Triathlon more than any other cycling discipline knows its industry. Personally. When Felt's heretofore road product manager Dave Koesel decamped for 3T, that was big. I sought out Dave and 3T's co-owner (and Cervelo co-founder) Gerard Vroomen for a talk on what 3T is building.
(Pictured nearest below are Dave Koesel, then 3T's new Revo aerobar, the new part being the pursuit bar, then Gerard Vroomen.)
Dave, you've got a new gig. Slowtwitchers grew accustomed to your ready advice. Are you going to remain a regular on the Slowtwitch Forum?
I was a member of the Slowtwitch community before I was a Felt Employee and I'll remain a member. Just as Gerard is qualified to answer topics well beyond the brand on his business card, I'll remain a resource to assist people on whatever topics they engage me with.
You wore out the skies between the U.S. and Asia in your role at Felt Bicycles, as product managers will. Is that pretty much over for you? Are you going to be hiking your leg over the desk chair?
I've got a bit of work to do here in the U.S. to be sure. I'll still be in the air often, just probably domestic. I'll make a few trips to 3T in Italy a year and of course Eurobike and various product launches. While I'll have a desk chair, cubicle life does not suit me. 3T's Global operation has a Taiwan Branch, that's a luxury I've not had in my ten-plus years working in Asia. I've been the boots on the ground. I'm grateful to have this resource.
Gerard, what about you? Are you going to become a little more of a regular on the Slowtwitch forum than you have been?
I will likely be on Slowtwitch a bit more now that I'm really designing triathlon product again like the Revo. It's a good place to get inspiration for future product or to get feedback. Although the reason I was away for a while was mostly related to a lack of time to contribute and a lack of time to do triathlons, so that makes one feel a bit useless on a triathlon forum. But as forums go, Slowtwitch is very civilized so if you want to hang out somewhere, it's there. That said, sometimes I want to reply to a topic, If only you knew what really happened there or that company doesn't really know what it's talking about. Because I don't want to create a scene by saying what I know out loud, it can be a bit frustrating.
Have you decompressed? Are you ready to charge forward again? Was the Revo just a moment of timed-race brilliance and you're going to recede back until the inspiration and enthusiasm again strikes?
The Revo was an idea I had quite a few years back, but I never had any place to go with it. In fact I did mention it to 3T back when I was still at Cervelo, initially as a way to get a more aero basebar because of the more acute angle of the wing. But then you start to think about it from a comfort point of view and it makes even more sense. But you know how it goes in these companies, they are always busy and so sometimes good ideas fall by the wayside. So then when I was a shareholder rather than a customer, I could convince them to go back to this idea.
Dave, is 3T's U.S. operation going to be out of Orange County?
3T USA will indeed launch in Orange County, CA. We'll have a small office and warehousing to start and focus on the growing range of Orbis II rim brake wheels and Discus disc brake wheels. We've hired Kendall Young, an industry veteran who will focus on the OEM, both large and small and Clark Butcher of Victory Bicycle Studio who will be the direct link for 3T Customer Service in the USA with a centrally located service center in Memphis, TN.
I don't want to get way into your business, but as a bike business wonk I'm wondering how this might change distribution and warehousing. Can you tell me what Vittoria North American remains responsible for? And what they won't be responsible for?
Vittoria North America is the U.S. distributor for the current range of 3T products.
Dave I think I kind of know how Gerard's mind tracks, but what category do you think has lagged in bike design?
One of the things that has characterized the last couple years of product design is integration. For the past 35 years house brand components lagged behind their aftermarket options. Today brands like have introduced their own components that often introduce complexity and a lack of adjustability or limited scope of fit. We need to change that. I think you'll begin to see new ideas from 3T that are elegant solutions which simplify; not obfuscate bicycles components.
Who do you think is killing it in new product design? I really do admire what Carl Matson has done at Trek. I marvel at the one-man-show that is Nick Salazar at TriRig. Who is doing good work?
We're entering an era of pioneering technology and fulfillment at the consumer level. The Canyon model of sales, the Wiggle-Chain Reaction merger, the ease of manufacturing with 3D printing, the collapse of default made-in-China sourcing; there are opportunities for new ideas.
Imagine if you could buy the programming code for a Wiggins-like hour record aerobar, modify the fit coordinates, add your frame and component interface preference, and hit print and have a one-off, perfectly tailored part for your Speed Concept, or IA, or Dimond? This is the future of product design with fulfillment akin to consumer expectations of today's retail landscape outside our industry.
There is certainly room for the traditional bar-stem-post. These components will always be the backbone of fitting and custom tailoring a consumer's bicycle.
Likewise there will always be a need for the IBD and including this fulfillment method in any strategy going forward but simply hoping this whole internet thing will go away is not going to serve the industry well.
[Back to Gerard] I have heard that Open Cycle, your hardtail MTB and gravel bike line – and I'm sure you're going to correct me about nomenclature, people are picky about bike theme nomenclature these days – is doing very well. Stores can't get enough of your bikes. Literally cannot get them in as quickly as they'd like based on their sell-through. Is this overstated? Mind, I heard this from a store in Europe, so maybe it's just a European thing. What's going on with that bike line?
Yes that, is going very well. Gravel bike is an odd moniker for something that can be ridden on virtually any surface, so why pick one and name it after that? But that applies to all gravel bikes, and although the name makes little sense, people do understand what you mean when you use it. So rather than worry about a better name for it, it's more important to worry about how to make a better bike for it and about how to find the time to ride it.
Actually, that's not completely true, we did think about the moniker a little bit and called the OPEN U.P. a GravelPlus bike, but that's just to indicate that it fits not only the standard cross and gravel tires up to 40mm or so, but also mountainbike tires up to 54mm. So that's a bit plus-sized.
Anyway, back to those OPEN bikes, the idea behind OPEN as a bike company is to be the complete opposite of what most companies are trying. Most are trying to grow, scale, get market share, whatever, and of course I've been in that game too. OPEN is what happens when two people in the bike industry decide they don't like that anymore. So Andy and I are trying to define how we want to live our lives, then figure out what bikes we want to ride, then build them and see if there are enough other people who want to ride the same. And we do this while staying as small as possible, we're just a 2-man company. We don't do advertising, sponsoring, none of that, as a 2-man company simply can't afford to spend time on that.
This was all working out quite well with the hardtail frame, but now with this OPEN U.P. frame it's gotten a bit out of hand. Although that was the bike that I really only designed for myself, with a complete disregard for whether anybody else might want one, it turns out its popularity is beyond our wildest expectations. It won a Eurobike Gold Award, it's currently in a bicycle exhibit at the British Design Museum, it got #1 in Outside magazine's Top-10 cycling products of 2015. It's crazy, I mean even TOUR Magazin in Germany liked it! So rather than demand of almost zero, we got demand of five times almost zero.
So still very small, but it means the waiting times for the frames are a bit longer than we'd want. But it's all getting sorted and it is enjoyable. It also means we need to simplify the way we work again, so we can consistently do a bit more volume with still just two people. So saying NO to opportunities is more important than ever.