First off, Mike here. Long time readers will have seen my entries but Dave has had the wheel of the blog for the last couple of years. While I've been silent as far as most of you are concerned, I'm still actively involved in all the decisions we make here at November. We made a big one recently, resulting in the most read blog entry in over a year. While Dave is off building non-carbon wheels, I'll take a few minutes to tell you the rest of the story.
When we launched this business back in 2010, we were earnestly driven more by mission coupled with opportunity than we were from a desire to get rich. November isn't a charity by any means, but we realized early that by staying true to our users' needs and delivering a unique value and service to them, the people who would become our best customers and advocates would find us. When we lauched carbon (tubulars first, clinchers second), the unique need we were filling was for a lower priced option from a US-based company for high performance carbon wheelsets. As the market evolved, that value proposition ceased to be unique. So we launched the Rail which, in addition to being high performance without the retail markup, was the first carbon rim with an 18mm inside width. It was a unique design with proven and desirable attributes. And we sold a crap ton of them.
So while sales were good and customers were gleefully picking seconds off their favorite flat segments on Strava, a funny thing happened in Switzerland: the UCI made road disc brakes race legal. For many in the industry this was a watershed moment, and it presented great opportunity. Not only would they no longer have to contend with the higher than anticipated failure rates of carbon (an unexpected consequence of wheels designed for racing put to service in everyday, all terrain situations), but also now everyone's rim brake wheels were suddenly obsolete and they'd have to spend thousands more on a disc brake wheel inventory. Carbon windfall 2.0 was coming!
The reality however was less economically satisfying. What we saw instead was a spending freeze on rim brake wheels while people debated the possibilities of their disc brake future. Supply chains being what they are, however, we did not see a commensurate production freeze of rim brake wheels. So today there is a positive glut on the market of rim brake wheels at firesale prices. You've seen it I'm sure: Reynolds 58s for $1400, Easton EC90s for $1800, and Zipp Firecrests hovering around $2K. That kind of price pressure creates an inhospitable selling environment for a brand with our model. That means we started selling fewer and fewer sets of Rails. If our mission is to meet users' needs with our products and business model, and people are not buying as much because they don't know if they'll be on disc brakes next year and wow look at all these options in the same price range, we're not really filling a unique user need anymore.
So that's most of why we discontined the Rail. With the Range, part of the reason is the other side of the UCI's coin. Sales of road disc brake wheels haven't really taken off because most new road disc users are buying complete bikes. The wheel aftermarket follows, but evidently not that closely. That leaves cross and gravel and the adventure categories. But the value proposition rapidly diminishes for those categories, for a couple of reasons. 1) As soon as you put a fat tire on a rim, you've given away almost all of its aero benefits. And 2) if you're going slower than 25mph the areo benefits of 40mm+ are also largely inconsequential. (We do not know this clinically with the Range through wind tunnel testing, but we do know this empirically from all the time we have spent there testing the same issues with other wheels and tires.) We launched the Range aiming squarely at road disc hoping to pick up some of the other uses as well, but the reality is that in the other uses, alloy provides every bit of the performance at a fraction of the cost. So pushing too hard on the Range for the ancillary use cases while we wait for the road disc market to come around feels, well, disengenuous.
And finally there is the supply chain issue. We've seen a lot of chatter on forums about our decision and there are always armchair operations managers there quick to point out that we could totally stay in carbon if we knew how to manage a supply chain. To that I would posit that knowing how to do something is not the same thing as wanting to make it a focal point in your career. I learned very early how to change toner cartridges in the printer, and yet I chose a path that I ultimately found more gratifying. Dave has managed composite materials supply chain issues for three different companies in three different different industries. That's enough time to learn exactly how to do it. And in our case, it was also enough time to realize that the time and effort and mindshare it requires didn't leave enough balance in the business. Figuring out how to get stuff out of the far east or Italy is no longer a place where we can add unique value, but it detracts from where we can be of greater use to our customers. Also, it's not as much fun. It's our business and we're allowed to have as much fun as we can with it. And if all that work is resulting in products that aren't providing a return and don't help us fulfill our mission, well then ceasing to do it becomes justifiable.
We know no longer having a proprietary product line makes our current model harder to differentiate. But in truth, if proprietary does not also equal unique and appealing (as is the case with - let's be honest - nearly every wheel product currently available), then it becomes simply a marketing competition. We think our role is better suited to helping our customers navigate the confusing array of options than by adding more product noise to the din.
And now you know the rest of the story.