The Value of Experience

The Value of Experience

I hear about new bike brands a couple of times a year. Nine times out of ten they are too undercapitalized to amount to much. I’ve got mad sympathy for them because I’ve spent enough time in the undercapitalized trenches to have a serious case of trench foot. Launching any sort of brand without a bank balance that includes two commas is a sign of just how hopeful a species we are.

And then there are guys like Tony Karklins. The Little Rock, Arkansas, based former bike retailer is the man who brought Orbea to the U.S. I remember seeing one of their bikes in the late 1990s and wondering why they hadn’t made an effort to sell bikes in the U.S., so when Karklins started bringing them in, the brand’s penetration was immediate. Just consider the stillbirth of the Museeuw brand here. Remember that? Classics master Johan Museeuw has a brand of bikes that he launched here and they went nowhere. I personally knew some of the staff and they were good, bright people, but they lacked the capital to build the infrastructure to get the brand off the ground. To this day, I don’t know how Karklins did it, but he built a dealer network that has given Orbea a lasting presence despite the loss of the Euskatel Euskadi team, which was their single greatest marketing asset.

After parting ways with Orbea, Karklins began looking for his next move and in his research he concluded that the smart money would move carbon fiber manufacturing back to the U.S. But the big challenge was, again, capital. Building a factory for carbon fiber manufacture is cheap the way a Bugatti is cheap.

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And then Guru went under.

Voila. If he could buy the assets in auction, he’d enjoy a pennies-on-the-dollar launch.

I met with Karklins at PressCamp this week. He’s a guy who has been on my radar for years, but our interaction up until now has been minimal. He’s a strategic thinker, good with numbers and despite glasses, enjoys the kind of vision that can see around the curvature of the earth.

So how smart is he? At the auction, after submitting his bid for the entire operation—the only competing bid came from the management of Guru, and his bid was higher than theirs—he then had to wait until all the framebuilders and everyone else who came up to bid on individual lots had submitted their bids, lot by lot. His bid for the whole operation had to exceed their bids in aggregate. And there was a tipping point, which came when the highest bid for the paint booth was less than the cost for a good aluminum frame. Boom. In that moment he understood that the sum of bids would be less than his. And he was the first guy in the room to understand this. Guru was his.

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While there, a guy tapped on his shoulder. A Quebecois by the name of Olivier Lavigueur who had been the production manager for Guru. He’s the only Canadian to make the move, but he was an indispensable hire. And then there was the intrepid duo of Sam Pickman and Chris Meertens, former Specialized employees who had a similar gift for seeing the future of carbon fiber manufacturing. The other visible piece—because no one buys a bike they think is ugly—was Jim Cunningham. Cunningham has a pedigree like few others in the bike world. He got his start at the fabled Masi USA operation and as the owner of Cyclart, he has been the go-to on the most challenging restorations being done in the bike world.

What separates Allied from other companies producing carbon fiber bikes is the fact that it completely controls design and production. The factory is theirs, so if they want to change a fiber source or an epoxy, they can make a switch, immediately. They aren’t prisoner to their factory’s whims.

What’s most significant about Allied’s difference is their ability to shorten the development cycle. There is very often a month-long lag between when a brand submits a new design to a factory and they receive a sample that can be tested. While engineers have plenty of other work to keep them busy in the meantime, it does mean that being in the same building as the factory instead of an ocean away results in much quicker development. Allied can model a new layup, cut fiber, lay it up and have a testable sample in just a day or two.

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So development will be much faster and more efficient. But that’s not Allied’s only competitive difference. They have also chosen to use a fiber called Inegra that provides significant impact resistance as well as improving ride comfort. Inegra is a polypropylene fiber that will in many instances prevent a handlebar ding from killing a top tube, or knock that breaks a seatstay from your bike falling over. It is also likely to help prevent a catastrophic failure in bad crashes, meaning that some riders might not end up on the pavement because their head tube didn’t sheer away from the rest of the bike.

Allied is such a different operation it will offer a lifetime warranty on a frame. Srsly. I mean, dude. Dude. Lifetime. And if you do crash and crunch a chainstay or something, they offer a repair service. They won’t promise that they can repair everything, but they’ll take a look.

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Their first product is the Alfa, a traditional road frame that features clearance enough to run 28mm tires and will come in a variety of finishes. That frame weighs just 875 grams for a 56cm frame. The Alfa is offered in 12 sizes. They make a 49, 52, 54, 56, 58 and a 61 as well as what they plus sizes, which are all the same sizes with with a two-centimeter longer head tube. Twelve sizes total. Looking at the geometry chart, what I see is a modern road bike in the same class as the Specialized Tarmac, Felt F and Cannondale SuperSix—handling sharp as a rapier but with the cool of a diplomat.

