Keywords: bike industry,interview gerard vroomen,tire clearance

Developing new models

Gerard Vroomen - 29-May-2019
This is what I wrote in December 2018, when it wasn't looking so hot for one of the new models we're working on:

Business is going well, so nothing to complain about you'd think. ONE+, UP and UPPER sales continue to growth, we're still managing to do that with just selling framesets, so it should be relatively simple. Despite that, the past months have been very frustrating, even to the point that maybe for the first time, there's been some irritation creeping in between Andy and I. 
We've been working on two new models in parallel for quite some time now. Don't get your hopes up, this is nothing out of the ordinary and doesn't mean two new models will ever see the light of day. To give you an idea, the project names for these two are OPN-11 and OPN-12, meaning they were proceeded by 10 other projects. And yet there are only three models in the history of OPEN, the other seven projects were abandoned. 

You might argue that's a terrible score, 70% failure! And I presume it is, the way people (including myself) are wired nowadays. We profess to love risk taking and risk takers, as long as they succeed. But of course if success is guaranteed, it's not risk-taking! Even if you say "well, I love the risk takers who succeed because they clearly have something extra, others in their place would have failed", that still means they weren't taking a risk, they were merely taking a direction that would have been risky for others. So they might be very skilled, they might be visionaries, but not risk takers.

Anyway, enough philosophizing. And we're not exactly saving the world here, we're just designing bikes, trying to do that a bit differently and that means that from time to time it doesn't work out. Of course it also helps (or hurts) that we have the freedom to abandon projects, that we don't have bean counters telling us "you've spent a couple hundred grand on this project, you have to bring out something to earn it back".

Back to the story, the OPN-11 was very close to production. It's a model I am very excited about, a nice addition to the line-up and very different from what exists in the market.

Then just one week to pilot production start, Andy sends me a note: "Big problem, the chain touches the dropout". I can't understand it, but see the proof on Skype. We measure everything, but it seems within spec. I check the CAD, all good. We try a different rear wheel, it works. Of course that doesn't mean anything, there are lots of different wheel specs. We try the offending wheel in an UP, it works. But that dropout design is meant to have different clearances, so it doesn't mean much either. I'm going crazy! Two days later the solution, it's not our frame that is faulty, it's the cassette. Somehow it had a lip on it that prevented it from fully sliding onto the cassette body. What are the odds of a standard production cassette, produced by the hundreds of thousands, has one that is faulty and that happens to be the one that makes it into our frame-check stock? Very small I'd think, but I am happy this one was. Phew.

A few days later, another note: "Big problem, crank X doesn't fit". What the heck, how is this possible? We know not "everything" fits, we always play with clearances and design around a specific group of cranks, but this crank should fit, Yet its chainring wants to go where our chainstay sits. We call the crank maker, check the clearances, and confirm it should be no problem. It should have the same chainline as crank Y but yet that crank has tons of clearance. We check spacers, BBs, everything, again it doesn't make sense. Even more strangely, when we put a bigger chainring on, the clearance gets better!

Finally the crank maker comes back to us: sorry, the chainring was an old design, it somehow slipped through, and just by chance made it to us and we happen to have made it the one crank to answer all questions. We get the correct chainring, it all works. 

So we sign off on the start of the pilot production. The next day I wake up to an email from Andy: "We have a big problem". With a Force/Eagle AXS setup, the chain hits the chainstay. I'm not worried anymore, I'm sure it's a false alarm again. But on Skype I cannot deny it looks bad. It's not off by a little, it doesn't fit AT ALL.

I can't understand it, there is nothing special about that combination other than that it's new (meaning we didn't have the chance to try it before). But it should have more clearance with its long cage, not less. I'm frustrated beyond belief, this model could have been on the market within 3 months and now it's back to "indefinite". Is it the drivetrain parts that are wrong, or is it really the frame?

