The SpeedX Leopard is a new bike for which you’ve probably seen ads in social media. It’s the subject of the biggest, most successful bike-related Kickstarter campaign in history; albeit, Kickstarter has a short history. If you’re not familiar with it, the SpeedX Leopard is touted as the world’s first smart carbon aero road bike. It’s a carbon fiber aero road bike that integrates a GPS bike computer and headlight into the stem.
The copy talks big, making P.T. Barnum-like hyperbolic claims about cutting edge design, top-shelf materials, innovative fitting and other revolutionary ideas that have all been around for some time. The only new idea the bike displays is the integration of the GPS and light into the stem, and to me, that’s not really a selling point for reasons of serviceability and fit.
In episode #13 of the Paceline Podcast Fatty brought this up and the issues he has with the bike. We discussed it in some depth.
For experienced and knowledgeable bike types, it’s easy to criticize this bike. The fitting system is archaic, at best. The bottom bracket height is extraordinarily high for a normal road bike. It is misleading for them to talk about the TRP brakes in a way that makes it sound like they invented hidden aero brakes. They didn’t.
The point here isn’t to deride the SpeedX Leopard. I only mean to point out that nothing in its appeal speaks to the dedicated cyclist, which may be their smartest move. The marketing copy, which reads like it’s either a translation or was written by someone who isn’t a native English speaker, is aimed at people who don’t usually talk bike. It touts a great many features (lifetime warranty!) which even casual cyclists will take as givens.
I suspect the company is an existing Taiwanese factory with excess capacity after losing production of some bikes for known bike companies to China, or a newer Chinese factory that just hasn’t landed enough clients yet.
So why talk about this bike at all?
They raised $2 million on Kickstarter. They raised $2M for a bike no one has ever test ridden. They’ve also managed to garner press in places like Fast Company and Stuff. They managed to garner press for a bike that other than its integrated stem isn’t better than the best work being done in aero road bikes. It’s isn’t faster, more durable, more comfortable or more affordable than other work being done.
So what gives? They thought big. The company has VC backing to the tune of $10M. As a real thing with the wherewithal to actually produce bikes, they have the pockets to pay for a top-notch PR firm to get those media mentions. They also spent on Jellop, a direct-marketing firm. They spent real money to talk to people who aren’t cyclists. They also discussed the bike, from production to testing, without assuming anyone has any existing background in bikes. They used video, lots of it.
It’s fair to wonder if what they spent on PR was a cost-effective way to recruit 1100 backers—give or take—but if they are making a profit on the bike (and with none of the traditional costs associated with sales and distribution, I’m guessing they’ll make a tidy margin), then the only real point of discussion is why the rest of the bike industry won’t think bigger and spend what’s necessary to promote the sport and its best products in a similar light.
I’ve got a lot of respect for the work the folks at SpeedX Leopard have done to get cycling mentioned in mainstream media. Imagine what we might achieve if the big bike companies made such an effort.