The Shift (Part 1)

At the outset of this venture, my primary concern was that there wouldn't be any uptake on a new and upstart brand.  There have been a lot of brands that came up out of nowhere, of which the majority are more or less stillborn.  Some of them make it - not too long ago there was no such thing as Cervelo, for example.  It's hard to sell bikes or wheels with no brand credibility, or an unattractive brand.  Strong guys might win some races on brands at which your average consumer would reflexively turn his nose up, but your average consumer is still turning his nose up at those bikes.  Simply winning races doesn't do it - although it doesn't hurt.

But my big fear was that we were going to wind up in the category of Sca------, and Se---, and a lot of others.  I could make a lot of guesses at why it appears that we haven't (and I will, shortly), but first to discuss THAT it seems like we haven't. 

First, while we may not have come out of the gate smelling like Sc--ta---, and S---e, I certainly can't say that people are responding to us as though we changed the paradigm of performance or technology.  If someone were to say we have, I'd correct them.  We have not.  And, if anything else, in one dimension, we've stretched the limit of credibility by even having a brand.  It takes some amount of brass ones to attach a brand onto something that someone else produces with zero amount of input (other than the credibility of buying it) from the entity which will eventually brand it.  Nonetheless, it makes a lot more sense to have a brand than not to - if nothing else you need a name for your web site, right?  So here we are, claiming to have advanced the ball zero amount along the leading edge, and justifying the having of a brand pretty much purely for the purposes of identification in the mast basic sense of the concept. 

Being in that position, you might expect people to reflexively turn their noses up at our bikes.  They might well be doing so, but neither of us has heard, directly or indirectly, anything along those lines.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  We spent at day at the well run and very festive Tacchino Cross Race, and several people who've had ZERO brand impression prior to walking up to the bikes today had very favorable things to say about the bikes and wheels.  Obviously, in writing this, and every other thing we've done, we're trying to leave you with a good impression of our products - why bother otherwise?  Yet some of the strongest positives we heard all day were from people who've never read a word we wrote?  What does that say to us and about us?

First, maybe we should write less and display more.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and "show and tell" works better than two dimensional images.  It's hard to get to too many events to show the stuff to all of the people we'd like to reach, but this is an avenue on which we definitely place a premium.  Come see us on Saturday at the Vint Hill CX race next weekend if you are out that way, or come on Sunday's GamJams team ride, which leaves from the Whole Foods in Friendship Heights at 930.  See for yourself.   Even better, go for a spin and feel for yourself.  The bikes and wheels look great and ride better.

Second, the whole thing about "looking good," I think, has a lot of components.  Our gear has a very plainly stated purposefulness to its aesthetic.  To me, it says "utility" and "quality."  You can't hide much behind clear coat.  The tube joins on nearly all bikes constructed like ours are painted black - not ours.  If you look up by the brake bridge, you'll see a very neatly done transition wrap layer.  If it wasn't going to be on display under clear coat, it wouldn't need to look this good.  At first glance, you might (or might not - I've just read Blink so I'm prone to overthinking first impressions at the moment) think that it looks odd, since you don't normally see this transition.  But if you look at it for a second, you'll think "man, that is REALLY neatly done." 

We also think we've hit a chord with our "bike flavored bike" thing.  I think people are sick of acronyms and shapes that make no sense.  The other side of that coin might be "inelegance," but I don't think so. But the frame looks like it's going to do what it's supposed to do, and tells you so. 

We keep coming back to the concept of transparency, but we're convinced that the transparency with which we've done this whole thing (and not just the clear coat on our frames) lets you know what we're about.  Remember when Anheuser-Busch and Miller (and maybe Coors, I can't remember) came out with "microbrewery" brands?  It's easy to overstate the whole "passion" angle - and I wouldn't necessarily use "passionate" to describe the motivation that got either Mike or me into this.  I mean, in a way we're passionate, but the genesis of the whole thing was "somebody's got to call BS on the way this bike thing's going down, and I think it's up to us" as opposed to some abstract thought that kept us awake at night.  Selling enough stuff to not lose our shirts keeps us up at night, figuring out what to sell and how to do it is pretty straightforward. 

I know Mike has some thoughts about retailing and its processes, so I'm going to cut myself short here (your eyes are probably rolling into the back of your head by now, anyway).  But I'm glad that our intuitions about how to avoid saddling ourselves with the albatross of creating a bike that people wouldn't feel at least neeutral or better about associating themselves with weren't misplaced. 


Back to blog


I have mixed thoughts on your whole process with the November brand. On one hand, I applaud you for going for it and offering affordable carbon bikes to the race scene, but I question the manner in which you are marketing it.You've spent much time trashing Cervelo, Specialized and Pinarello for selling expensive bikes, yet your business plan clearly relies on their engineering, r&d and marketing/sponsorship to establish carbon as a legitimate racing material. It seems that there is a pattern of piggybacking off others efforts and hard work much like some local teams. Secondly, despite all the talk about how cheap the complete bikes are, my team was offered a better deal on a bike from a manufacturer that pours money back into the sport. Will November sponsor future races? Finally, I remember one of the main themes of your blogging in years past was railing against the excesses of society. There was much trashing of carbon bikes and carbon wheels which you now aggressively promote. Is this a change of mentality or is it less excessive to buy carbon wheels that are not branded Zipp?I hope y'all have great success, I really do, but I would hate to see sponsors wash out of the sport because people don't support them.


