Today's theme is curves. Appropriate, because this review of Curve Wheels - and more particularly, the comment section following the review - provides much of the impetus. A word of warning: this blog contains graphs, subjective opinions, and sober refutations of false-differentiation-marketing-induced-mania. All of these have proven to provoke angry responses in blogs past.
Wheel prices are rising. It's become easier to spend $3000 than it is to spend $2000 on a set of Enves, and Zipp's $2000 Firecrest pricepoint has to be taken in context of their $3000 and $4000 Firestrike and NSW pricepoints. The previously more value-oriented brands which had been more or less our price peers are closer to $2000 for carbon clinchers, and even Far Sports (yes, it's Far Sports) has $1600 carbon clinchers. As part of realigning our wheel categories to make things easier for buyers, we combed through a fairly exhaustive volume of sales outlets to confirm that our internally-proposed sell prices made sense relative to market, and prices are creeping up in alloy as well. Our prices have been stable relative to market.
Okay, so to the promised curves. Here's the first:
This curve expresses our belief that there the law of diminishing returns in wheels. The red zone shows that there is a range of benefit (or performance) which we feel is appropriate to our customer base. This range is toward the high side of the benefit scale, as our customers are after a high level wheel experience. Conversely, it's toward the shallow side of the cost axis - our wheels are expensive enough that when I explain our business to non-cyclists I meet, they usually think it's nuts that people spend that much on bicycle wheels. But within the world of cycling, there are a heck of a lot more wheels that cost 3, 4, 5, or more times what ours do than it is to find a set of wheels for half of our median price. We like being at the inflection point. Some of our wheels have a sex appeal factor that adds cost more quickly than it adds objective benefit. Life's short, your time on the bike is limited, and hey I like pink hubs they cost a little more and I'm gonna use them. If anything, this curve is overly optimistic on performance increases as we go out to the right, but I just drew a curve on a simple program so this curve really expresses my limitations as a graphic artist as much as it does an accurate portrayal of the situation.
This inverted bell curve shows our concept of cost versus compromise. Simply put, you have to spend a certain amount on your wheels to make sure you're not getting junk. We like to be at the very low end of the compromise range, since it's possible to get there without going that far out the cost axis (and again, I threw this curve together on a rudimentary drawing program to make a visual point, so it isn't exactly to scale). But the surprise comes on the right hand side of the curve - compromise goes back up as cost increases. Part of that is that cost IS a compromise - if two things perform precisely the same but one costs more, the extra price of the one is a compromise. But we're also talking about things like needing to worry about your carbon brake track, and wet weather braking, and "what if this isn't covered by warranty," and "I hope the guy who pushed the envelope on these remembered to lick the envelope!" and a bunch of other things along those lines.
We make a concerted effort to be in a specific spot on these curves, and between the FSW and all of our custom builds, we think we nail that.