28 April, 2014

Our Tribe is Shrinking

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Bicycle Leadership Conference in Monterey, CA. This an industry event where various bicycling industry big wigs (I was the smallest wig) attend seminars, network, eat really good food, and enjoy the beautiful setting.

There was the obligatory leadership seminar by mountaineer Chris Warner, whose theme seemed to be that bad leaders get caught in avalanches and freeze to death. The e-bike panel discussion was more interesting than I would have thought. I enjoyed a talk on "best practices" by Mandi McKay of Sierra Nevada Brewing, so much so that I had a couple of pints of their pale ale that evening.  But the two seminars that inspired this post were entitled Youth: The Face of Cycling's Future and Statistics: What Are We Seeing in the Numbers?

The youth seminar can be summed up fairly quickly. Fewer and fewer kids are interested in riding bikes. That almost certainly means that there will be fewer cyclists in the future. BMX bike sales, as an example, are down about 25% and that's how many kids get started. That's a trend that certainly worried the attending owners, CEOs, and managers of the bigger bike companies. On the bright side there are some great programs to introduce kids to our sport. I was particularly impressed by the presentation from the founders of Little Bellas, a mentoring program for girls on mountain bikes.

The statistics seminar was presented by Leisure Trends, a market research firm that compiles all sorts of detailed numbers on all sorts of sports. There were lots of slides and discussion of trends, but the upshot was that bike sales were generally down in all categories, except mountain bikes, in 2013. Road bike sales declined over 13%. So far 2014 has been a little better, still negative growth overall, but positive trends in MTB, lifestyle/leisure, transit/fitness, and even children's bikes.

It was interesting to see 26"-wheeled mountain bike sales are dropping like the proverbial stone, while 29ers are doing well and 650b MTBs are taking off. Each bike category was sliced and diced with sales channels, price trends, inventory-on-hand, and other metrics examined. Many looked grim.

I am also concerned by reports from our staff who attended the North American Handmade Bike Show. They report far fewer steel and rando-style bikes and many more carbon fiber. This may be because the show was held in the southeast. As one VOer put it, "people seemed more interested in expensive race bikes than in practical bikes."

Fortunately, these trends don't seem to have a huge impact on VO. Though the bike industry, as a whole, declined by over 3% in 2013, VO experienced modest growth last year.

I'm not sure of what to make of all this information. Are declining sales simply a result of unusually bad weather in much of the country for the past year and a half? I suspect that may be at least partially the cause. Or are people, especially kids, really losing interest in cycling? It seems that cycling is rather cyclical, no pun intended. We've seen the 70s bike boom, the 80s MTB boom, a fixie craze, everyone suddenly interested in touring, Lance inspiring the road racing boom. Another thought: are all the city bike share programs causing urban cyclists to no longer buy their own bikes?

With all this swirling in my brain I hopped in a rental car and drove down through Big Sur to one of my favorite towns, San Luis Obispo. There I hung out with my buddy and major bike advocate, Eric. We cycled around town a little, ate some great food, and talked about cool bikes, old cars, real estate, and tried to figure out the best place on earth to retire. It might just be SLO, especially if you like bikes, fine local food and perfect weather. One of the things that's great about SLO is the cycling infrastructure. It goes a long way toward promoting biking. Eric also gave me a tour of the surrounding countryside, wine country, which I found much prettier than Sonoma or Napa. If you want to do an organized bike tour in the area, he recommends supporting this new company.

Anyway, please share your thoughts on the future of cycling in the comments.

21 April, 2014

VO in Social Media

by Igor

Our blog (meta right?) is an amazing source of information for VO news, products, bike stuff, tips, instructions, and happenings; it is also our foray into social media. Now, we have more outlets than ever to get info into the virtual hands of our customers.

Twitter is a very unique way to convey information. Within 140 characters, you can post original content, repost, comment, interact, and hashtag. Sometimes, 140 characters is not enough to convey a lot. Therefore, links, pictures, and mentions are the best tools. In addition, posts can be buried quickly if you have a lot of subscriptions.

Facebook has been a great avenue for us. Great viewership, excellent communication, simple interface, ability to share with friends, and ease of use from mobile devices. In recent months, FB's algorithm of "who sees what" has hurt small businesses. They have essentially throttled "reach" and now only a small percentage those who "like" our page see what we post. Now, FB "encourages" us to "boost" (pay) posts to get back to where our reach used to be.

Enter Instagram. I really like using this program. In addition to using my in-device camera, I can plug in the memory card from my DLSR camera and directly upload. It's a fun program where users can easily post content, interact, hashtag, and like posts. The only functionality it's missing is the ability to share, which I'm sure they're working on. An additional gripe is "#shellac". I was hoping to see cloth tape with different colors and layered shellac, but no. Hundreds of thousands of pictures of glittery fingernails. Kind of weird.

Next is Tumblr. It's very cool that you can write your own HTML to customize your site. Also, people can like and share posts. Unfortunately, there is no functionality to comment directly on content. What I really like about Tumblr is that pictures can be viewed at high resolution, as opposed to the former which compresses photos.

Recently, we have set up a Flickr account. I've used it for my personal stuff and I really dig it. It's a huge network, loads of groups, hashtag functionality, commentary, and excellent resolution on desktop and mobile devices. I know many long time users of the service don't like the new interface or that Yahoo is required, but once you get used to it, it's super easy to use. Since we have so much content, it's hard to pick what will go up, but the uploading spree will start soon.

