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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hipster Bikes and Beer

OK, that's not the name. Too pandering. But evocative, so let's go with it as a working title. Better naming ideas requested in the comments.

The problem

You can't make money in the bike industry as a retailer any more. We have discussed that at some length on this blog in past years, primarily in response to the closing of Neuvation (later reopened as Neugent Cycles).

That is because bikes are commodities. One carbon frame is the same as the next and everybody uses one of three groupsets. Only by (1) innovating, or fake-innovating, and getting a first mover advantage; (2) building a brand name by sponsoring, e.g., Lance (before you later drop him like a turd); or (3) designing something unique and convincing people it is cool -- the Boulder Cycles approach -- can you actually achieve normal profits.

And the retailer, well, forget it. In a world in which we get our education on Youtube, there is no value added at retail except convenience. Which is not worth the cost of keeping a storefront open.

How do you make money and keep yourself in the bike industry, then?  One way: selling a lifestyle. Compass Cycles has actually pulled this off, by all appearances.

The idea

Not much of a biker here, but I do one thing that I think people would find cool. I buy a six-pack, something good, and disappear into the basement to watch "Bicycle Dreams" while rebuilding a bike. Strip down the frame, wash and lube the components, wash and wax the frame, grease the threads, pull out the torque wrench and put it back just so. I've blogged that process a few times recently and, if I do say so myself, it makes for some drool-worthy results.

The Gunnar, most recent rebuild.

An older effort that is at least intriguing.  Cervelo P2.
OK, one other thing.  I surround myself with bikes. Not the usual N+1 story of race bike/commuting bike/rain bike, but like a dozen in any one place at any one time. Here are some pics from the condo in Indy.







Too much? Probably so, for a house. But not for a shop. (And, in truth, I think not too much for a house either. Some people have artwork. I have bikes.)

The idea

Bring these together:
  1. Bikes. Lots of them. In various states of dress or undress.
  2. Old furniture, the kind you find on Craigslist. Or in dumpsters in college towns.
  3. A big old oak bar.
  4. Taps. Lots of them. 30 or more, and all local. Except Fat Tire. Fat Tire always available.
  5. Big TVs playing cycling videos, cycling movies, old TDF footage, current TDF footage, and the Big Lebowski when there is nothing else to watch.
  6. Hipster music, jazz, Edith Piaf, and '80s punk.
  7. Outside tables.
  8. 5-10 bike work-stands.
  9. Sets of bike tools.
  10. Parts of every shape, size, vintage, material, hanging all around the walls and overhead, some bought new, some bought on eBay, some found in dumpsters, all cleaned, polished, lubed.
Rent (or buy) this place:


One block from the condo and one block from a hip pedestrian street in Indy.
(Look closely at the above: cut a hole in the blue wall and install a big barn door; install a wrought-iron fence; patio seating in the loading dock driveway; loading dock still accessible for bringing in Ryder trucks full of random bike stuff. Big sign, "Hipster Bikes and Beer" above front door. Office and bathrooms in back, bar in middle, bike work-stands in front by windows. Plenty of standing-height tables to mingle and watch the tube or watch others build bikes.)

The warehouse is close to lots of residential housing.

This is one direction. Similar in two other directions. Maybe 2000 units at 1.5 persons average per unit, all of beer-and-bikes age and financial demographic.

Find a few underemployed bike mechanics. Hopefully with beards. And tattoos.  Lots of tattoos.

Find a few bartenders who like bikes, beer, and who like people who like bikes and beer.

Basic lifestyle sell: drink a beer, build a bike. Pay for what you drink or use, tools and advice free. Need the bike finished? Leave it and pay basic mechanic rates. Already have a bike? Bring it in and work on it yourself, or let us work on it while you drink beer.

Bring in "programming." Mechanics teach courses on stripping and cleaning an old bike, repacking bearings, building vintage and building modern spec. Local bike phenoms talk about their latest adventure. Chris Hopkinson rides on trainer on the bar for an entire week, fueled by nothing but beer. OK, maybe only that last is realistic.