Dave has a bigger man crush on Rick Vosper than he does even on Phillippe Gilbert.Vosper's blog is here, if'n anybody is interested:

Mike May

PS – The next blog that I wrote, which addresses a lot of what I talk about in my comment, but is not redundant to my comment, was written during lunch today. Not that it has anything to do with the price of tea anywhere in the world, I just want to point out that my next post is in no way influenced by this comment exchange


Carl -Glad you weighed in. First, to the excesses of society thing – would you believe that we really really (really) tried to source a good aluminum frame at first? It fit with our aesthetic, and we think that aluminum, done well, is a very good choice for racers. We also made the assumption that a quality aluminum frame was going to be available at a significant savings to carbon. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. There are aluminum bikes out there that we wouldn't love to ride, and they're not too much less than what we're doing. Bad value. So as it turns out, we're able to sell a carbon frame for $785, which we feel is a great value. If some other company were offering a similar value one year ago, we'd probably never have opened our tent. The Cannondale CAAD9 which I have spent endless hours saying is at a perfect sweet spot of performance and value cost more four years ago than our Wheelhouse does now, and when I wanted to order one four years ago I would have had to wait four to six weeks to get it, and would have had to pay for it at time of order. So other than a little bit less of a wait than we'll have before we see our frames, essentially the same scenario. And having ridden a CAAD9 for some 10,000 miles and a Wheelhouse for considerably less than that but many more miles than I'd need to in order to come to an informed conclusion, the Wheelhouse blows the CAAD9 away. So is it the material that's excessive or paying more than is necessary for a lesser performing product the excess? That's a rhetorical question, by the way. A set of Zipp 404s cost $2300. A Wheelhouse Max Perkins costs $2285. I don't think that there's any statement that I could possibly make as a person or as a business person that better expresses where I'm coming from. I was joking around with a friend during a period when I was spending a LOT of time riding our carbon tubulars, and I said to him "great, I've become that jackass who does training rides on deep carbon tubulars." After about five minutes, I thought to myself "well, I'm also that guy who rides around on a set of $685 wheels (in other words, a LOT less than other wheels out there that you "should" be training on) that, as it turns out, are pretty freaking bulletproof, are under 1400g, and roll amazingly well, and transition to race day better than any other wheels I've ever owned." So which one am I? As for trashing others, I disagree wholeheartedly. Quite the contrary, I've gone out of my way to compliment the companies whose products I admire. Specialized is one where I don't think (but haven't spent the time to confirm) I've ever mentioned them without saying they do a good job on their product. I think they spend too much money differentiating their product by sponsoring ProTeam teams, which winds up costing you more money, and I've plainly stated that opinion on many occasions. I also think that the way they do business with their dealers (I'd say partners but people who know how that works would rightfully laugh if I did that) is both bad and expensive for the consumer. Find Rick Vosper and read every word of his blog several times if you want to quickest route to how I come to that conclusion. And if the sponsoring of ProTeam teams is what you mean by pouring money back into the sport, then you and I have a fundamental disagreement on how money gets poured back into the sport.Not only will November sponsor future races, November already HAS sponsored races. Like, yesterday we sponsored a race, and it wasn't the first race we sponsored. And we're supporting another race next weekend. For the record, I've never been aware of being at a race that Trek, or Specialized, or Cervelo, or any of the other major brands has directly sponsored, so I feel pretty good about our start on that front. So again, if seeing pros race around France on TV is how you see valid sponsorship of the sport, we can't agree on that. And if you think that we, or anyone else, sponsors a race because we just plain have too much money and gosh darn it wouldn't it be a great idea to give some of it away, well, I can speak for us. We don't have too much money, and we sincerely hope that when we do sponsor something, that benefit will be returned to us. I watch pro races on TV pretty regularly, but it's a venue of the sport that I don't particularly care about. I not having a Tour meant that college cycling grew, or if sacrificing the Giro meant that legitimate high school cycling programs would flourish, then KILL THE GRAND TOURS. So, sorry to be redundant, but if you equate supporting the sport with sponsoring pro teams, then we irreconcilably disagree on that point. Over the last couple of weekends, we've probably given away 70 pairs of gloves and 100 water bottles – TO RACERS. Each racer to whom we gave a pair of these gloves (which, by the way, people love, and are using – they aren't some throwaway promo piece of crap, as giving away throwaway promo pieces of crap would fly drectly in the face of our ideals) now doesn't have to spend the $15 to $40 on a pair of gloves that will serve the same function. Bottles don't cost as much, but they are still useful and valuable. So yeah, we're definitely spending our money directly supporting racers. Our margins, if you were in a boardroom, you'd say they SUCK. Yet we give 10% discounts on frames and wheels to collegians and juniors. While that may not be "pouring money back into the sport" in your opinion, it's definitely "giving until it hurts" in ours. What's good for the sport is good for us, though, so we actively try to support that.As for your team having gotten a better deal on bikes than we give, that's great. If we sold our bikes for much less money, we would lose money. But if your team is in a position to get that kind of support and the bikes are great and the members of your team are able to take advantage of that, I sincerely think that that is great. I know that a team that I was on, which is a big team and has a very prominent bike sponsor, did not usually get such great deals. Also consider that the teams we sponsor get some great benefits which we've designed to be a year round benefit, and then you'll be comparing apples to apples. We do absolutely as well as we can by the teams we sponsor. Lastly, the technology thing. To a degree, guilty as charged. The global ability to engineer and construct carbon bikes and wheels has advanced because of the alpha products. To some (and more significant) degree, not at all guilty. We're pretty far from the bleeding edge, and a big step back from the leading edge. Our manufacturer does all engineering in-house. You can say "well, they just rip off whatever's out there and call that engineering." That happens throughout the industry, for sure, at all levels. But is our manufacturer blindly dependent on what Company X is doing tomorrow for its direction? No. No it is not. So, thanks for the comment and the opportunity to respond to your thoughts.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.