All things evolve over time, and when we talk about bikes, "time" means weeks and months, not years. Last year, and even much more recently than that, we'd never have guessed that we'd be enthusiastic about relaunching a Rail road-rim product. The evolution of other parts of the bike landscape, including huge adoption of disc brakes, made that evolution possible. Much more on this in a separate post.
The best proxy that we have for evolution within the market is the emails we get from you. As you'll see in more editions of Mailbag Monday, people still want to know about spoke lacing, but more and more now the questions are about matching rims to tires and intended use, and which hubs best suit a particular use/budget/build.
A topic whose absence just screams of a market change is discounts and sponsorship. You'll notice (or maybe not, so I'm going to tell you) that the current Rail 55 is priced lower than the last Rails we sold were, with equivalent builds. The last pair of Rail 52s we sold was in September 2016, and the White Industries hub option was $1325 plus shipping. We haven't exactly been living in inflationary times, but prices for things generally have crept up over that time. The 2020 Rail price is 8% less than the 2016 Rail price. Some wheels, like the new Enve and Zipp ones, have come down dramatically in price. In return, there are significant tradeoffs. Our price is a like-for-like comparison, but this picture all points to a world of suppressed pricing, which of course makes it challenging to justify discounts.
Shipping is the same at $35, although the cost of shipping has spiraled upward in that time. We basically aimed to lose money on about half of our shipping, make some on the rest, and net out about even. We lose money every time on shipping now - even as a few people wonder why we don't offer "free" shipping in an Amazon world. If any of you know how we can get free shipping and pass that along, please let me know. Until then, there's no such thing as free shipping.
In any case, the last time we were asked for a discount was yesterday. We were asked if there is an active duty military discount, which there isn't. A valid question, though, since many businesses furnish some sort of military and/or first responder discount. As ever, our aim is to make prices as low as possible for everyone. In the case of shipping, people in the east might lay claim to a lower shipping charge than the people in the west, since shipping to people in the east costs less. But the people in the east get their wheels faster, so there is an equitable benefit tradeoff there. And no one wants to get too granular on shipping costs because we subsidize everything that goes out the door, now. Don't poke that bear.
With a "discounts for some" scheme, some would pay less but some would pay more. Those who'd pay more don't have any benefit equity to match against the some who'd pay less.
The other, maybe more noticeable, email that we just plain NEVER get anymore is about team sponsorship. My guess is that we beat that dead horse into a state of sublime over-deadness through the course of several years, and that's that. But I also have to wonder if team sponsorship is even a thing anymore?
Both of us, but Mike in particular, hate the thought of having our name on some team jersey when a quarter of the people are riding our wheels. If you want to sponsor without that being the case, you have to give everyone on the team wheels - in return for which you can the demand that everyone rides them all the time. Ain't happening, we tried it once to see if it would go, and it spectacularly didn't.
A potentially smart move right now would be to align with a group that's in the center of a social equity issue that touches cycling right now. Giant is aligned with Bahati Foundation (and has been - they've got roots there) and Legion of LA has a full sponsor roster. We're not going to do that, although Bahati is near the top of our list for the rapidly evolving program we talked about the other day.
The time of cycling teams as they've been over the past couple of decades may be over. Their ability to justify value to sponsors may be at an all time low. There's a ton of room for them to add value in pitching in on some of the issues of our time, but our involvement with that would be "show us what you'd do with $1k worth of proceeds from merchandise sales and if you've got the best story, we'll ride with you for a while." That's a much much different story than what teams have run with prior.