01 October, 2009

Interbike Report

I remember going to Interbike a few years ago and having time to look at almost every booth, at least for a few seconds. This year I didn't see most of the show. Most of my time was taken up with meetings. We met with many of our current manufacturers and suppliers and a couple of potential new sources.

One troubling development was seeing a large company rip-off several VO designs, as well as Nitto designs. I'll write more about this soon. And I'll need to be more circumspect about the products we're developing and say less about them on this blog. Nonetheless, here are a few of the things we're looking at:

  • A new CNC centerpull long reach brake with an optional mini-rack, like the old Mafac rack. These should provide a lower priced alternative to Paul Racers. I still think the Paul Racers, along with the Grand Cru Caliper brakes are the best brakes available today, but these new ones may provide some serious competition.
  • We will be stocking some new Honjo fenders, but I won't provide details until they are almost here for competitive reasons.
  • We are again talking about a 50.4bcd crank, but with a new manufacturer. I'll meet with them in Taiwan in a few weeks to see if we can finally make this happen.
  • There may soon be a very pretty, shiny and inexpensive VO 110bcd crankset.
  • We are investing in tooling for neat traditional forks. These will first appear on the mixte, but will be used on other VO frames next year.
  • There were some new and interesting and traditional-looking high performance 700 x 25c and 700 x 28c tires that we may stock, possibly with orange and with white tread.
  • We learned that the Polyvalent frames are now at the paint shop and may arrive here in as little as 4 weeks.
It was very nice to see VO components on many display bikes. The bikes in the Sturmey Archer display were especially well done.


David said...

Chris, Are you going to do a lugged 1" steerer and fork? I ride some really old very tall frames and would love a decent bladed fork that was ready for powder coat or paint. It would also be nice to have those in a longer rake in classic curved shape. Some of us like old touring geometry!

Anonymous said...

Electra totally ripped off Velo Orange decaleurs and racks. They rip off anyone they can--that's their business model and has been for years.

Chris Kulczycki said...

The forks will not be sold separately. They are a low-trail design made for VO frames.

Fred Blasdel said...

With their upcoming Ticino, Electra is 'ripping off' the same old french stuff that Chris takes his inspiration from. Through their collaboration with FSA, they're probably going to beat him to market with new 50.4 BCD cranks.

Besides, they insist on using their odd 'crank-forward' geometry everywhere, and they stick to aluminum frames.

Fred Blasdel said...

I really love the look of that CNC centerpull. It'd be amazing with the brake arms highly polished. What's its reach?

Anonymous said...

Electra had an exact copies of the Nitto R cage and the VO fork-mount decaleur. Those parts are not old French designs.

Chris Kulczycki said...

It is interesting that Electra ordered racks, decaleurs, and many other parts from us early this year. The parts I saw at the show appeared to be exact replicas down to the smallest detail, save the name on them. Our VO parts are not copies of any particular old French part, but new designs inspired by them.

Gunnar Berg said...

Paul knocked off Mafac (who probably knocked off someone else), now you're knocking off Pauls. It's an industry built on knocking off the competetion with incremental improvements. Take it as a compliment and move on.

Josh Mitchell said...

Saw pictures of that brake... thought it was mounted to the rack as an convenient "example" (rather than mounting it to a fork)... I never would have guessed that the rack was actually an option for the brake itself. Very interesting. Obviously, there would be a maximum load, but it's rather small and is mainly for handlebar bags... has threaded bosses for lights... hmmm...

mike said...

i'd buy those centerpulls if they worked for a 700c frame and could get a larger fender / tire under the current shimano 'long' (47-57) reach brakes i'm currently running.

Joel said...

Agree with you on the Sturmey Archer Retrotecs. Curtis Inglis is making me an internal geared bike with the Alfine. Curtis is modifiying a JTek handlebar mount shifter (Possibly one of the last made. The JTek site sadly announced the proprieter is suffering from cancer) to go on the downtube. The bike will look similar to the S3X that drew a lot oohs and aahs at the show.

It really is too bad other companies are trying to hitch a ride onto your ideas. You live in an area bristling with IP lawyers. I would give one a call.

veloChine said...

Is there a reason you can't make cold forded center pulls? Is it tooling cost?

Chris Kulczycki said...

Those are not VO brakes. They are made by a well known brake company. The rack was made simply because the President of the company wanted one for his bike. I think that I talked him into making them a production item and offered to buy a whole bunch of them.

Gunner, Paul improved Mafac brakes after they went out of production. He didn't make an exact duplicate of an existing product.

EBEEP said...

