Going Up

DSC_9428Greg LeMond said, “It doesn’t get any easier; You just go faster,” about gaining fitness on the bike, though it’s often construed as a succinct description of becoming a better climber. Up is always up. Our gravity is constant. So the challenges are all with the rider, to get stronger, to ride smarter and, on some level, to choose the right bike.

That’s where we come in.

A good climbing bike combines several basic characteristics, hopefully in perfect balance: lightness, stiffness and perfect fit. Each of these aspects of the bike have been fetishized in the past as stand-alone arbiters of quality, but we know from long experience that there is never one thing that makes a bike great. In good design, a subtle balance of features is key.

Lightness is perhaps the most obviously desirable trait of a climbing bike. The less weight the rider needs to carry up the hill, the easier it is to go fast. We can lighten a bike through tube butting, removing material from the tubeset strategically. We can also add in some carbon fiber, which isn’t necessarily lighter than a butted titanium tube, but can be light while also maintaining stiffness, making it strategically attractive.

That brings us, not coincidentally to stiffness, which is also desirable. Transferring maximum power from the pedals to the rear wheel will get you up faster, or at least more efficiently than losing power through an overcompliant drive train. Here, weight and performance work against each other a little. Stiffening usually adds weight. Again, we have to find a balance point.

Finally, fit. When you are climbing, you need to get oxygen to hard-working muscles. Getting oxygen is directly related to your ability to open your chest, to take in more air, and that is a function of fit. Finding optimal top tube length for comfort and performance is a key part of our process.

What we try to do with every bike is to understand what it wants to do, where it wants to go, and how it needs to feel, and to find the various balance points throughout the design to deliver the best ride for the person who will ride it. Every design goal is achieved through multiple aspects of frame design, and that is why getting a custom bike, rather than something off-the-shelf, is a collaboration between the rider and the builder, purpose built and personalized at a deeper level.

The Big Ideas – The Rider/Retailer/Builder Partnership

CBS_SevenDisplayThe Big Ideas, as a series, is about this whole bike building project we embarked on in 1997 and the foundational ideas that make what we do possible. The first installment was about Single-Piece Flow (SPF). The second installment was about Just-in-Time manufacturing (JIT). Last we explored the 5 Elements of Customization.

We started with an idea, a different kind of bike company, one that offers a product and a service, an experience, and we found a build method that would support it, Single-Piece Flow. Then we backed it up with a manufacturing model that would streamline the process and hold down costs, Just-in-Time manufacturing. Then we created a language that would free rider’s from the constraints of production models, that would allow them to speak the language of custom, the 5 Elements.

Finally, we needed a way to connect all the dots.

Everything we’ve done so far, philosophically, has been about gaining focus on the individual rider, so how do we understand the roads they ride? How do we see and measure them effectively? We always want to be a local builder. The machine shop we get most of our small parts from is local. The builders who work here all live nearby. If we can’t be near all our riders, how do we get closer? How do we localize ourselves?

We needed partners in every cycling community, and the obvious way to get that was to work with bike shops who wanted to collaborate with us and our riders on custom builds. Seven riders are de facto bike designers. We are only building them the bike they tell us they want, and our bike shop partners facilitate the process.

We are the only builder who does direct, systematized interviews with each customer while also working with the shop. Together, the three of us create the custom experience, and THAT is how we get from the idea of fully custom bicycles on a short timeline to delivering fully custom bicycles on a short timeline.

These are our big ideas. They’re simple when you break them down, even though we are still refining them, even after 30,000 bikes have passed through our hands.

The Interview

Before we built our first bike, before we even settled on the name Seven, we asked ourselves why we would start a new bike company. What did we have to offer that wasn’t already available? What could we do that was both wholly different and highly valuable to the cyclists who might work with us? It is too simple to say that we decided that building custom bikes on a short timeline was the answer. In many ways, those things were just by-products of the actual answer, which is that we decided to build exactly the bikes people wanted, rather than building the bikes we liked and trying to convince riders they were cool.

Custom builders had been doing something like this for more than a century, but had confined their consultation with the rider primarily to measurements. They focused on fit. What we set out to do started with fit but extended to things like ride feel, handling, comfort, options, aesthetics, a full collaboration with the rider. No other custom builder had conducted such systematized interviews.

And, the design interviews we conduct with our riders are more, for us, than just a consultation about a single bike. Together they form a massive research project that allows us to understand not just what people buy, but what they want. By sharing their vision with us, our customers make it possible for us to react very quickly to new trends and ideas. The interview lets us build them their perfect bike, but their input helps us build our perfect company, one that builds fully custom bikes for real people on a short timeline through a unique collaboration. It’s the interview that lets us be more than a bike company, but a real rider company.