23 December, 2010

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to wish our customers, staff, and friends happy holidays and a prosperous new year. 

Thanks for making 2010 a spectacular year at Velo Orange.

21 December, 2010

Holiday Hours

Velo Orange will be closed from December 24th through January 2nd for our annual holiday break. If you need anything shipped this week, please order before 12pm on December 23rd. Our holiday shipping deal will end on January 2nd.

17 December, 2010

VO's Snow Commuters

I want to congratulate the three members of the VO staff who continue to commute by bike even when it snows. They are Robert, Collin, and Alec.  I have to admit that I never liked riding in snow, especially after a painful crash on a patch of ice years ago. So I have nothing but admiration for this hardy bunch.

BTW, Robert gets double kudos because he won his first cyclo-cross race last weekend. And Alec does ride in those sandals.

Anyone else bike commute all winter in snow country? Have any tips to share?

Also, there are a few new items on our specials page.

14 December, 2010

About VO, Part 2

You may remember that, a few weeks ago, I started a series a posts about VO's history. This is the second post; part one can be found here.

Before long we'd outgrown our first garage-sized space and found a storefront on West Street in Annapolis, which is essentially main street. The space was cheap because the building's owner planned to tear it down and redevelop (three years later, it's still for lease and still not razed). We signed renewable 90-day lease and I spent a week repainting and buying furniture. (A few more photos of the new space can be found here.) Since this was in the midst of a major commercial real estate slump, I guessed that it would be many years before the building was replaced and I was overjoyed at the dirt-cheap rent. What I didn't plan on was VO's outgrowing the space in 10 months and having to take more space next door. Then, 8 months later, we outgrew the combined space.

Now that we had a retail showroom, we opened accounts with several domestic distributors. This allowed us to offer many products that we could not import directly.

We soon had two more employees - Heidi, who ran the shipping and packing end of it, and Tom who sourced products and also started to develop a wholesale company. Tom had loads of experience in the bike industry and in sourcing parts overseas. He knew which factories had the best quality, knew many of the owners, and had a relationship with a superb trading company in Taiwan. Now I could concentrate on envisioning and designing things, and Tom would take care of having them made.

We also decided to offer semi-custom frames and found two excellent builders to make them. The rando frame was a huge success and we soon had a two-to-three year waiting list. Unfortunately, our rando frame builder promptly declared bankruptcy and left us to refund many thousands of dollars of frame deposits he'd held. The city bike frames did not sell as well.  I eventually decided that custom, even semi-custom, frames were simply not worth the trouble. The frames were perpetually late, customers wanted to change specs at the last minute, and I was spending far too much time on each order. Despite all this, the frames were generally brilliant; they were beautiful, rode like a dream, and those who got them loved them.

I realized that in the amount of time it took to have a few custom frames made, we could design and produce hundreds of production frames that were based on our successful custom designs. The production frame project had a steep learning curve, but eventually we managed to have three frames produced: the Rando, the Polyvalent, and the Mixte.

Anther successful project was having fenders made. At the time the only high quality metal fenders available in the US were the Japanese Honjo fenders. These were almost exact copies of French fenders and very nicely made, but expensive. The heavier stainless steel French Canyon fenders, marketed under the Berthoud brand, had temporarily gone out of production. So it seemed an opportune time to introduce VO fenders. Their success emboldened us to move forward on other projects - more racks, brakes, stems, handlebars, bottle cages...

One of my basic business rules was to try to offer things that were unavailable, or at least difficult to find, elsewhere. We were still selling a lot of new-old-stock items, but our suppliers were running out of the good stuff. And our growth meant that we had to look for stashes of hundreds, not dozens, of NOS parts. When we started going to Asia to visit factories I was surprised to learned that we were getting big enough to have many more of our own components manufactured. The focus of the company changed almost overnight; we went from looking for NOS stuff and being reluctant manufacturers to focusing on designing VO products.

I remember a few factory owners' skeptical looks when asked to make some of our early products. Who would buy roller hangers, or decaleurs, or 650b fenders? What sort of company was this VO? I'm sure our agent had to convince a few factory owners that we knew what we were doing, or could at least pay for our follies.

As the new products arrived we heard from more and more shop owners who wanted to stock them. VO Imports, our new sister company, was growing even faster than Velo Orange. Before long we had hundreds of dealers all over the world. Interestingly, we often sell VO racks and bars made in Japan to Japanese shops and VO components made in Taiwan to customers in Taipei.

