The frame business

The last Timoneria has been sold, making this a good time to talk about the frame business. It's wonderful to be in the frame business, and it's awful to be in the frame business. The awful generally outweighs the wonderful.

As much as people like to kick the tires and debate with themselves about wheels, the frame (or built bike, since we sold those too) causes a whole order more internal gyration and hesitation. The frame defines your answer to "what bike do you ride," and let's face it even if you're completely unconcerned with the world's thoughts and cares about what bike you ride, that's a bit complicated. For me personally, riding around on the Timoneria gets a little tiring (firstly because I'm not in exactly sparkling shape right now) because there's almost no ride when I don't have to have a conversation about it. "Wow, that's a good looking bike, what kind of bike is that..." And hopefully I can get away with that sentence how it is, because it's dead honest. It's like people saying they like "nice, stiff wheels" - it's always phrased that way. Your frame says something about you. When I rode a CAAD 9, that said that I liked normal, workmanlike, road race performance oriented bikes. It was about as straightforward statement as you could give. Your bike winds up being a big statement, and for a brand like November that has good and bad implications, but the bad mostly outweigh the good. From our perch, telling the story of our frames to prospective buyers just plain took a whole lot of work. 

From the business mechanics side, it's all bad. A reasonably "full" slate of frame sizes is at least 7 sizes. Every one of those bikes uses the same size wheel. We can cover every appropriate lacing for those wheels with 4 (20/24/28/32) in a rim brake world and 3 (24/28/32) in a disc brake world. True, there are options out the wazoo for rims and hubs and spokes and everything else - we're probably closing in on 10000 variations of wheels that we build that we list as standard products on the site. But because you're talking about combinations there, everything's somewhat adaptable. The 24 hole "rear" rim for person A can be the 24 hole "front" rim for person B. If person B needs a 56 frame and all we have is 54, that's a dead end. 

And now, you've got people who want disc brakes and people who want rim brakes, people who want a road-oriented gravel bike and people who want a gravel-oriented road bike, people who like traditional geometry and people who prefer progressive geometry, e to the t to the c. There's no hope for a small brand, you just need such a huge audience to be able to get to critical mass in any one niche. Our daily audience on the site would probably need to be 20x in order for us to even sanely think about taking a bite of that brand of crazy.

Our first frames, the Wheelhouse and then the HOT BUNS (and, full disclosure, the HOT BUNS disc is the bike I ride basically 100% of the time now, warts and all) were from a Taiwanese open mold OEM. At the time, the mainland China frames felt like the complete Wild West, while although it was tough to get one of the good Taiwanese OEMs to even take an order from a company our size (and they were WILDLY unrealistic about order quantities - there are maybe 30 bike companies that can sell 1000 of a relatively expensive performance carbon frame, but that was their negotiation start point), that was what we felt we needed to do to do a good job for our customers. Ritte didn't - they went straight to the mainland. Boyd used to be in the frame business, though I have no idea where they go theirs from. A ton of people used to be in the frame business, and it's like they all got out. Shockingly, Pedal Force is still a thing, and they still sell the "All New CG-2," which I think is the same frame as a Wheelhouse. Wow do their frames look dated - they must have gotten loaded up on the 1000 piece order. 

The Timoneriae (I just made up the plural of a word I kinda made up in the first place) came from Sarto in Italy. The funny thing was that as much as we wanted to be judicious about telling people where the first frames came from (as much as they needed to know), we wanted very much to shout about where the Timoneriae came from, and we were prevented from doing so. Sarto had had a moment where they probably took too many orders like ours, there were Sarto-made Merlins and I think there might have been (or still is) a Sarto made Franco and here a Sarto there a Sarto everywhere a Sarto Sarto. So they put the kibosh on anyone saying their bikes were made by Sarto. And that came just as we were starting to sell Timos. We've gotten kicked in the face by crap like that more than a time or three. 

But the worst part of all of the frame business is the financials. You pay when you order. You order 90 to 120 days before delivery, at best. You have an initial rush of sales, or maybe some pre-orders, and then the curve flattens like something out of Dr Fauci's wildest dreams. So you sell incremental frames, hoping to at least get back to having the same amount of money that you had to begin with, and for argument's sake let's say that's 6 months after you began the whole process. And then you start a slow drip of actual honest to goodness cash flow. It sucks. And then you start running out of the sizes that people want to buy, because of course your really great guess size mix forecast was wrong. 

And then during that time, road dies and gravel becomes king. Or rim brakes die and the entire world wants disc. Or 40mm tire clearance is for idiots - the conversation starts at 44. You idiots why did you choose an English threaded bottom brakes everyone want press fit now. Or the moment you decide that you're going to green light the 29er, Nino Schurter wins the XC Worlds on a 27.5 and you quick call up and kill that order (that actually happened). Or a f-ing global pandemic engulfs the entire world and boy then don't you smell like roses. After the neighborhood walks their very well fed dogs right past said roses. You seriously can not win for playing. 

All of which makes us so happy to be in a good spot in the wheel business. I'm going to put in rim and hub orders for this week-to-date's sales this morning, and they'll show up over the next week. We'll do the next carbon wheel pre-order and even with the s--t show that is the world's supply chain right now those rims will arrive and we'll build and ship them and we'll have our next segment of rim inventory and there we go. 

So, what frame do you guys think we should do next?


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  • Dave on

    North – Maybe but unlikely, at least in the foreseeable time horizon. Some builders (Moots I think) are using 3d printed dropouts and other small parts but large scale adoption for frames and large parts isn’t something I’ve yet heard of.

    Kevin – That’s awesome, thanks. Sarto was pretty easy to work with.

  • Kevin L on

    The Timoneria was the first (and only) frame I’ve ever bought sight unseen based on geometry and a conversation with you folks. It is also the best ride I own, relegating my S-Works Roubaix to the back of the garage. All it took for me was ‘hand made in Italy’ and ‘tube to tube construction’. Responsive, supple and agile is the only way to describe it. Oh, and I get nothing but complements on it whenever I take it out.

    My only regret is that I didn’t buy the disc version of the frame. If you ever decide to do another frame build with Sarto or a manufacturer with similar build quality (and I detect from the post that the answer is no) count me in for a disc model.

    Interesting sidebar – I ran into the Sarto technical director at the NA Hand Built Bicycle show here in Sacramento last year. Their booth had several good looking rides that had me on the verge of opening my wallet. I showed him a photo of my Timoneria and he instantly remembered it and had nothing but good things to say about November. Small world…

  • North Krimsly on

    I’m wondering if/how 3D printing might change this story in the future?

  • Dave on

    Mark – That is so cool. But does he still ride the bike?

  • Mark D on

    I have a fond memory of the original Wheelhouse frame, from back when I was a November newby, maybe 4 or 5 wheelsets ago. I met a guy out at a local midweek B crit here in Colorado (where November is not terribly well known) warming up on his Wheelhouse. I’m not sure I had even received my first set of wheels, but struck up a conversation with this guy about his frame and November in general. He was a really nice guy, and not too uptight (you never know what uptight-ness level you are going to get at a crit warmup). I was pretty sad when 300 meters from the finish of our race, I saw said Wheelhouse eject straight up, riderless, along with several wheels flying out in all directions from a pack of ten or so that went down in one of the most dramatic pileups I’ve ever narrowly avoided – right in front of me. Turned out from onboard footage, his own teammate cut his wheel starting the whole mess – and yes those were early days for onboard action cams. Long story long, ‘that guy’ and I have now been on the same team for 5 years and he is one of my favorite teammates. From time to time we still talk about that pileup and that bike.



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