I bet you’re thinking, “Sounds cool, but I can’t drop $10k on a frame.” Well, guess what? A complete bike with Ultegra and Fi’zi:k cockpit goes for $4500. A frameset goes for just $2700. I’m unaware of anyone else offering a frame in that weight class for that kind of money. There are six builds ranging from $4000 to $8000.

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In 1997 I received a folder in the mail from Rob Vandermark, announcing the launch of Seven Cycles. Born out of a frustration with existing opportunities and limitations, Seven was a new way of doing things, an idea so powerful and management so thorough, that operation remains healthy and thriving today. Allied reminds me of Seven. The similarities in terms of needs, frustrations, opportunities and smart people who can see beyond the horizon is striking.

 


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20 comments

  1. Krishna

    what about an adventure model, like calfee does for the rando crowd? Big tires, disc, through axle, the whole modern deal?
    This bike looks really slick.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      They have a number of models in the works. This is simply the first release. I’ll be reviewing the adventure bike later this year.

  2. Jim N

    I’m sure you’re aware of Kind Human. Bikes are not made in USA, but a similar built-up Kampionne, Ultegra 6800, Ritchey cockpit, and Mavic Ksyrium Pros is $4200. Pro Carbon SLC would take it up to $5600. I do like the domestic manufacturing and the love the finish on the Allied, but the KH is a pretty sweet bike.

    Note – I just ordered what would be close to a dream bike for Padraig – KH Kensuke, SRAM1X eTap WiFLi, Ritchey cockpit and Stan’s Grails w/ Gravel King SK 700×35…under $6K. I was right on the edge of a similar Firefly, but the KH was just too nice a bike to pass up.

  3. W

    I have a Guru Photon. Nice bike–old school with no discs and room for 25cs only. Allied is interesting start up. Wake me up when they but fully modern bikes out with disc, adventure options etc. First bike is cool but antiquated already


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Their original intent was to launch disc-only but the UCI’s backpedal on discs caused them to reassess and start with the rim brake bike. A disc bike will be out soon.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      HIA Velo is the parent company for Allied. Allied is the brand name you’ll see on the web site and the logo on the bikes.

  4. Pingback: The Value of Experience | RKP | Arkansas Outside

  5. MoNilla

    Cool stuff happening in LR. As soon as Trader Joe’s, Costco, and a decent Cuban restaurant move in, I might move back!
    Nah…on second thought…don’t think I could dwell with the backwards mindset so prevalent there.
    Bring your tester down for me to try. I will beer you thusly!

  6. Freddy

    Was wondering who was going to be the first to integrate Innegra fiber into there carbon frames. I was turned on to the material last year by a friend who used the material to make his own custom carbon/Innegra road cycling shoes. I have been experimenting with Innegra fiber in combination with flax fiber that I use to make the lugs of my bamboo bike frames.

    Surf board industry out here in New Zealand has been using Innegra as well. The Innegra fiber is easy to work with and relatively cheap, I think we will be hearing a lot more about this material as the rest of bike industry hops on the band wagon.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      No idea. It looks like you might have found an early edition of the web site before they went through their full branding exercise. I’d assume the frame shown there will not be made available. I’ll ask next time I’m in touch with them.

  7. Spider

    Padraig, any idea if they will do a model with direct mount calipers – any reason these aren’t taking off industry wide? I’ve read a few reviews and it sounds like direct mounts are fantastic rim brakes.

    Brands like Canyon and Trek seem to have certain models with direct and others with standard calipers

    Thank you

    Spider


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’m in the process of reviewing a bike that uses direct mount calipers front and rear and they are absolutely terrific. That said, the problem is having to design the frame and fork for those mounts, which is to say, you’re designing the frame and fork with those brakes in mind, and in new designs, anything that isn’t a traditional rim brake is generally going disc. I think the issue is that while they are better, they aren’t that much better. Also, it painted you into a corner until recently. While FSA and EE (now Cane Creek) are offering direct-mount calipers, for a while it was only a Shimano thing, meaning that you couldn’t offer a SRAM or Campy version of that bike, only Shimano, and that’s a limitation for product managers.

    2. Spider

      Thank you for your comments and education.

      I’m using EE brakes on one of my road bikes and think they are fantastic….I guess I just look at the direct mount ones and think ‘wow, imagine going even better’.

      Agree, eventually we’ll all be on discs – we are kind of like MTB in the first years of disc introduction – we used to talk about XC guys continuing to use V brakes and that DH would use discs….then we all experienced the breaking and now no uses rim brakes! My guess: Road will be 90% disc within 5 years.

      Are SRAM/Campy planning on jumping on board direct-mount…both companies have just released new/improved disc systems, so you can see where they see the future going!

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