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2007: Looking back and looking ahead

As we write this What’s New entry, Christmas is just a few days away and it’s a natural moment to reflect on the Year That Was. We had a lot of great things happen here at Competitive Cyclist. Our business continues to grow at a rate far beyond our rosiest projections. We’ve had a stellar year for addressing fundamentals: Our bike build QC process is now thoroughly dialed, and as a result we’ve seen a near-total elimination of erroneous component installation and UPS shipping damage; our overall order fill rate is higher than ever before; and our errors-per-order-line rate is at an all-time low.

CC new facilityIn other good news, after much deliberation we’ve made the commitment to building a new facility for Competitive Cyclist from the ground up. It will give our showroom a better layout; it will allow us to build a suitably spacious fit studio; it will provide us a roomy space for shooting product photos and video; it will give our CSR’s a quieter work environment; it will give our service staff more room per service bay and loads of natural light. It’ll be at the foot of the Millennium Trail -- a 13-mile bike loop through the heart of Little Rock and North Little Rock. In addition, our landscaping is almost sure to include a loop of singletrack around our building.

In short, it’s been a year of extraordinary hard work and focus and satisfying signs of progress. And -- in terms of how this impacts you -- the net effect is that we serve our customers better than ever before; and it’s easier than ever before to provide stellar service. It’s been a year of accomplishment, yes, and in retrospect there’s only one clear failure we can identify: Our performance here in the ‘What’s New’ department. There was once a time when we recognized the importance of providing you with the inside skinny on the strange and normally-dysfunctional bicycle industry. We loved to tattle. We loved to gossip. We were intoxicated with James Ellroy novels and dreamt of making an anonymous website to dish dirt Confidential magazine-like about the biz.

This What’s New entry doesn’t purport to be a resurrection of those long-extinguished passions. But it can serve as a reminder of what once was: We’ve got some scoop and some insights, and we can’t think of a better way to pass them along than right here, in our underutilized What’s New section. So here goes:

1. A new apparel sponsor for Team CSC. We always had a feeling that Descente went all-in when they chose to sponsor Team CSC two years ago. It must’ve cost Descente a fortune, both in terms of cash and mental bandwidth. But they were an emerging powerhouse back then, and we thought their timing was perfect. Their clothing has consistently impressed since we first brought it in here in 2004 -- in fact, their C6 Carbon jersey for 2008 is sure to be a best-seller for us. We love it. Descente’s CSC sponsorship was an amazing opportunity to shine a white-hot light on how handsome and technologically evolved their clothing really was. It’s been a two-year shocker, then, that they never took advantage of the marketing assets at their disposal. Look at Cervélo. Look at Zipp. Look at Speedplay. They play up their CSC sponsorships to the hilt. What better way is there to voice a message about high technology other than documenting its use by the greatest bike racing team on the planet?

Did you ever see press about the delight Team CSC took in their Descente? We never did. Did you note the cover of Descente’s last catalog? Was the cover boy Fabian Cancellara in Yellow? Stuey O’Grady solo on the boards of the Roubaix velodrome? Jens Voigt bashing skulls at the Tour of Germany? No, no, and no. Instead we got an orange-hued photo of some out-of-the-saddle dentist in Boulder who inspires little beyond reminding us we need to floss. Why did they squander their opportunities so? They could’ve done so much with CSC, but they did so little…

So charging onto the scene comes Craft. Known worldwide for their domination of the base layer market, they also make stunning jerseys, bib shorts, jackets, and tights. Word on the street is that the deal is done, and you’ll see the boys from CSC in Craft gear top to bottom throughout the 2008 season. Since the formal announcement hasn’t been done yet, some details are sketchy. For example, we’re not sure if the classic CSC design will get a facelift or not. But we’re sure the team will love the quality of what they wear, whether it’s Belgium in February or France in July. Craft has superb options to make riding as comfy as possible, regardless of the season. And, unlike Descente, we know that Craft isn’t scared to broadcast a sports marketing message with a megaphone. They’ve long done this in the ski and triathlon marketplaces, and they started to get excellent momentum first with Phonak and then with Astana in past seasons before those organizations cratered.

