Consumer Protection

Consumer Protection

I get asked why so many of our reviews are not just positive, but downright enthusiastic. There are several reasons, which I can briefly recap like so:

  • Better gear makes for a better ride.
  • Great gear can inspire more than just one ride.
  • Great products make for more interesting reviews.
  • You receive a greater service by hearing about the good, rather than the bad.

There’s a corollary to this which I remind people of whenever I can. Compared to when I began cycling and there were products out there that were little more than bear scat with good packaging, there is very little that hits the market today against which you should be warned. The worst road bike sold at an IBD will get you down a descent at 40 mph without fear for your life. That wasn’t always the case.

There are exceptions, however. Back in April I wrote about the biggest bicycle Kickstarter in history, more than $2.3 million raised by SpeedX Leopard. I noted then that their particular genius was to think big when it came to marketing the launch and not rely solely on endemic media. As a result, they got some significant non-endemic mentions that did much to help their exposure.

I noted at the time that the bike had come in for some criticism; the company’s head of marketing, Raggy Lau, would later go on social media to say I had slammed the bike. Even so, I got an email from Mr. Lau asking if I’d like to check the bike out on his media tour which was scheduled for May. I took him up on his offer and then never heard another word from him. A subsequent email has gone unanswered.

SpeedX Leopard went to a second crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo to raise another $2.5 million. That’s a total of more than $4.8 million for a bike no one had ridden. A recently published photo of a non-endemic magazine editor riding the bike showed said editor in cotton pants and sneakers. His praise of the bike didn’t do much to sway me.

13321864_10153525559202073_5321861043604230735_nThe seatpost light and charging port. Scotch tape may not be included. 

As I noted in my previous piece, the Leopard has an unusually high bottom bracket, just 6cm of BB drop. That’s higher than some cyclocross bikes. In fact I’d expect to find a BB that high only on a track or ‘cross bike. I’ve not seen a BB that high on a road bike in … ever.

That amazing integrated GPS and headlight that was shown in the photos with the Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns has turned out to be quite other. When the first photos of the integrated GPS/stem/light were posted I’d have spit out my drink had I been drinking anything. My computer screen breathed a sigh of relief. I remember commenting on how the attention to industrial design in the unit shown in the Kickstarter was likely to draw buyers. The thing they are showing now will be a sore disappointment.

The members of the SpeedX rider’s group on Facebook are less than thrilled. One member concluded he’d stick it on his kid’s bike. The stem-integrated computer is no more impressive. And the light? Looks like a flashlight.

The biggest problem for buyers of the bike, however, is sizing. As in, how to. The innovative and revolutionary sizing system they touted at the beginning of their campaign, in which one would photograph themselves and then be assured of the perfect fit has been abandoned in favor of … an inseam measurement.

Folks, that’s how I was sizing bikes in 1988 at the Peddler Bike Shop.

To make matters worse, it seems that based on recommendations from SpeedX, many riders were steered into bikes that I believe most fit pros would determine to be too small for them. That SpeedX wasn’t willing to do more to help their customers order the proper size is dismaying, but not completely shocking. Most brands are extremely reluctant to give more than cursory sizing information via their web sites. The issue here is that most brands don’t want to engage in sizing via teh interwebz. They want you to visit a bike shop and work with a qualified fitter, for good reason. People are quick to blame the bike when it doesn’t fit right.

SpeedX’ greater sin is that it hasn’t recommended to their customers to go to a bike shop or a fit studio to get a proper sizing ahead of being fit by a pro once their new bike arrives. The single most common post on the Facebook group is about sizing and the advice being given is by other riders whose knowledge might be incomplete.

Complicating matters is the seatpost. People aren’t sure how long it is and, oddly, worse, aren’t sure how far it can be inserted into the frame due to the USB charging port for the seatpost-integrated tail light. Most riders aren’t willing to remove the seatpost to charge the light. Complicating matters (did I write that already?) is the fact that because this is an aero frame, one cannot simply replace the seatpost for one that doesn’t feature the tail light. This seatpost may have no more adjustment range than an old Campagnolo unit.

My buddy Fatty sees a looming disaster as riders with frames emblazoned with their names attempt to return them when the bikes don’t fit.

13315495_10153525559257073_5424105271894360879_n

I did some digging around to find out what the reputation of factory making the bikes is. They are using Fibertek, which does reasonably good work. Most of the brands that have worked with them hold them to NDA clauses, but I have been able to find out that Guru was definitely using them for some tubes at minimum. Fibertek was listed as a creditor in Guru’s bankruptcy. Many brands are unknown to our primarily American audience. Fibertek is located on mainland China, not Taiwan, and product managers I know in the industry continue to insist that the best carbon work is being performed at factories in Taiwan, not China.

I think it’s fair to observe that SpeedX is green behind the ears based on their sizing run (heavy on really small sizes and nothing for tall Westerners) and the geometry. The seatpost issues further complicate significant fitting challenges, and I wouldn’t criticize them if they hadn’t made such bold claims in the Kickstarter about their ability to size people via a photo. Also, for a bike available in so many small sizes, they did a terrible job of crafting a message for women riders; I have yet to run across a single comment from a woman who ordered the bike.

Their inexperience has manifest in another way; SpeedX is refunding hundreds of dollars to buyers because of their failure to factor import tariffs, which many buyers will be forced to pay.

It’s easy to feel fortunate that you dodged this bullet and didn’t get sucked in by their hype. However, recently SpeedX annouced the world’s first—wait for it—smart mountain bike. There’s so little in the bike world that you need to be warned about, but I have grave reservations about this bike and what constitutes a smart mountain bike.