Sell ironic t-shirts and trucker hats. "Hipster Bikes and Beer." And a play on the old Hard Rock shirts, but edgier: "Indy." "Stockholm." "Juneau." "Beirut." "Detroit." "Tehran." "Marrakesh." "Kinshasa." OK, maybe that last is too far. But you get the idea.

Could you make it work?

Cost

Pure back of the envelope guesswork here. Please throw darts.
  • Rent: $2000/month until it doubles when the street sells out a little more. 
  • Salaries $10/hour for two staff full time 64 hours weekly. Plus benefits and taxes makes $15/hour, or $8000 more per month.
  • Equipment (bar, tables, couches, bike stands, tools): $6000 total at various auctions, amortize one-time expense at $1000/monthly for first six months.
  • Insurance: one site says $20-$35K yearly. Split it at $28K or $2300/month.
  • Inventory (bikes): start with a few thousand worth and hope it pays for itself immediately. $3000 startup for month one.  Amortize at $500 monthly for six months.
  • Inventory (beer): can you arrange for trade credit (pay after sale)? If so, nothing.
  • Inventory (food): arrange for delivery service from local eateries. Ride around on a Sun Atlas Cargo or Surly Big Dummy and pick up orders. Thus, $1000 for the bike. Or nothing.
  • Marketing: get the various city papers interested. Hopefully very little.
In total, I count $14K or so for each of the first six months.
Load this with pizzas and subs from up and down The Avenue and bring to the clientele.

Revenue

And revenue? A short canvas of the internet suggests $5 net per beer sold. Can you average 100/night, for $3500/week or $15,000+ monthly from beer alone. Perhaps man *can* live on beer alone!

And if the place works, $15 net per t-shirt ($10 net per trucker cap) sold. Can you stick the shop name/logo on a local brew and get a discount from the brewer?

On that theory, the place covers costs before making any money off the bike part of the business. Not a gold mine by my accounting. But maybe worth it?

Ideas in the comments, please!!!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Not about biking, but . . .

Skiing is probably the best reason to be a cyclist.  IOW, skiing is the cool sport and cycling is the way to stay fit.

Last week in Aspen, Colorado.

Evening in Aspen

Me and P with wine and burgers on a warm spring evening in Aspen

Slopeside at the end of the day, Snowmass, Colorado

Some blue run at Snowmass, the home of the marvelous blue cruiser

P has lost nothing in 5 years off the skis

World Cup Finals at Ajax Mountain, Aspen; not that we saw any of the races

Aspen Highlands backcountry with a hike to 12,500 feet

Me somewhere on the Aspen Highlands ridge

View of the Two Maroons wilderness over the backside of Highlands

OK, the snowcat helped on the hike

Ski Patrol hut at the top of Highlands with a view over the wilderness

P at the Ski Patrol lodge

P at Ajax

My office at Ajax on March 16

Saturday, February 4, 2017

2016 Focus Izalco Max Disc

While at Sam's over Thanksgiving I got the bug to look for the "perfect" road bike.  Parameters for perfection are various, but I basically narrowed down to:


  1. Carbon.  This is a hard call but after enough riding on steel (see the recent post re: the Gunnar), aluminum (the Cannondale, the Neuvation, the original Cervelo), and titanium (the Salsa), I am convinced of the performance advantage.
  2. Lightweight.  I know, I know, I could stand to lose a few myself, but I will dispute you all day long if you say I can't feel a 2# difference between 18.5# and 16.5# bike.  They ride differently and with some exceptions the lighter-weight one rides nicer.
  3. Well-spec'd.  Another area for credible disagreement:  is Dura Ace better than Ultegra?  It is lighter, see 2 above, and has the reputation for shifting cleaner and lasting longer.  
  4. Well built.  I've never splurged for a top end bike at retail and the result is that most of mine have one or more quirks caused by my amateur build jobs.
  5. Attractive.  Like weight, I know this one is halfway meaningless, but the other half is that riding a bike is supposed to be a pleasure.  No different from a car or a new ski jacket, the look is a realistic part of the experience.


I started surfing and looking at reviews.  In 2016, the hands down favorite for a performance road bike with disc brakes was the Focus Izalco Max.

