This is sure to be a huge post since we know that posts with "versus" in the title always go big.
If you've tried to buy stuff from outside the country lately, you may have found that shipping is a little sticky right now. Our normal delivery scene for carbon rims is that they get ready and boxed, wait about 2 days to get consolidated, then ship, then go through customs in NY, and then get delivered to us. Once they go in a box, it's usually 5 to 7 days before they arrive. Because non-essential freight isn't being allowed to go through the normal postal channels, it needs to be shipped by commercial carrier (DHL, FedEx, UPS) instead of the mail. Lots of freight goes in commercial airlines, and global air travel is down somewhere around 75% depending on what you read and how you slice it. That takes a bite.
After a whole lot of back and forth, we've found that we can get shipments reasonably quickly by FedEx, for around triple the normal cost. This sucks, don't get me wrong - it's an extra $50 or so per wheel set. But when your choice set is 8 days expensively or 8 weeks cheaply, well 8 weeks has its own expensiveness so we're going with the 8 days. This is still a brave new world se we really don't know how smoothly this all works, what hidden costs there are, how long we'll need to deal with this, etc.
Which all impacts us pretty hard because we give you people an awful lot of choices. We offer 8 different carbon rim choices, which is a lot. Are that many really truly necessary? This is what we're batting around right now. We could be suffering the paradox of choice, we might be just right for the market. But the upshot is that in order to have every rim we sell in stock, we need to have 16 carbon rims on hand. That doesn't seem like all that much, I know, but it's a few grand. If we were to keep 10 sets of each rim on hand, which might be reasonable, that's all of a sudden a ton of money. 160 rims again may not seem a lot depending on your perception of our output (we're not Zipp, I'll tell you that). But having 10 sets of 8 different kinds of rims works wildly differently than having 40 sets if 2 different rim types. Anyone who would choose to be in the business of 10 x 8 instead of 40 x 2 is a fool. Not only do you get to have things in stock way more, you spend a heck of a lot less time on logistics and inventory tracking and ordering and all that BS, and critically for us you don't have to run through one. million. options with a good majority of your sales inquiries.
There's a thin line between selling what you have in stock (push the veal!) when it may not be really right for the customer's needs, and having what you really want to sell and fits the customer's needs to a huge degree a vast percentage of the time. I know that 100% of our road and gravel customers could buy RCGs and be deliriously happy with them. I sure am. But each and every day we get at least one inquiry of do you think a 21 or 23mm width rim better suits my needs. There's not that much difference, I can almost guarantee you won't notice. 10 years ago, 13 or 14mm inside was universal for road, then we coalesced around 18 for a while, and now people seriously kill themselves over 1mm differences. 14 to 18 was a big change (almost a 30% increase in rim width!), especially on the narrower tires we all used then. The difference between 21 and 22 (almost a 5% increase), comparatively, is not a difference. Especially with the wider tires we all use now.
Similar with depth. We've beaten wind tunnel studies to absolute death. The differences are what they are, and if I recall correctly Tour Magazine pegged the difference between the worst wheel around (Ksyrium) to a 404 at 13 watts. Your "not even that dirty" chain costs you many multiple times the difference between AL33s and 404s.
Now, out of the other side of our mouths, in a big way we exist to help you sort out these differences. A Cafe Racer and All Road 50 have different ideal use cases, and at almost a 4mm difference in interior widths (a 16% increase) you will begin to see some notable differences. Are you going to see that big of a difference between an RCG and a Cafe Racer, at either the aerodynamics difference (small) or the weight difference (about 3% difference per wheel set)? Is there a huge handling difference in breeze? I'm not going to say they're the same, but would you notice any of these aspects in isolation or in aggregate? Same deal with All Road 50 and All Road 38. We see the width category there as the big thing, with the depth difference being of much much smaller consequence. Zipp currently has one depth of "all road" width wheels. Are we psychopaths for trying to support this sliver of choice? Probably.
This is a weird year, weird for sure. The overwhelming thing I see is that people are sweating timelines. The season is going to be short because of restrictions and knock-on effects from them, and people are going to want to kill themselves having as much fun as they can in the shortest possible time. Waiting and waiting isn't going to cut it. So we've made the choice to go deeper and narrower. We'll still have preorders for everything, and we'll try as hard as we can to keep the preorder schedules (there will be some instances where stuff gets dragged out a bit - the world is quite far from normal and quite far away from our control).
It's all about trying to meet what you all want as well as we can. In times when lead times were shorter, the array of choice is very tough but workable. Right now, we're sort of cutting straight to the "gun to your head, what do you choose" answer paradigm that we so often end up at anyway. We're not ever going to willfully sell what we don't think will work outrageously well for you ("push the veal!"), but we are going to shade more toward "if you had to cut the menu in half, what would you keep" type operations.
Yesterday was the first weekday without a blog post in 42 days. It was a good run. We've got some things planned for next week, including the video post of "how to prep and lace a front wheel," a survey that we're dying to get some answers to, and some news about the rim brake rim market (it's tightening up!)
