03 November, 2010

About VO, Part 1

We've had a lot going on over the past 8-weeks or so here at VO.  We went to InterBike as an exhibitor for the first time, shipped off our biggest order ever to the largest bike distributor in the U.S., got some new employees, lost one of the best (we'll miss you Perry!), and launched a new website. And had our best ever retail sales week.  Needless to say, all of this change makes me want to take stock of things.  

So, it seemed like a good idea to write a little history–from the conception of VO to where it stands today and where it might be headed. Looking back at where we began 4-1/2 years ago and seeing where we are today is pretty amazing, if not a little scary.  I'll write four posts on the subject, beginning with the origins of the company and concluding with where we are today.

About 11 years ago Annette and I sold a company I'd founded and decided to take a few years off. We traveled a bit and also enjoyed lot of cycling. Eventually, I went looking for a new bike. Having raced a little in my youth and owned several racing bikes, as well as a couple of touring bikes, I wanted my new bike to be something in between. I knew that my racing days were long over and that we now preferred staying at B&Bs to camping. So this new bike would be for credit card touring and long rides alone in the country, and also for the fast club rides I went on almost every weekend. What I wanted was a rando bike!

At first I thought I'd just order a sports touring bike from a well known California company; I rode one and it was nice, but not exactly to my tastes. I'm just not a fan of fancy lugs, two-tone paint, and ornate decals. I also preferred the ride and geometry of several older French bikes I'd owned. I got a Kogswell Model P as an interim bike. I soon sold it and bought an Ebisu, which I think was, by far, the best production (or semi-production) frame available at the time.

It was during this bike search that I realized just how scarce some of the components and accessories that I wanted to use were, and how difficult it was to find a production frame that rode the way I liked. Plus, I was getting the itch to start a new company. So, I decided to form a really small company to source various parts I thought were both cool and useful. I never intended to make much money from it or to grow it beyond one or two employees. It was just  something to keep me off the streets, to have a little fun with and, most importantly, to provide a service to other cyclists who shared my tastes. I formed an LLC and deposited the hefty sum of $6000 into its bank account.  That was 4-1/2 years ago.

The business plan, if you can call it that, was to import some hard-to-find parts, make a few small items like bell mounts and decaleurs, and maybe to eventually to have a semi-production frame made. That was the extent of our plan. The name came from my orange bike, which was in our living room when we were trying to think up a name over a few glasses of wine. I'd had zero experience in the bike business, had never sourced anything overseas, and didn't even want to work full time. The only thing I was sure of was that there was a need for practical, well, made, attractive, and reasonably priced components for cyclists who wanted an alternative to the racing-style bikes and parts that, at the time, dominated most bike shops.

Many of our first items were new-old-stock (NOS). We bought most from an old acquaintance and parts distributor. We soon started making contact with European distributors who had stocks of interesting NOS parts. Then came some new stuff from Japanese and European firms including MKS, Stronglight, and Ostrich. Next we started to having racks and decaleurs made by a local metal fabricator and then bags, flashlight mounts, and more leather goods. This was fun and the company was starting to grow rapidly.

Reading the 685 posts on this blog will give you a pretty detailed history of what's happened since, but I'll write about some highlights in Part 2.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Chris. Looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Only a $6000 investment to start. Amazing!

Bob Torres said...

Chris, you have really opened up the door for folks who really appreciate the "rando" type of bikes and rides. For the past few years I've been following your website as it grows and reading your blogs. When you announced your latest rando bike I couldn't wait to buy it. When you started to recieve them, about a month later I drove down to your place, gave it a really good look and bought it including some parts too! This turned out my favorite bike to ride. I've ridden a few centuries, two 200ks, a 600k and a 1000k brevets on it! Truly a classic bike, not too fancy but still an eye catcher. I look forward to all of your new products that you have and are going to introduce for us to enjoy on our bikes. You and your group has done a great job to make the rando spirit grow. Thanks!

Le Cagot said...

That whole curly-lug British inspired sport tourer style left some of us cold. Nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but tastes do differ. VO is like a breath of fresh air for the more minimalist minded among us.

Anonymous said...

Are you a republican or a democrat ?

Chris Kulczycki said...

Ha! I'm registered as a Democrat, but sometimes I vote Green.

Preston said...

Chris,
My taste in bicycle frames runs
from the plain and simple fillet
brazed to fancy lugs and paint. I
like all of it, but for whatever
reason that motivated you, I'm
glad that you started VO. It has
been a great help to me. My wife
loves her new VO mixte, and noticed
immediately the superior handling.

TSVDP said...

Oh by the way, Please keep us up to date if any articles appear on your company in any of the news stand bike publications or newspapers. I know it has in some less accessible periodicals.

I don't know if a VO bike has ever been reviewed in bicycling magazine. I tell you, some of the bicycling mags from the early '80s and '70s are real eye candy to look at concerning bikes and accessories. Our library has a large archive.

------

I think the political comments are just to bait people and not made seriously.

Chris Kulczycki said...

I thought the political question was pretty funny. But this is the end of that discussion.

Annette said...

Chris - I have truly enjoyed watching your company grow and will continue to be a faithful customer. Thanks so much for starting and growing this very cool company.

Anonymous said...

Great story and may your good fortune continue to benefit the lives of those who favor two over four wheels!
Jack

MRC said...

Chris, your journey to finding a suitable bike sounds very similar to what I went through. Many bikes later I'm currently riding an old 80's Nishiki frame with lots of Velo-orange bits attached. Soon to be riding a cutomised Llewellyn with lots of Velo-orange bits attached to it... PS also discovered randonneuring which i love.
Let me know when your small company requires an Australian outlet on it's way to world domination.....
Cheers

Alain said...

Timing is everything, and I think VO came at just the right time. I hope your success is a harbinger of a new wave of interest in minimalist-inspired, practical bikes for regular folks. Keep on keeping on.

Patrick said...

Chris,
Any plans to lead rides from the shop? Annapolis has lots of fast rides, but few casual ones.

Also any thoughts on how cyclists could make annapolis more bike friendly?

Chris Kulczycki said...

Downtown Annapolis is 350 years old with very narrow streets and too much traffic. That's a terrible combination for cyclists. The only hope I see is to do what thousands of old towns in Europe do, ban all non-local motor vehicles. There is some local support for that, but not yet enough.

Reference Library said...

Chris, I'm looking forward to your posts on V.O. history. I found you by way of eBay. At the time, the VO blog was only a few weeks old and you had some leather mudflaps and small bits on eBay. It's been fun to watch it grow and grow and grow.