The Focus Izalco Max 2016, Dura-Ace Mix:  


The reviews are quite positive.  Here is Road.cc's commentary.  Here is cycling news.  Here is bike radar.  Here is roadcyclingUK.com.  Here is cycling weekly.  (With an awesome product video.  Try watching that and not buying one.)  Everybody rates at 9 or 10 out of 10, and at least one -- Cycling Weekly -- rates it the best disc brake road bike of 2016.

Here it is on Focus' website:

https://www.focus-bikes.com/us_en/24416-izalco-max-disc-dura-ace-mix.html
Picture form focus-bikes.com.
That is, of course, a Focus* frameset, which one assumes is made in China or Taiwan.  One commenter on this 2012 "Who Made Your Bike" article cites Focus and Look as two of very few in-house carbon fabs in the bike industry.  That would not impress me necessarily -- I'd rather have my carbon from Taiwan than, say, Texas -- but Focus is a German brand.  And my experience so far is precisely that German manufacturing is top shelf.

Wherever it is built, the Focus Izalco Max Disc is still reported to be, at 790g, the lightest-weight production carbon disc frame made.

(I happen to have another Focus in the stable since 2014, when I bought the Cayo Evo Di2 for $2200 from Jenson USA.  I have discussed that bike on this blog before.  It is a really nice riding bike that has carried me through some of my hardest rides, including the ridiculous 25000'-climbing fl├Ęche in 2015, the Big Savage SR600 in 2015, and the Natchez Trace 444 in 2015.  The Cayo is now an awesome commuting bike in Indianapolis.)

Focus bikes come from the factory well kitted.  The Cayo Evo was a full Ultegra Di2 build with carbon post and stem.  The Izalco Max Disc 2016 uses

  • DuraAce 9000 derailleurs, 
  • that ubiquitous FSA SLK carbon crank in a 52-36 configuration, 
  • the same carbon stem as on the Cayo, 
  • a Focus-specific shock absorbing carbon post, 
  • top-spec (Ultegra level) RS805 flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes, and 
  • Ultegra-level Shimano RS-685 brifters;
  • Ultegra 11-28 cassette (11 speed, of course).
The wheel-set is a nice DT Swiss hub and rim config with bladed spokes, a 32mm semi-aero rim, and a 17mm inside-width profile. The hubs are through-axle front and rear.

That is a Fizik saddle, which I have replaced with my own WTB Rocket V, and a Fizik R3 compact bar.  As built with my finishing parts I weighed this at just under 17# for a 58cm frame.

Finally, about Focus: the price point puts comparable built bikes to shame.  This bike is 3300 pounds new or 2200 pounds as a demo bike (mine).  After the pound crashed following Brexit I was able to get it for $3000 shipped plus import duties.  (Much more about importing in a recent post.)  Just to note it, the Red eTap version is 6500 Euros, or about $7000, which I think is well in the range of what I would pay for a true dream machine -- if you can talk a shop into shipping to you.  It is hard to find in the USA and you cannot find it for that price stateside.  But again, mine was $3000 and it was used, so I could get it shipped.

So, in short, I bought it.  

Here it is:


That is the Focus shock absorbing seatpost.  Not quite as bouncy as the Specialized.  It does look good and make for a comfortable ride.
Fizik R3 bars is a nice build spec.
The bridge-free rear triangle is a good look.  That's a 25mm Schwalbe tire.  Clearance for 28mm is certain and maybe a lower-profile 30mm.
Not a huge fan of that FSA crank, but it is meaningfully less expensive than the Dura-Ace alternative.
Intriguing to have external cable routing on a modern carbon frame.  Nice from the perspective of replacing cables down the road.
After my fork-in-the-ground wreck in 2011, I am a huge fan of through-axles.  This is my first bike with one.
Understated graphics; I love the blue accents; and look -- it has my name on the top tube!  Those are Specialized cages and the front has the hidden multi-tool.


Ride:


I've now ridden it twice.  It has been winter, of course, and I recently finished the Gunnar rebuild, so more of my rides have been on that bike.  But here are some initial impressions:

First, it rides like a super light bike.  The Cycling Weekly video suggests the heavier rims slow down climbing, which may be true -- but compared to my experience I would say it feels every bit as snappy being worked from out of the saddle as any bike and wheelset I've ridden.  The front end is almost disturbingly airy: minor shivers from my shoulders and arms make it wiggle in a way I am unaccustomed to on my other bikes.  (One caution:  I have reported here a wide collection of bikes.  Sometimes my judgment on a bike's handling is driven by my recent rides on a very different bike.  I was on the fat bike more than one day this last week.  FWIW.)

