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Developing & Bringing New Products to Market

Part 4: Cutting Through Marketing Fog - A Cautionary Note

by John Neugent

Tech articles | Commentary articles | Product Development series part 3

John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill

John Neugent

John Neugent

I just saved $100! Actually you just spent $300 (or more likely $299.95). The savings was a myth. Of course, there are times when you can get better deals, but unfortunately our society is addicted to savings. You not only spent money but you saved money. Except you didn’t.

The fact is that most businesses have costs that are similar and need to show how their product is better, when in fact, it’s probably a little different and one could argue if it is really better.

That’s the focus of marketing. It gets even more complicated when you consider that most larger and higher-end companies have engineering and development departments that are tasked with making things better. Sometimes you can, but more often the best you can do is come up with something different and just claim it’s better.

All of that is from the technical side. But if we add the fact we are human, it gets more complicated. In the road bike market it’s generally accepted that to become a major player you need to sponsor a top-level team that preferably competes in the Tour de France, and that is expensive. There is only one person who will pay for it and that’s the person who buys the products. There is a good argument that says working with top pros will give you better feedback for product development but that only goes so far.

We all are brand conscious and there are good reasons to be. A well-established brand is typically a safer bet than one that is not established. We all like to be seen with the hot new products and especially the ones that our heroes use. It shows we have an appreciation for quality. Even if we don’t have a clue.

I have been in the wheel business for about 20 years and in the industry since the ’70s. I would argue that since the mid ’80s there have only been three developments that really changed wheel quality and performance. The first was Mavic’s introduction of wheel systems in the ’80s, the second was carbon fiber rims, and the third was the reintroduction of wider rims.

Mavic Comete Wheel

A Mavic Comete carbon fiber disc wheel from 1985. Photo: VeloBase.com

The first two took a serious amount of time to develop into real improvements. Over that period of time there have been countless introductions of things like paired spokes, aluminum spokes, ceramic bearings, etc. that may have had marginal benefits, but most of the benefits have been marginal and many had no benefit.

The Mavic introduction of the wheel system was key because it allowed wheel makers to sell wheels as systems, thereby using fewer spokes which not only reduces weight but also is a major aerodynamic benefit. The introduction of carbon wheels significantly decreased aerodynamic drag, although it took over a decade before they were strong enough to be used by mere mortals.

There is nothing wrong with new products or riding brand name components or using the latest technology. But be aware of what you are paying for and get your head above the fog before you buy.

John Neugent was was one of the first to establish quality hand building in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.