Skimming & distorting constructeur aesthetics while leaving behind quality will most likely be the practice of a few of the major bicycle manufacturers. The trend wave is beginning to swell, but it will inevitably crash...probably into the racks of Wal Mart where in 5 years you'll be able to buy a Schwinn knock-off of Electra's knock-off complete with 60 lbs of hybrid geometry and a front rack that will bend under the weight of a bagel.
Chris, I firmly believe your customer base will continue its healthy growth, and current VO loyalists aint goin' anywhere!
Let them introduce the notion of these aesthetics to the masses, most people are internet savvy enough to read the inevitable pervasive backlash of unfavorable comparisons to VO, Nitto, etc. and buy from the source.

Anonymous said...

the hand holding those brakes are pretty chewed up- has she heard of a nail clipper?

EBEEP said...

Didn't see the comment about Electra's exact duplication of VO products before my 1st comment. Smells like copyright infringement!

tys said...

I'd buy those centerpulls plus rack in a second if the reach is in the 60-80 range!
Maybe with more options, we'll see some production frames with braze-on centerpulls!!

P said...

The brakes are winner.

But, as a former lawyer, let's be real: there is no infringement issue. Almost all of these products are based around timeless traditional designs. It's like saying rock bands infringe on each others' work because they use the same three chords.

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

Are we "ripping off" Shakespeare when we say "a rose by any other name?" Or was Mies van der Rohe "ripping off" Robert Browning when he said "less is more?"

It ain't over til it's over!

Anonymous said...

and besides . . . Electra does have a pretty decent looking cruiser there . . . but let's be real about another thing. The Ticino is no more a useful French-inspired design than the Amsterdam was a usable Dutch-inspired design. Neither bike is really about riding, they are about casual Sunday morning parks etc . . . Anyone who has logged real miles on a real Dutch bike in real weather would never, in a million years, buy an Electra and try to do the same thing . . . it's a completely different market. I would go so far as to say that actual riding is not in Electra's design goals. I agree that it's possible that a few urban cyclists might buy Electra components for their commute bikes, but it would be very surprising if they could beat VO's price anyway. I'm not trying to rag on Electra; I'm happy if their style-conscious customers are happy.

michael white

eliseo said...

Stem, toeclip covers, seatpost, rear rack, front rack, etc etc... I can see VO in the inspiration, and that is putting it extremely lightly.

John said...

I bought my Mafacs both for the racklet option and because the Dia-Compe 750's I'd bought performed so poorly. I like the rack on these (no lighting bosses on the wee square TA rack on my front Mafac brake), and though they're not pretty, the brakes look fine. Of course you can see the Dia-Compe sticker on the caliper. I'd have to be convinced they stop as well as a Mafac (without all the ruckus) before I ponied up.

Michael Wlosek said...

Wait a minute, Don't you guys constantly rip off other peoples designs? I'm thinking Brooks, Toei, Gilles Berthoud, Honjo, etc, etc.
From my perspective your company is built on other people's innovation. Am I wrong?

dustin said...

The 110/74 cranks sound nice, but how about a 94/58 while you are at it? This is great for running my favorite 46-30 combo.

Raiyn said...

Shades of Stephen Ambrose! That's just plain theft! They actually bought your products and used them like they were theirs! I, for one, am now boycotting Electra and their dealers.

Le Cagot said...

Michael, You might enjoy reading a little about the style of bike and components VO makes. VO does not duplicate other companies products. Berthoud bags are based on La Fuma, TA, Solgn, and other older French bags, so are VO's. Brooks is one of a dozen leather saddle makers that made very similar saddles (not even the first); they are, however, one of the few survivors. VO saddles look more like Ideale saddles than Brooks.
Honjo makes copies of old French fenders; VO only makes interpretations of them. Toei makes near copies of classic Rene Herse bikes. VO bikes are their own design.

Companies like Berthoud, Toei, Honjo, and Velo Orange make improved versions of classic discontinued products. They do considerable development work and design work to improve them. Electra simply duplicated another companies offerings. They stole VO's development work and designs.

Andrew said...

Come on, it's a bit rich complaining that someone "stole" your designs - nearly every product you've come up with is either a copy, or heavily inspired by either Herse, Singer, TA, or some other Frenchie.

In any case it's a different market. These guys are making complete, assembled bikes and you are selling bits to allow bike nuts to dress up their rando or city bike.

david_nj said...

I love you all and truly truly cherish VO, but this is simply malarkey. There is no ripping off of ideas by this Electra company that I can see. These are simply based on traditional products. The designs are not patented or trademarked (though the VO logo should be), and is seems extremely doubtful that they could be meaningfully protected in this way.

In fact, by making entire integrated bicycles rather than just components, you could argue that this Electra company is actually closer to the constructeur state of mind than a company which just manufactures components.

