When we launched, we waved the open mold flag proudly and insisted that we chose not to design and manufacture our own frames and rims because what was available from some very accomplished suppliers was not just perfectly acceptable, but actually pretty damn outstanding in quality and performance. So why are we now offering a rim of our own design, while at the same time remaining steadfast in the open mold frame market? Well crack a beer, I aim to tell you.
Our whole mission is improve the market - somehow - for buying race-quality bikes and wheels. When we first launched back in 2010 we wanted to have an impact on value. Our goal then was to deliver products at comparable quality to what most racers were using, at a fraction of the price. Obviously selling direct goes a long way, and we also organized our model around cutting as many expenses as possible that didn't contribute to a product's performance. But we were never about just price - from the very outset our strategy was to only sell products that we as racers would happily train and race on. We never aimed to sell the least expensive racing-style bike or wheels; instead, we aimed to provide the best value in a bike or wheelset that's ready for competition at the highest level (where people pay for their own stuff).
Then 23mm rims happened. I began testing them even before our original FSW 27s (27mm deep, 19mm wide alloys, for those of you who weren't here a couple years ago) were shipping, and loved the road feel and performance. The rims were about twice as expensive as the Kinlins we used for the FSW 27s though, so it was hard for us as a startup to switch to them and still compete on perceived value. We believed then (as we do now) that the actual value of a 23mm wide alloy wheelset is greater than a similarly equipped 19mm wheelset, but we didn't know if the market would believe us. Ultimately we decided we'd rather sell less of a product we believed in than more of a product we didn't think was ideal for our market (which is also why we didn't sell a disc-equipped HOT BUNS last year, even though we probably would have sold more of them). We switched to a 23mm alloy rim for our FSWs and - whether intentional or not - started competing not just on value, but on absolute performance.
With the Rail we took the objective of absolute performance even further. Sometimes when you launch a product, you look for a hole in the market and aim for it through positioning. Other times, you come up with the best product you can and run with it, even if it's straight into head-on competition. But there are a few magical moments in marketing when you realize that the best product for a certain application doesn't exist yet. That's where we found ourselves when we first started spitballing the Rail. We saw some rims optimized for aerodynamics, but lacking the 18mm inside width that gives a 23mm alloy its superb road feel. We think also that the popular 58-63mm depth lacks some versatility and opens the door - perhaps by design - to considering multiple sets of carbon wheelsets in order to have something for all road and weather conditions. With the Rail, we think we may be the first brand to design a wheel for every part of the course, and that we've developed a single carbon wheelset solution that stands apart in ways our previous products haven't.
So if we're so happy with the Rail, why are we still pursuing open mold frames instead of designing our own? It comes down to where we think we can add the most value to the frame/bike segment of the market. With wheels, we couldn't find a wheel that did everything exceptionally well so that's what we set out to build. With frames, there are no shortage of brands offering outstanding products with remarkable performance. The only way to win on performance in this segment would require investments so vast that our entire cost structure would change, followed immediately by our pricing structure to try and recoup those investments. We realized that where the bike/frame market is most in need of progress is in pricing, not performance. The market does not need November to come out with a bike faster than a Specialized or lighter than a Cervelo. Let the big brands take up that arms race. We think the greater need in the high performance frame segment is for affordability. We can stay affordable with open mold frames and still provide outstanding performance, durability, service and security. Because the development expenses of frames are significantly higher than wheels (you need a lot more molds for the different size frames), we would be hard pressed to sell a frameset for under $2.5K. We started this business because we didn't think frames should cost $2.5K, and we still believe that.
Maybe we get a little hung up on our philosophy, and it probably is costing us some growth opportunities. But we are pretty invested in the strategy of selling only the products that best meet our customers' needs, and that we are uniquely qualified to bring to market. One of the hardest things to do in business (particularly a young business) is come up with a strategy and let it do its job as a framework for decision-making across all levels and functions of the company. But it pays off - both in focusing efforts in the near-term, and (if it's a good strategy) with a more solidly anchored business in the future. I love selling stuff of course, but if we have to throw over discipline to our strategy to do it, I'm not interested.