth we'd choose - it's a do it all depth. 

The prototype process on these was PAINFUL. Since a huge part of the intended market for these was cross, and Colin Reuter and I were low grade dragging each other over the viability of tubeless cross (which history will show that I won, for the record), the tubeless interface had to be perfect. I think we achieved that, but it took a few rounds to get it right. 

Their initial weight estimate turned out to be a fantasy, and we wound up in the 440 or so gram range instead of our initial 380 gram target. Interestingly, the Cafe Racer rims are 420g at 46mm deep, so 440 was pretty good for the time, but the engineer we were working with might have done a better job to say "Dave, you're smoking crack if you think we can make this rim well at 380g." So we had to build and break like 6 rounds of prototypes before we got a layup that was consistent and strong. 

Once we got through all of that, we were ready to go to market. We'd been building awareness for the better part of a year, so we thought the market was primed when we opened the pre-order, and we had good expectations. They were not met. I think the initial pre-order was something like 15 sets. Double that would have been the bottom end of pleasant to us. A pre-order that didn't even sell out our first, limited, production was disappointing. Why didn't we sell more?

I think the product was simply ahead of its time. Disc was still a contentious tech for cross, and two years away from being fully legal for road. Gravel, as mentioned - not yet really a thing. So there just wasn't this installed base of bikes that had come with crappy OEM wheels that people wanted to upgrade. Cross snobs were still stuck (see what I did there?) on tubulars. 

You can argue that we should have been more patient with it, and given it time to find its market. You wouldn't necessarily be wrong with that, as evidenced once again by the strength and fitness of the really pretty similar Cafe Racer (and RCG, but Cafe Racer is closer). The issue with this is that we're too small a company to be able to afford sitting on a product like that. A slow selling proprietary product is a nightmare - it's too expensive to keep production runs coming when the sales aren't clicking. You get down to the last rims of a shipment and you know you're going to sell 2 more sets than you have available, so now you're going to dig into the till to speculate on producing rims that will probably move much more slowly than you'd like. This situation, more than anything, really brought to us the folly of our doing proprietary rims. And again, the insurance company wanted to get PAID for us to be in the manufacturer category. It was just untenable all around.

That whole soup, and the lack of attractive readily available disc specific OEM rims, was another big link in the chain of our decision that the time was not right for carbon. Making that decision was a tough one, and we were pretty sure that it would be the end of us. While we're committed to the business, we can't be if it doesn't make sense for us and you. We couldn't make carbon make sense for us and you, so we had to go it with alloy. And that will be the next phase of this story. 

Get the Altamonts, you won't regret it. 

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I’ve been bummed about the Altamont Ceramics going away as well…especially since I have a damaged rim I’d like to replace and I can’t find stock anywhere. Could you be talked into selling one of the 28 hole rims?

If you have, or know here I can find some of the Altamont Lite Ceramic rims, I have a friend who’d like one of those as well.

Tom Anhalt

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