While judging from the photo the Electra bikes aren't the most handsome things around, they seem pretty darn nice-looking. Would you rather have the world populated with those, or garish Wal-Mart bikes?

Anonymous said...

I suppose it shouldn't matter if Electra stole VO ideas since VO is a company that was "started...not for mercenary reasons, but to fill a special need." So if that special need just gets filled more, then that's simply good, right?

Which is a snide way of saying: I wish you would remove that line from your company description. VO is a for-profit company that does a wonderful job developing products at a better price point than much of its competition and sometimes supplies innovative products that don't have any competition at any price.

The only thing "not for mercenary reasons" can possibly mean considering VO's totally normal business practices is that the owner was and is already wealthy enough to be able to take higher risks (on particular products, and, initially, on the prospects for longevity of the company.)

The implied moral grandstanding over companies that are founded for "mercenary" reasons (i.e. to put food on the table?) is odd, and I think the claim that you're some kind of fancybikebits.org doesn't help your case when a situation like this arises where you're inclined to defend your revenue stream.

Gary said...

The Electra bikes are going to increase consumer awareness of these classic styles of cycling accessories. I see the raised awareness as a good chance for increased awareness and sales of VO products.

Electra is fashion oriented. VO is utility oriented with a eye toward aesthetics. Consumers will know the difference between Electra quality and VO quality. And Electra will have a new flavor next year.

I would consider sending Electra a thank you card for the exposure.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Tim, what I meant by that is that I started VO knowing that it would never be a huge money maker. I simply wanted to have fun and provide some things that no one else did. Of course some profit is nice and even necessary to VO's survival, but money has never been terribly important to me. That is to say, I like to be comfortable, but have no desire to be filthy rich.

You should hear all the times that Tom or Annette try to convince me to raise prices, pointing out how no one else sells a particular product or how some competitor sells it for much more. They get really frustrated with me.

Anonymous said...

Does JP weigle or Banjo rip off Herse?

Anonymous said...

"Does JP weigle or Banjo rip off Herse?"

No, they didn't buy an RH and six months later come out with exact duplicates. They improve on old designs.

Reynolds 531 said...

Keep your focus on delivering practical, beautiful, and high quality cycling components and accessories and you'll have a large loyal customer base.

Any attempt to use IP lawyers to protect your designs will cost way more in dollars and frustation than the value of lost sales to Electra or others, and it's probably futile as well.

I have a great appreciation for the products you have sold to me. I always look to VO first for my cycling component and accesssory needs.

Josh Mitchell said...


"I started VO knowing..."

That's, essentially, why I'll be using VO source components (stem, handlebar, grips, levers) to upgrade my Schwinn Collegiate soon.

Kilroy said...


The cnc'd centerpull brake with a Mafac-like mini rack is a superb item.

Best regards

Missoula Flood said...

Those Centerpulls are sweet! I would definitely buy those. I know the Paul's brakes are well made but I don't like the look of them as much as the old Mafacs brakes. The Paul's look unfinished to me. Just my opinion.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

The Ticino is strangely spec'd. Very high handlebars with downtube shifters and somewhat normal 50/39 chainrings. Strangely, those 50.4 cranks look like they use a 130 bcd for the middle chainring--making them as useless for commuters as modern racing cranks.

Plus, it looks like the copied racks are just for looks on Electra's complete bikes. They're too expensive to manufacture to turn profits as accessories.

Anonymous said...

"You should hear all the times that Tom or Annette try to convince me to raise prices, pointing out how no one else sells a particular product or how some competitor sells it for much more. They get really frustrated with me."

Chris, you need to fire them, they're bad for business ;>)

Steve said...

It's possible to mount a light on a TA front rack that doesn't have a lamp fitting. I made one for my touring bike from some aluminum stock I got at Home Depot. Photos are here:


ELECTRA said...

Wait a minute, Don't you guys constantly rip off other peoples designs? I'm thinking Brooks, Toei, Gilles Berthoud, Honjo, etc, etc.
From my perspective your company is built on other people's innovation. Am I wrong?
Come on, it's a bit rich complaining that someone "stole" your designs - nearly every product you've come up with is either a copy, or heavily inspired by either Herse, Singer, TA, or some other Frenchie.
In any case it's a different market. These guys are making complete, assembled bikes and you are selling bits to allow bike nuts to dress up their rando or city bike. Are we "ripping off" Shakespeare when we say "a rose by any other name?" Or was Mies van der Rohe "ripping off" Robert Browning when he said "less is more?"