What social media outlet is your favorite? Should we start Pinning? YourSpace? Chat Snap?

15 April, 2014

Grand Cru Hub Goes Touring in Siberia

Last year, Luke did an amazing solo tour through Siberia along the Baikal-Amur-Mainline (BAM) Railway line. Rough terrains, friendly and helpful locals, downpours, river crossings, and let's say "unique" situations are all things Luke recalls on his journey.

Here's Luke's review of the Grand Cru Touring Hub after his 4000km Siberian tour

"I'd like to say that the VO Grand Cru rear hub is exceptional. I've given it a very good test using it for pretty loaded offroad touring in some very harsh conditions including very rough and rocky roads, regular submersion in rivers and muddy puddles up to waist deep at times. The way the freehub can be removed from the hub without tools means it is very quick and easy to clean and relube the pawls after abuse. I was also amazed at how well the pawls were sealed from the exterior. Despite the dirty water the rear hub was often dragged through only water ever seemed to get inside, which is inevitable when you have cold water cooling the hub, contracting the air and sucking in water. The hub preformed exceptionally." 

08 April, 2014

Fenders on VO Frames

By Igor

Fender line not Federline
“Good fender line” is defined by keeping the fender concentric to the tire (when viewed from the side). This characteristic goes deeper than keeping your clothes clean and your bike aesthetically pleasing; it shows a designer’s intent.

Designing a frame is easy. Designing a good frame is hard. Geometry, predictable handling, comfortable ride, consistent clearances, properly placed braze-ons, and beautiful appearance are all traits we require during the design and testing of our frames. In addition, these features must be on the entire run of sizing, which many manufacturers overlook.

We take great care to ensure that all of our frames accommodate fenders with a perfect fender line. The Campeur, Pass Hunter, Polyvalent, and soon-to-arrive Camargue all feature braze-ons for easy and clean fender installation.

Let's grab a beer (60 min Dog Fish Head for me) and dive right into a fender install on a 57cm MK3 Polyvalent.
The subject lacks fenders
Seatstay braze-on
Chainstay braze-on
Fork crown plate braze-on
Mount for fenders and rack
Mount for fenders and rack
Choose the type of fender for your bike. You need, at the very least, 8mm of difference between tire size and fender width; 15mm is better. Also, keep in mind the constraints of the frame. For Polyvalent, 52mm is the biggest you can go before you need to crimp around stays and fork crown. I went with the Zeppelins (650b, 52mm) because they look phenomenal. 

For Polyvalent (which has horizontal dropouts), a Spring Thing is useful. This little guy allows for easy wheel removal while keeping fender line consistent around the rear wheel.

Clever little guy.
The leather washers included in the kit have a convex and concave side. Concave side on the fender. I always recommend grabbing a few extras for rack mounting or fender line adjustment.

Concave side
Easy alignment. Flat side of cupped washer faces fender.
Ready for installation
I put the spring thing in the middle of the slot so I have an adjustment point.

Align and mark with marker
When drilling the hole, it is best to use a punch or Phillips screwdriver and a hammer to make a point; this will prevent the drill bit from wandering. Keep stepping up the size of the bit until the screw fits through.

2 leather washers on the bridge and fork crown for this build.
1 on the underside to keep it snug; a button head screw can be substituted.
Ready to mark, then cut. Upside-down in this case.
If it's just you doing the install, flip the R-clip vertically (temporarily) so that you can measure and mark while the wheel is clamped in the dropout. Mark a few millimeters past the end of the clip. Doing this will ensure that when the R-clip is flipped back into the normal position, the length of the stay will be correct. Any doubts? Cut longer than shorter.

If you have a friend to assist you, flip the R-clip so it faces down and have one person pull the wheel back in the dropouts (without the skewer). The other person will mark where the stay needs to be cut to achieve good fender line. Any doubts? Cut longer than shorter.

The front is very straight forward. The holes are pre-drilled (even the fork crown).

This build has a Pass Hunter Rack, so the rack is also mounted to the front fender.

A detailed instruction guide (included in every fender set) for installation in available on our tech info page: http://support.velo-orange.com/#fenders.html

04 April, 2014

Odds and Ends

In case you missed it, the Adventurer Cycling Association blog has a nice review of Casey's Crazy Bars. These bars have been selling out almost as soon as we get then in, but we should have many more late next month.

We are still working on the MTB version of Crazy bars, it looks like they will be chromoly, maybe butted; we're waiting for the last round of prototypes and fatigue tests.
We have these handsome new organic cotton Campeur shirts. I'm a big fan of organic cotton. Did you know that more pesticides are used on (non-organic) cotton than on any other crop.
Igor has been experimenting with shellac, trying to find the right color for a build. The photo above shows various colors of cotton bar tape with (at bottom) and without shellac. Additional coats will darken them further.

Finally, last week was VO's 8th anniversary!

01 April, 2014

New VO Gran Fondue Bike

Testing. The ride must be exceptionally smooth.
Some special fittings were required.
Note the titanium Vargo burner, lightweight performance.
Stirring is critical; one must develop a smooth cadence.
Perfect consistency.
At VO everyone helps with product testing.