Second, despite the note above about weight, it plants itself on the ground and holds the road over rough pavement and curves as well as anything.  I should say my prior first choice for a rough road descent was the Focus Cayo Evo.  This may eclipse that.  Is it a German thing?  Because driving a BMW is an apt comparison.

Third, it is a comfortable sit.  Today's ride was a cold-weather affair with very hard pavement, hard tires, and bumpy roads.  And I was padless in the winter tights.  But it never once felt harsh.

Summary:

I'm not a great bike reviewer because I'm all excited about everything new I ride.  This bike, though, is something special.  P asked whether it was my "dream bike," a title I have trouble bestowing because bike technology improves like that in computers.  But in truth, this is about as dreamy as I could have imagined.  I hope to get many good miles on it from now until the new new thing comes along.




*More about Focus:  according to Wikipedia, on a page that looks exactly like it was created and is curated by the company PR staff, Focus has been making bikes since the early 1990s, got into race bikes in about 2003, and made its first carbon fiber frame in 2006.  (Because carbon fiber was fully adopted in all racing applications well before 2006, I don't know what Focus' racing bikes were like before then.)  Focus is part of the Dutch Pon Holdings conglomerate, which also owns Cervelo and Santa Cruz.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Gunnar Roadie Rebuilt

The Gunnar Roadie was originally an anniversary present in 2007.  This is its second new paint job and third complete rebuild.  This is definitely the most significant rebuild since the original purchase.

Slide-show of the rebuilding



And the end product

Lovely new Brooks saddle.
King Cage stainless steel.  Some debate about these initially, but I think they look sweet on the final product.
Bottom bracket cluster.  I like the lower profile Dura Ace outboard bearings.
One place I could not bring myself to spring for the Dura Ace version.  Still happy to get the 52-36 gearing.
Crank and new pedal.  I'm in the process of reverting entirely to Candy C pedals (now that there is no more shoes in the pedals for dismount a la triathlon).
First time ever for DA brifters.  One ride yesterday and, yes, they are all they are cracked up to be.
My new wrap style:  start in the middle (so no tape) and finish at the end.  Then tuck the remaining tape inside the bar and use a robust cap.
One major benefit of new wrap style is this clean top with no tape.
A few extra grams for a screw-tightened bar end cap holds everything together well.  Option 2 is the Brooks style with a 1" insertion sporting 8-10 ribs.

K-edge Garmin computer mount.  Probably heavier, but more elegant, than the rubber band-on style that  sits on the stem.  I should probably cut that steerer tube down by 1 cm.
New Ultegra 6800 calipers.  Another place where I could not bring myself to pay the extra for DA.  Also, Zipp 404 Firecrest wheelset.  I was ambivalent, and I nearly sold these, but in sum I'm glad I have them here.  Finally, that is a Easton EC90-SL fork I stole or borrowed from Sam, painted to match the frame.  It, the wheels, and the brifters vie for the title of most significant performance upgrade on this rebuild.
First good view of the Velo-Orange steel braided cabling.  A little bright, but I think it works with the chrome headset and seat-clamp (and silver branding on the down-tube).
Not sure what this shows, but all the bicycle porn seems to have a shot like this.  See DA front derailleur and Ultegra short-cage rear.  Also see the green highlights on the Vittoria Open Pave clinchers (27mm).  Some debate about that color with the red frame, but I think it works.
Side view of saddle with the elegant Thomson set-back post, rear brake, and chrome seatpost clamp.  (Gunnar factory was kind enough to include a new one with the repaint).  Rapha tool roll works with the classic saddle.
The rear view.  
And the front view.
Clean Shimano gearing is a thing of beauty.
The whole thing.  That is not a new frame pump and I can't see a reason to replace it.
Had this legend added, finally.  I've had this bike long enough to know I don't plan to sell it!