The previous statements are now property of Electra Bicycle Company. Thanks for doing all the work for us guys! We'll be happy to claim ownership over any other good ideas you may have in the future.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the legalities, it sucks about Electra. I was kind of hoping the offending bicycle company was one of those we all love to hate anyway like Pacific or Bikes Direct. I sorta liked Electra for what they've done to popularize non-competative bicyling. They could have made you a deal that would have benefitted both brands instead of just ripping off the design. I guarantee they wouldn't do that to Shimano or Tektro or any other large component maker they do business with. But I guess its okay step on little guys who don't have corperate attornies on staff. Unfortunately the same thing happens in other markets too. Big businesses rip off designs of popular hand-crafted items from etsy.com all the time. It happened to my wife, who used to sell a very distinctive style of girls' dresses on etsy (before CPSA put her out of business - but that's a different rant). I guess all you can do is hope that the added exposure brings in people looking for the real deal.

John B.

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

Michael White, your point is well-taken. VO has updated and improved old but good designs; Electra is taking the form but not the substance of them.

Whether or not Electra "copied" something VO did, I don't think they're going to take away any of VO's customers. If anything, as another poster said, they may actually create future customers for VO if even a few of the people who buy Electra bikes decide that they want their bikes to be something more than fashion or lifestyle accessories.

Jerry Moos said...

I take it patent/copyright protection is largely ineffective. I think you shouldn't overract to the Electra copies by keeping your projects secret. You will have to provide photos and descriptions when you offer the products for sale anyway. And I think the discussion of upcoming products on the Blog builds advance demand, and even more important, builds a sense of "community" among VO customers. I think your success in creating this sense of community has been a big reason for VO's success to date. Not familiar with Electra personally, but I take it from other comments they only sell complete bikes, so I don't see them as a threat to VO. And after all, all the classic manufacturers copied each other, though not as flagrantly as Electra seems to have done. My advice is, ignore them and keep doing what you have been doing.

Steve said...

I was just at the library, and there parked outside was an Electra Amsterday. I've seen the bike before, and had a conversation with the owner. She's a school nurse (there's an elementary school adjacent to the library) and uses this bike as her transportation to the several schools at which she works. She used to own a department store POS that got stolen, and she told me that after getting over the sticker shock of spending more on a bike than she's ever spent before, she thinks the thief did her a big favor. This is the best bike she's ever owned, and it makes bicycle transportation a practical reality for her.

I didn't ride it, so I can't compare it with any the English 3-speeds I've ridden or owned in the past, and I certainly can't compare it to a real Dutch bike. But I am impressed by her attitude, and how well the bike seems to work for her.

So for those who say Electras are fashion accessories, maybe for many, but definitely not for all.

Jerry Moos said...

The brake and rack look nice. I'm especially interested in the rack, which is obviously inspired by the old TA rack. The TA is my favorite front rack, as it suits the small/med front bag I normally use and it doesn't require any frame brazeons or clamps - probably one of the easiest racks to mount on bikes with Mafac brakes.

The TA also mounts easily on old, engraved Weinmann 999 CP's as found on my 1962 Schwinn Superior. But more recent Weinmanns and their DiaCompe clones have arms with a thicker cross section and so require some modification of the TA rack with spacers and longer bolts to make it work. So a TA-type rack which fits most classic Weinmann/DiaCompe
CP's without modification would be useful. I'd hope that a VO rack would be designed to fit classic Mafac, Weinmann, and DiaCompe CP's, as well as the current DiaComps still made to the classic design, and Paul, as well as the CNC brakes you are contemplating. I think the biggest consideration here is the horizonal distance between the front of the fork and the brake pivot bolts. One could perhaps design the section with the bracket for securing to the fork to be adjustable. Or if that seems too cluttered, one could make the distance from fork crown to brake pivot bolts such as to accomodate the thickest brake one anticipated using. This would probably require spacers between the rack brake pivot mounts and the brake caliper for use with thinner brakes, as well as longer pivot bolts. I've found the spacers and bolts are easily available at hardware stores, but perhaps for convenience they could be included for the more popular brake options, or perhaps VO could sell "kits" to adapt for alternate brakesets.

In the photo, it appears there is a light boss at the right rear of the rack, but I'm not sure the placement would allow use of a flashlight. Perhaps a production version should have light bosses on both sides and positioned to allow flashligh use.

bikelovejones said...

Planet Bike's "Superflash" rear blinky light is being produced with new logos as a house brand for at least two distributors. The LED isn't as bright or as durable as PB's, but the casing is identical. The copies are the result of PB losing its exclusivity clause with the factory.

Will PB wring its hands over the "copies"? Not likely. This stuff happens ALL THE TIME in our industry. My guess is that the bright minds at PB will let it go and come up with a new innovation.

Innovating is what keeps things fresh and brings along improvements on existing designs. Copying is what brings those ideas to more people in more price-points, and in our case serves to get more people onto bicycles, which, IMHO, is really the point of it all.

Happy riding --Beth