2. Swiss M&A. We love Switzerland for a lot of reasons. Toblerone and Lindt; the fact that you can buy absinthe in the Zurich airport duty free; the way Johan Museeuw won the ’96 World’s in Lugano in a rapturous haze induced by his 85% hematocrit; and, of course, BMC bicycles and Assos clothing. Given how tiny-yet-nonetheless-industrious Switzerland is, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such as surprise when the rumor spread this week that the folks behind BMC Bicycles acquired Assos.

What does this rumored acquisition mean to us as cyclists? Probably a lot, though it’s too early to tell. For starters, we’re fairly confident that the American-based BMC Racing Team will be wearing Assos clothing in the 2008 season, so they’ll look handsome as hell. And we’ve been told time and time again by BMC that their team is working to follow the footsteps of Team Slipstream by morphing their domestic-focused organization into one that someday will compete in the Grand Tours. The money behind BMC bicycles, the BMC team, and now this rumored Assos transaction is a Swiss gentleman named Andy Rihs -- the same money that was behind Phonak and Astana. In other words, the BMC team ain’t another Jelly Belly. They have ambitions for the big time, not just for Tour de Toona. By further consolidating his cycling-related holdings, it adds to the likelihood that -- after Slipstream -- the BMC Racing Team will indeed be the next big American-based team that makes the leap from the US to Europe. This is a very attractive vision of the future.

Assos ss.13 jerseyIn terms of the quality of their clothing and their marketing, Assos already does so much so well, we’re unsure what impact its alleged acquisition will have. There’s only so much improvement possible for a company that operates on the precipice of perfection. We can only imagine two areas for some nip & tuck: (1) Consistency in sizing across all like products. For example, the Assos ss.13 jersey basically fits one size small in comparison to all other Assos short sleeve jerseys. Our hope is that the precise sizing requirements demanded of a bike frame company like BMC will carry over into the production of Assos’ clothing. (2) Better preparation for seasonality. Assos tends to deliver new seasonal products later than all of their competitors. The wildly popular Assos Winter Glove Pack, for example, made it to the US market in the 3rd week of December this year. It should have been on our Assos winter glove packshelves in September. Perhaps BMC will instill some better planning processes for Assos.

And, Heaven forbid, if this rumored acquisition is a total disaster, who stands to gain the most? Our vote goes to Giordana. Their Body Clone line of Forma clothing is a sleeping giant. It’s the only clothing we’ve ever worn that matches Assos in terms of comfort, quality, and style. Whether it’s their winter stuff or summer stuff, Forma looks and feels stunning. The only place Giordana fails with Forma is in their marketing. If they could create & commit to an Assos-caliber marketing plan, they’d be a force to be reckoned with. If Assos fails, the world is Giordana’s.

Cervelo RS3. Cervélo RS availability update. The RS is Cervélo’s new road model for 2008. It has all the raceability of the R3, but it’s built with a 2cm increase in headtube size in comparison to the R3. This taller headtube makes it the perfect solution to the most common fit concern we hear from our customers: ‘My handlebars feel too low.’

Cervélo has already warned us of the limited supply of RS framesets we’ll see in 2008. Just like we saw in previous years with their other carbon models, demand will inevitably be high and will possibly outstrip supply even before we take delivery on the RS. Here’s a snapshot of our estimated delivery dates so you can plan accordingly: 48cm, 54cm, 56cm, and 58cm will arrive here on/around February 7th. The 51cm will be around March 5th. And the 61cm will be around March 19th.

