I officially became a business owner yesterday (Mike's been a business owner for a long time, so he just became the owner of another business yesterday). The papers have been filed to make November Bicycles, LLC an official legal entity. It took a lot of work to get to this point, but there haven't been any real war stories yet. I'm sure plenty of those are still to come.
So what are we doing, why are we doing it, and how are we doing it? Good questions, glad you asked.
November Bicyclesis a company that we've started in order to make excellent equipment available to knowledgeable racing and performance-oriented cyclists. We differ from the hordes of other companies out there doing this in a couple of key ways, and that's why we're in business. Our guess is that there are a lot of people out there who are 100% completely over it. They aren't too impressed by who won what Grand Tour on what bike, the reality being that there are so many great bikes out there that unless the fit was really wrong, who rode what probably didn't affect the final standings at all. Jens Voigt chased on to the back of the Tour de France on a kid's bike with toe straps, for God's sake. A motor is a motor. (not that we recommend this, but still...)
The homogeneity of the race bikes out there in the world strikes us. Some bikes play to a different corner of the box a little better than others, but when you are splitting hairs the way a lot of the players do, and start relying on Capital Letter Features and Fancy Nonsensical Acronyms to differentiate your product, you've clearly reached the arena of the increment. There is some crap out there, we know it. There's crap product and there's crap process. As some teams in our region learned from dealing with the most prestigious brands, a great bike is no good if you need it in March and it shows up... well they haven't quite shown up yet. It takes leg work and home work to check out who's been reliably producing quality stuff, and who among those has the processes to get it where it needs to go, when it needs to get there.
There are also people who are making similar arguments to what we're saying - that what they're offering is just as good, just as suited for racing, etc. These are all pretty easy to spot when you know what you're looking at. A pig with fancy lip stick is still a pig.
The guys and ladies who get to the point where they don't even want to know about how they need to spend $2000 on a frame in order to get something good, and are confident enough to show up without a brand that spends about $3mm a year to convince everyone that what you're riding really is not only technically superior but makes you deserving of a more attractive mate (Evan Fader beat a WHOLE BUNCH of really really good guys at Vint Hill while riding a Scattante - not that there's any comparison between our frame and the vaunted Scattante - this spring), they're right in our Wheelhouse (get it)? And the people who want some freaking sweet wheels, or maybe some really freaking sweet wheels, but know they're getting a snow job when brands using the same hubs and rims have price variances that span orders of magnitude. Our logo stickers are pretty cool, but we don't think you should pay $500 for them. Or anyone else's.
In a lot of ways, it's a lot easier to do what most everyone else does, after all it's what people expect. Buy a lot of ads, get favorable reviews from the media in which those ads appear, sponsor some teams with really good riders and voila!, you're an important, prestigious brand. All it takes is a ton of money. Which of course you're going to pay back when you buy from those brands. How much are you willing to spend to be reassured that your bike is as vertically compliant and laterally stiff as anything they've ever reviewed (that also came from a brand that ponied up to the rate card)? How much does it cost to be one of the four or five brands able to make a "legitimate claim that this bike offers the best price to performance ratio of any brand on the market today?" We're betting that a lot of you just can't be bothered with that crap.
A ton of companies out there try to hide the fact that their input into the design process was the same as ours has been - scouring the white label (or open mold) market for a great product that fits the needs of the intended market. The simple facts are that the economics of carbon frame manufacturing dictate that you have to sell A TON of units to make having your own design and molds worthwhile. Specialized and Trek sell that many units. Olmo (a well established and fairly storied brand), on the other hand, does not. Do any MABRA Cat 3s out there recognize this frame?
Taiwanese OEM producers are absolutely recognized as having world-leading design, engineering and construction capabilities, it's just that a lot of people in the world choose to roll with the perception that this is "Asian junk." Well, people, this year's Tour podium was swept by "Asian junk." Get over it.
Another thing is that a lot of people just want to buy a frame. Not many companies are too into selling frames because it doesn't make financial sense. The margin is better when they build it up, and the transaction cost of selling a lower margin 'frame only' as opposed to a higher margin complete bike is about the same. Notice that you can generally only buy super premium frames as "frame only." I'm not that into racing on a $3500 frame set when there's as good a chance as there is that it's going to wind up sliding along the pavement before too long.
Of course the other big part of things is that we haven't got a retail shop. If all retailers were as good as some, it would be a lot easier to justify the added expense that they impart on the process. Some shops are just awesome. Others... Just say that the number of times we've been told that something "should work" when we were looking for exactly what we were looking for, or that we've had something pressed on us that wasn't really very similar at all to what we were looking for (perhaps because it was aging stock and the dating terms on it were coming due?), or knew a heck of a lot more about what we were after (but were willing to talk a heck of a lot less) than the salesperson, or just in general felt totally unimpressed by the value on offer - those times have inspired us. True, we aren't offering the convenience of dropping by and picking up whatever's on hand. Our model doesn't support an inventory rich environment like that, but we don't think our audience really needs that kind of environment for what we're selling. There are going to be shop owners who hate us, think we're evil, etc. Most shops, if they were really really honest and knowledgeable about the situation, are not a great outlet for dedicated racers to buy what we're selling. Their best customers are a lot less fanatical and self assured than ours are. We just aim to be the best solution for our intended audience, as they are the best solution to their most suitable customers.
That's the gist of our story. Of course a lot of people want to see frames and wheel sets and price lists. You'll be able to see all of that stuff before long. It's not vapor ware. I've already been using our wheels and messing around with some different things with them for almost a month. We'll have some frames soon, and of course we are going to show them off ASAP. The geometry chart is on the November site. We should have all of our pricing and assorted details ironed out by the end of the week. This thing's happening.