I’ve nothing against this bike in principle. But to the degree that I need to warn consumers about anything, it’s when people decide that the bike industry doesn’t know how to make a bike and they with zero experience in our industry know better and can outwit us and produce a better bike. Given how high anti-establishment sentiment is running right now, that’s a claim that will appeal to some people.

But it never works out the way those “innovators” claim. Corollary: The winner of the 2014 Oregon Manifest was supposed to be produced as a widely available model by Fuji Bikes. At the time of the judging I observed that the bike presented some real production hurdles. Fast forward two years and we learn that Fuji won’t be selling that bike. Nothing against Fuji; this is just my contention that the engineers and product managers in the bike industry are very smart people who combine creativity and innovation with real-world production know-how and an eye toward consumer cost-consciousness.

To the degree that I may need to provide a warning as a reader service, this is one of those rare occasions. The SpeedX Leopard is supposed to go into full production. Anyone who isn’t a dedicated cyclist, i.e., an already savvy consumer of bikes, is at risk for a purchase that seems likely to be less than satisfying.

Caveat emptor.

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13 comments

  1. brian ledford

    How much fat is there on say a specialized or a trek? Both of them or giant seem big enough that any economies of scale have likely kicked in, I think? Basically, I wonder what percentage of the price of a specialized or trek or giant is labor and materials versus badging. You can save on badging, possibly. You can’t really save on materials – or rather, you win by scaling up and so the big guys are going to be cheaper on carbon fiber. labor, you can maybe save on, but you also get what you pay for. And carbon fiber layup is more hands on than tig welding aluminum has to be. I think. Maybe lugged carbon tube frames could be machine built? I guess my gut feeling is that a non big brand bike/boutique bike should probably cost more for a given spec.

    1. Rod

      One Response: branding is a fair amount, but as you say it only goes so far. My team commissions its own bike brand out of Taiwan, kinda hybrid OEM/ODM where the buyer has a certain amount of input in geometry, spec, sizing, etc. For example, the team is run out of the LBS and the owner refuses to deal with more creaky BBs, so English bottom bracket it is. No miracles, though, can’t spec a 5:1 ratio down tube or 68 degree HT for a road bike. Mostly Road, CX, TT frames are all available in about 5-6 sizes. Carbon. Some Ti frames also, but from a different vendor and with way more latitude and input available in those. We’ve also started to receive some components recently, like aerobars. Most of these are from factory owned or otherwise non-protected IP.

      Prices are about 50-75% of similar large brand name for the frame and fork, unpainted. Not the super high end, exotic stuff like a Dogma or a Venge, but certainly a sub kilo frame. The shop’s main moneymaker and competitive advantage is a well decked paint shop.

      Take a peek at what the Asian bike expos offer. There’s lots of room to have your own mini brand if desired. Some are full cookie-cutter operations where only decals and colour differ, others allow you more input.


    2. Author
      Padraig

      If your purpose is to get the most bike for your money, the first thing you have to do is avoid a company that sponsors a ProTour team. Those sponsorships are crazy expensive. Smaller companies with fewer warm bodies tend to offer bikes of a bit higher value than the big guys, but the big guys make up for some of that because they buy in such volume. Right now, the best value I’m seeing is from Felt, though Scott is also killing it.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, they do. Most companies do, but Orica isn’t the size of some formations. Even Felt sponsors a pro team, but they are a small operation without any of the big multi-million-dollar-hauling stars.

  2. winky

    I wouldn’t touch a SpeedX with a bargepole. My default assumption is that all Kickstarters are scams unless proven otherwise. It’s been a reliable assumption thus far.

  3. Rick

    Scott also sponsors the Swiss IAM Cycling Team. I believe that to some extent, working with a Pro Tour team drives these companies to produce better products. If you’re on a strict budget, seek-out last years closeouts and save a few bucks.

  4. Elden

    Bike Radar has a little more info on the mountain bike you reference:

    “The SpeedX Mustang, currently the only MTB in the range, is a hardtail made from a mix of T8000 and T700 carbon running on – yes really – 26in Novatec wheels and paired with a RockShox XC 28 suspension fork. The groupset is Shimano Deore, stopping duties are provided by Tektro HD-M285 disc brakes, and finishing kit includes a SpeedX alloy handlebar and seatpost, saddle, and the integrated GPS computer. It costs £650 / $800 / €800, and will come in three sizes: 15in, 17in and 19in.”

    It’s like they’re TRYING to make me angry.

    Full article here: http://www.bikeradar.com/us/road/news/article/speedx-leopard-price-weight-specs-47371/

  5. David Feldman

    In some ways, it’s nice to work in an industry that doesn’t demand credentials for entry–in another not so good because you get stuff like SpeedX. It is too easy for someone very ignorant of how bikes function to design a pipe dream and find a contract builder in Taiwan or China to crank out a few thousand of them!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      When you look at the sizing run for the Leopard, it’s really not all that surprising that they’d go with 26-inch wheels. Their bikes are predicated on a belief that most of their bikes are going to be bought be people of lesser stature. That sizing run suggests that mountain bikes made for the same consumer base would be best served by 26-inch wheels, with maybe one or two sizes spec’d with 27.5-inch wheels. The upshot is that their bikes aren’t really designed for a primarily North American/European customer base. Nothing wrong with that, but one wonders why they’d try so hard to sell to that audience with those bikes.

  6. Jay

    This reeks of the Silicon Valley mindset… things claimed to provide a societal good that really just are aimed at enriching digital-age PT Barnums as they leech off of (sorry, I mean “disrupt”) a useful, established industry.
    And if you don’t get on your knees and worship the “innovation” involved, you’re living in the past.
    Some of these people even believe their products are as good or important as they make out. Those are the dumber ones.

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