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.
The 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.
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.