Have a great weekend.
Weiwen – Hubs are no problem. Having options prevents us from building things for stock, but our customers have always valued hubs and colors and options. Plus with different spoke counts and axles and drivers, you’re not saving that much headache. The survey results already show that our customers put a high emphasis on hubs. We don’t stock hubs – we might have 6 in stock, MAX. Our suppliers deliver quickly and that wait is well within reason for custom. The rims take forever to get and that can turn into a hunk of money hanging on pegs waiting to get sold.
Dave, thanks for the correction on Zipp.
Just to clarify why I brought up November: their rim lineup is pretty compact. They have 3 depths for road wheels: deep, deeper, and deepest. They come in rim and disc versions. They have deep 700c gravel wheels, and deep 650B gravel wheels. That’s it (aside from closeout models).
If you needed to really get your frequently stocked rim lineup very compact, I wonder if you could do it like they do, except reduce the number of models even further. I guess you can eliminate the really deep rims at the cost of losing a few triathletes and aero weenies. Or at least offer more specialty rims, like really deep rims or ultralight rims, as full custom options that you’ll just have to wait longer for.
And if you need to reduce the breadth of stock for your hubs … maybe keep Aivee and whichever of the higher end options is more frequently ordered in a range of colors? Or maybe you make sure you stock i9 and White but only in black? Choice of hubs and colors does inevitably complicate your inventory versus Flo, Enve, Zipp, etc.
Thanks, all! We appreciate the thoughts.
Weiwen – A couple of clear ups. I don’t say Zipp hubs are all bad across the board. I said “I’d about 1 zillion times have Aivee hubs than Zipp hubs with Zipp’s illustrious history at the hub game.” A lot of people have had a lot of problems with Zipp hubs, it’s well documented, and they’ve had multiple recalls. I don’t think they get to claim any kind of leadership position in the hub game.
All Roads are DEFINITELY good for gravel. They’re all over that, hopefully we articulate that to the hilt because we sure mean to. For cross, if you’re going to use cross tires, RCGs, Cafe Racers and GOATs are like the absolute no burp solution and they’re a perfect width for 33mm “terrain” tires (knobby, file, that whole group). That’s a perfect rim/tire interaction. As you get out to 36+ mm treaded tires, All Roads get perfect.
Will take a look at Flo’s lineup. Their audience comes from tri traditionally, so they’re more into wearing no socks and riding deep wheels which would explain why life begins at 50 for them.
Here are some thoughts. It seems to me like road rims should probably get an internal rim width of 21-23mm or so, and they should be deep. So, between the RCGs and Cafe Racers, if I were to choose one rim, I’d delete the RCGs. For that matter, maybe the Cafe Racer should be deeper.
For gravel rims, I’d want 25mm internal width. So, between the All Road 38 and 50, maybe one of those can go as well. I’m an aero weenie, and the 50 isn’t much heavier than the 38, so if it were up to me, maybe the 38 can go. I realize that’s an unusual choice.
I know you recommend the AR rims more for road rides with 30-38mm slick tires. If they can do that, then why can’t they do gravel? Why would I choose a Cafe Racer with 21.5mm internal width for gravel, but not an AR? (NB: not UCI-regulated CX, but gravel.)
Then, it seems like there’s overlap between some of the shallower carbon wheels also. I personally don’t know if I’d ever bother with shallow carbon. It’s light, but you have to be in a very specific use case for that to make a bigger difference than aerodynamics.
I’d recommend taking a look at Flo Cycling’s new wheel lineup. They have an All Sport line that’s more a road rim (21mm internal), and another gravel line that’s 25mm internal. They only have one hub (unknown manufacturer), but they have a lot of different depths. When I look at their claimed aerodynamic + rolling resistance figures across the range of depths, I do wonder if they really need 3 different depths for their road lineup (50mm, 64mm, and 77mm).
Either way, if you were looking to reduce the breadth of the offerings, I wonder if shrinking the number of rims on offer might be worth thinking about. When I look at November versus Flo, Zipp, or Enve, the wide choice of brand name hubs makes the difference for me. I don’t know the track records of the latter manufacturers’ hubs. I don’t necessarily take your word that Zipp hubs are universally bad, but I do know that at least some generations have had issues.
Aerodynamics matters to me, so if you weren’t offering rims as deep as the other guys, that could be a negative for me. The thing is, I’m a light rider, so I’m not sure I’d want anything deeper than about a Zipp 404 (which is 58mm deep). If we’re talking about really deep rims over 60mm, then maybe people looking at those have to content themselves with the big branded firms. Those will probably be race day wheels, so if the hubs aren’t first class, then maybe that’s not the worst thing. If you stopped offering 45-50mm rims entirely, I might stop looking here. But I’m weird.
Maybe time to really inquire from your customers why we picked you over the several other custom builders out there, and concentrate on those reasons. I’ll start: I liked your philosophy of reliability over light weight