The Bottlenecks

We have bottlenecks. Every business does. In fact, it's been a long couple days and I have about 6 of them in my recycling bin right now. But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

For our 2013 road bike, the bottleneck is me. For the last few weeks Dave has been riding the frame we liked enough on paper to transition to the road. He liked it plenty but for one thing - it was the wrong size for him. He's a solid 56 and I'm a reliable 54 (even though we're exactly the same height and inseam, which is a blog for another day and ought to include the picture Dave should have taken of the guy "test riding" a $6K aero road bike in street shoes in the parking garage below the fancy-pants bike shop in our town, but that he only texted me about without actually committing to photo). Still, it rang all the right bells and pulled the right levers for him - exceptional cornering, faultless power transfer, light, confidence-inspiring, noticeably comfortable. The only thing it lacked was my corroboration. I spent the week in Florida for spring break (the part of the state where a friend advised my wife not to take her shirt off for anyone claiming to be producing an "independent film," whereby inspiring me to use the line more frequently than should have been funny yet somehow still was), but am back now and really want to ride it. But I really need to do about 20 other things, not even including producing an independent film starring my wife. So but for me, we may well have made a decision on next year's road bike. I'm the bottleneck. By this weekend though I should have resolved, um, myself. 

Because we build wheels to spec and have traditionally offered our customers a choice of hubs and spokes across a vast assortment of rims, our perpetual bottleneck has long been our build queue. On the one hand, waiting 3 weeks for a custom built set of wheels doesn't seem like a lot. But are we custom wheelbuilders, or a wheel company that builds by hand? We have debated that for about two years. While we've done so, we've traditionally set ourselves up more as custom wheelbuilders. Recently though we started acting more like a wheel company and "productizing" (the quote marks mean I actually use the word out loud but think less of myself for having done so) our wheel lineup by scaling back on some of the options. After taking wheels to the wind tunnel, for example, we could not see a lot of sense in offering CX-Ray spokes in our alloys so removed them as an option. And for the forthcoming Rail, we're looking at two "colorways" (quote marks as above) - a dark one (black hubs and spokes) and a bright one (red hubs and silver spokes). Simplifying offerings allows us to build in advance for inventory, since there is a greater chance that what gets built also gets sold. When we offered 4 different spokes and 4 different hubs (in as many as 10 colors) across each of 4 depths of carbon clincher rims, trying to guess what someone might buy and have it ready ahead of time was a fool's errand. 

Even with a simplified product line, wheel pre-orders always create bottlenecks of their own. Hundreds of rims arrive at the same time and need to be built here by hand immediately today now into hundreds of wheels for expectant customers. One of Dave's full time jobs right now is training and prepping a crew of wheelbuilders so we can manage peak periods much more quickly, and also build for deeper inventory so that in-stock wheels are ready even before you order them. Obviously, this wouldn't be possible without some level of the productization we've started to implement above. Yes you can still get Chris King and PowerTap hubs in the Rail and our other wheelsets; we just won't have them built in advance and ready to fly out the door.

Onward and upward. And since I know most of you are here just for news about the Rail I'll remind you to come back in a few days when the first Rails to pop out of the new mold emerge from customs and are in our hands.

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I really enjoy hearing about the evolution of your business. It's interesting to see the challenges facing a small business and the natural progression towards optimal efficiency. Your success is especially inspriring for a dude just workin' for the firm (that I am blessed to be a part of, but c'mon who wouldn't rather build bikes).Keep it up!


Excited!! About both the bike and the Rail!


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