In July 2008 we moved again, to two warehouses in the industrial section of Annapolis. Our new space was a few doors down from my former company, Chesapeake Light Craft. We also hired several more employees and suddenly had a staff of 11.

I'll write about the last couple of years in the next installment.

10 December, 2010

Grand Cru Titanium Saddles

We now have the new Grand Cru Titanium saddles in stock.They have titanium frames and titanium rails, obviously. The shape of the top is like our very popular VO Model #3 saddle, but with a cutaway skirt to save weight. What remains of the skirt skirt is laced to prevent flaring as the saddle ages. The leather is extra thick and there's an anti-stretch layer laminated onto the bottom to further increase longevity.

Weight is about 420g, length is 285mm, and width is 170mm. This is a particularly good saddle for those who like their handlebars at or above saddle height. The rails are extra long and it does have bag loops. It's available in black, brown, and honey.

We're still working on the carbon fiber rivets.

Integrated Decaleur Racks

I've been using racks with integrated decaleurs on two of my own bikes for a couple of years and absolutely love them. They make a solid and rattle-free system that perfects the whole handlebar bag experience. I have two bags, a VO Campagne bag and a huge Japanese Alps handlebar bag. Each has a decaleur attachment installed so switching bags is as simple as lifting one off and dropping the other in place. I've also used the system with a basket for farmer's market trips. If I don't need to use a bag, I simply slide the U-shaped piece into place and have a regular front rack.

 Of all the products we've developed, this is among those I'm most proud of. Not only does it clean up and simplify bag mounting, but it's much cleaner, lighter, and simpler to install than a separate decaleur and rack. BTW, I know that they look a little tall in the photos, but once on your bike they blend right in and look great.

We used to sell racks like these, but our US supplier couldn't keep making them. The new ones are all stainless steel and made in Taiwan. The stainless construction means that they will never rust or flake.

They are available in two versions. The Pass Hunter rack fits bikes with canti brakes, while the Rando rack is for bikes with caliper brakes.

07 December, 2010

A Couple of Specials

Remember these cranks? They are the chrome plated version of our new compact double crankset that were produced in error. We made a prototype that was chrome plated aluminum alloy. While it looked great and performed perfectly, most folks preferred a polished alloy finish, as on the triple and polyvalent cranks. Unfortunately, the change in specifications did not reach the factory. We received some in August; the rest just arrived. Again, they look and function perfectly in every way and have proven to be very durable. They are simply not what we wanted. So I decided we'd just blow them out.

The regular anodized finish version are also available.

We also ordered a wrong fender model. Instead of ordering a model we were almost out of, we ordered one that we had tons of. So our 48mm fluted fenders are on sale. Not a good day in the ordering department!

03 December, 2010

Little Things

Here are a few little projects and developments that may interest you.

Grand Cru 50.4bcd cranksets are now 10-speed compatible. We had a problem with a few chain rings that were made 0.5mm thicker than specified. This was limited just a small percentage of the first production run. We have replacements that work with 10-speed chains. If you've bought one one of these cranks previously and have one of the thicker 2.5mm inner rings, we can supply a replacement 2.0mm ring (measure at the base of the teeth). It only matters if you run a 10-speed chain.

Unlike many companies we often make components that factories are unfamiliar with. Every crank factory is expert at 110bcd rings, but our 50.4bcd rings are designed from scratch and so it's easier for an error to creep in.

Our new glassine packaging is very cool, if I do say so myself. We've been looking for a distinctive and environmentally-friendly packaging system for small parts. Kyle came up with the idea of glassine envelopes and worked tirelessly to find a source for them in Taiwan. It'll take a year or more until all the small parts come this way, but we're on the way. The package above contains down tube cable stops.

This is our newly designed fender L-bracket. This bracket uses a single 6mm bolt so it fits front fenders designed for a fork crown daruma and uses the existing hole. Darumas work on most bikes, but sometimes there is not enough room in the steerer tube, especially on carbon forks. So if you can't, or choose not to use, a daruma this is an easy substitute. It can also be used on a rear fender, but you need to drill the hole. Works perfectly on VO and Honjo fenders and probably on some others too.

We have a new scissor action kickstand. The Copenhagen kickstand is a double leg stand that allows both legs to fold to the non-drive side, much like the Pletscher stand we stock. The Copenhagen stand has the advantage of adjustable leg length. And it's less expensive.

We have a small quantity of tan mudflaps. If the tan color sells well we'll keep making them. We've had problems keeping leather items in stock recently, not because of unusually strong sales, but because the little Northern California tannery that supplies our leather has seen a shortage of good quality hides. We may have to find out where that Gucci guy get his.