4. New at Competitive Cyclist for 2008, part 1. Our bike demo program was a roaring success in 2007. The principle here is straightforward: We ship a bike to your doorstep, you test it for a week, then you ship it back to us. It allows you to test ride the bike of your dreams when it works best for your schedule; and you ride the demo bike on the roads you know best, not just for a spin around the bike shop parking lot. We’re offering several improvements to the program in 2008:

a) The effective cost of the program has decreased. How? While the cost to a demo bike actually just increased from $200 to $300, we’ve made a change so that if you purchase a frame or a bike within 14 days of your demo, we’ll now credit you for the Colnago Extreme Powerfull cost of the demo. In 2007, we’d only credit you for 50% of the demo. So if you demo a bike, fall in love, then pull the trigger on a new bike, the cost of the demo will effectively be $0 since we’ll credit you your full $300 towards your purchase.

b) We’re expanding the selection of bikes. Starting in mid-January you’ll be able to demo the Colnago Extreme Power, the Pinarello Prince Carbon, the Ridley Damocles, and the Ridley Excalibur. In addition, we’re adding more Cervélo Soloist SRAM RedCarbon and Cervélo R3 demo units. Our goal is to build such a sizeable fleet (between road and mountain, we now have nearly 300 demo bikes on hand) that you’ll rarely have to wait more than a few days for us to ship a demo bike to you.

c) Our demo bike component package is all-new. In 2007 our bikes were equipped with Campagnolo Chorus. But given the outrageous popularity of SRAM Red, we’re now rebuilding all of our bikes with SRAM Red and SRAM Force. In addition, many of the bikes are getting an upgrade to Reynolds Solitude wheels. When you demo a bike from us, you can rest assured that you’re getting the best component package 2008 has to offer.

Mavicd) Our demo program is expanding beyond bikes. Effective late January you’ll be able to demo wheelsets from Zipp, Mavic, and Power Tap. In addition, we’ll also kick off our saddle demo program, where we’ll ship you a kit packed with our 11 best-selling saddles from brands like Fizik, Selle Italia, and Selle San Marco.

5. New at Competitive Cyclist for 2008, part 2. We’ve long had a passion to provide you with the most comprehensive product presentation on the web. We enjoy explaining the relative benefits of the items we sell in our product descriptions, and we enjoy taking beautiful photography so you’ll feel like you’re holding an item in your hands. We’re taking this presentation to a heightened level in 2008 by offering video reviews of many of our products. Video gives us a more dynamic opportunity to present the upsides and downsides of everything we sell. On a product-by-product basis you’ll see a movie camera icon on the product page if we’ve reviewed it. Or, alternatively, you can hit the ‘news’ tab on our menu above, then click ‘reviews’ to see them all.

6. New at Competitive Cyclist for 2008, part 3. Companies like Giordana, Assos, and Capoforma are doing a better-then-ever job in giving us mouthwatering jersey-and-bib combos to wear. The days of feeling safe fashion-wise in black shorts only have come to an end. You can look stunning with little effort, and we’d like to help you take a leap of faith away from standard black shorts in a really simple way: Starting in February, you’ll be able to buy jersey/bib combos from us. We’ll have a new jersey/bib product category on our site. Not only will we show you the jersey and bib side-by-side (both front and back) so you can see how nice they look together, but we’ll offer you the combination at a 5% savings over what you’d pay if you bought each piece separately.

7. New at Competitive Cyclist for 2008, part 4. We’re happy to announce the addition of RSS feeds to our site. For those of you who, like us, were a little behind the curve until fairly recently, RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” An RSS feed delivers regularly updated summaries of web content to you via a feed reeder.

We’ve made several regularly updated sections of the web site available to users via RSS. They are:

  1. What’s New
  2. Product Reviews (including our new video reviews)
  3. New Products (you can hear about them as they are added to the site)
  4. Photo Gallery (photos of all the bikes we build)

You can read more about RSS and our use of it by clicking here. Look for this icon RSS icon in your browser’s address bar to subscribe to any of our feeds.