Are New Cervelo and QR Websites Harbingers of Change?

Cervelo has a new S5 road bike and in short order will announce a new P5 that shares design aspects of the P5X. It also launched a new website that has a “configurator”. This is parlance for the ability to custom design and/or order the product in the color and spec of your choice.

The first bike industry configurators I that became aware of were Trek’s industry leading Project One and a before-its-time custom paint color configurator by Orbea USA (about a decade ago) that passed by the wayside (it has since been revived).

The most recent and ambitious configurator was for the Diamondback Andean, however that bike – while remaining a hot commodity – is going (I hear) to have its available spec options scaled back.

Cervelo’s configurator is spare on the mix-and-match options. You can visualize the bike you’re ordering by clicking on the available four groupkits, but your brake type is limited to disc or… disc, and the colorways appear to be groupkit specific. Configurators are late in coming to the tri and road market, but are welcome.

Quintana Roo debuted its new website today as well and has some other eyebrow raising announcements (which you’ll hear about in due time). Mouse over the available colors and the bike’s color changes. Click it and an order form page appears with a larger pic of “your” bike. The picture of the bike changes as you toggle between colors and spec (seems as of now limited to wheel options). QR has an amazing array of color options for its bikes: 6 colors x 4 models x 6 sizes = 144 SKUs. When you consider the available wheel options, this pushes the possibilities into the mid hundreds.

Contrast that with the new Cervelo S5, it appears that you can get about 20 versions of this bike if you choose it as a complete bike. The list of options grows to 30 if you include your size and color options for the standard frame. It may be option-challenged, but it’s a start! In fairness, this is a new bike, and the QR bikes have all been out months or years (but there is another reason, which I'll get to).

Configurators like this have been contemplated by companies of this relative size for some years. I had a discussion a couple of years ago about this with Scott Rittschof, whose decision this would’ve been when he was at Cervelo, before he left to take up a top position at Cannondale, and Rittschof is now the head man at Felt in the U.S.

In other words, this is what is coming. These websites are evidence of what you’ll see. Just, realize the implications. These manufacturers are engaged in an effort that shrinks the distance between them and their consumers. Configurators also increase – theoretically – the capacity of manufacturers to offer and ship products that match with precision the wishes of their customers. This has implications on the distribution channel.

I know of a company whose operating officer tried to change sourcing to match the paradigm common in the auto industry, to bad effect. However, these industries are converging, if in fits and starts. When you go to the auto mall you can buy a car off the floor, or you can order it and get exactly what you want and it’ll arrive in 60 to 90 days. Bikes take way less time to customize than cars do.

How does Quintana Roo offer so many colors on so many models? It installed a paint line in its Chattanooga factory last year; and a second line (with a second booth) this March. All its frame come in unfinished. Its complete bikes are all assembled in Chattanooga.

Diamondback, Trek, Orbea, and Allied Cycle Works (founded by Tony Karklins, responsible for Orbea’s 2008 custom paint gambit, and fully invested with Allied in U.S. manufacture), are all playing with themes that have implications far beyond what their websites look like. This isn’t slyspeak for Consumer Direct (Trek’s Project One is a manufacturing and assembly paradigm; not a sales channel change; and Cervelo remains staunchly wedded to the IBD channel).

In fact, were I an enterprising IBD I’d see this as a potential for a different – but ultimately more fruitful – way to supercharge antiquated logistics habits, placing into play where paint and assembly occurs, who owns each item on the bill of materials as it passes from factory to the point of sale, and who and how handles the financing and accounting.

Two new websites got launched today, but the there’s more to the story than new websites.