I feel Andy is frustrated too, and although he doesn't say so, I really feel this one is on me. I'm the one responsible for the designs, I should have caught this, but at the same time I am not sure how since none of our models indicated this combo could be an issue. And worse, I don't really see a solution.

For Andy it is maybe also a a bit of death by a thousand paper cuts. Because he does all the operations, most of the problems land on his shoulders. Delays in production, problems with retailers, a shipment stuck in customs, a painter gone mad, accounting (of any type), he has to deal with that while I get to play with bike designs. In my mind, I keep hearing "You had one job!!!!" 

I take four hours just to sit on the couch while my mind is racing, and come up with two possible solutions. One that would save most of the molds and fixtures we have already made (about 30 in total), and one that would be better but would require most of the tools to be either modified or scrapped completely, which would obviously increase the costs but also the timeline to completion.

As I sketch it out and start working through the two options with our CAD designer, the second option starts to look better and better, in fact the frustration gives way to excitement. The new design is better than the old, and just before midnight we have the design ready. Off to the factory, so they can see if it is feasible, and I go to bed. The next morning, the factory is enthusiastic, they say they can probably make the new molds and the layup changes in six weeks, not as bad as I feared. They don't have the bill yet for what all the changes will cost, that's a part I am definitely not excited about. But to be fair, the success of the UP allows us to take risks even if it means we sometimes are presented with an unwelcome bill.

I show Andy the new design on Skype and share my excitement. I really am way more pumped about OPN-11 now than a week before. He tells me he had lost his excitement for this "model of hell", but with some workarounds he took the prototype OPN-11 for a ride and he is now really hung-ho again.
That day, our "resident videographer" happened to be in Basel because we thought we were going to shoot the final bike, so he went along for the ride and even took his drone. It was very cold but the snow was no match for the OPN-11. This was the result:
 
And here we are, a few months down the road, a few days away from launch. And for the first time since December, I read this post again. Although I can still feel the anxiety from the week I just described, I also feel proud that the OPN-11 is finally ready. More coming soon.

Comments & Questions

OPEN
We support you. My Open Upper is my go-to bike. Gravel, Road, MTB. Its the real deal. You guys take chances to do something different, something great. And you succeeded. Without failure, their cannot be success. And the greater the failure, the greater the result. I've got 12 bikes: I ride one. My Open Upper. To DK200 this weekend, and its the only thing I am not worried about. Keep the faith and your customers will be there for you and the 11.
Post #1 of 24. Posted by FM on 29-May-2019 10:25:46 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18437]
OPEN
Good luck at DK200!!
Post #11 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:43:28 GMT in reply to post #1 [18437<--18456]
OPEN
Hmmm? Wide OPEN? Fat tire OPEN? Curious
Post #2 of 24. Posted by Eddie on 29-May-2019 10:30:36 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18438]
OPEN
Funnily enough, a few years ago I wanted to make an OPEN fat bike. But Andy didn't really want to, so it didn't meet one of our criteria for starting a new project.
Post #12 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:44:11 GMT in reply to post #2 [18438<--18457]
OPEN
Great story, thank you for sharing!
It definitely gives us mere mortals a sense of appreciation, admiration for all the work behind some of the best made frames on the Planet.
Can’t wait to see it, my birthday is in a couple of weeks, I think I “need” another Open in my quiver.... haha
Nice work guys!
Post #3 of 24. Posted by doug honeyford on 29-May-2019 10:58:14 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18439]
OPEN
Thanks Doug, we hope you'll like it.
Post #13 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:44:32 GMT in reply to post #3 [18439<--18458]
OPEN
I spy fenders. Could this be my new commuter and tourer when I need to take a little more stuff than I want to on my U.P.?
Post #4 of 24. Posted by Brent on 29-May-2019 11:10:52 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18440]
OPEN
It would be very impressive if you spied those!
Post #14 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:45:02 GMT in reply to post #4 [18440<--18459]
OPEN
Hahahaha! Yeah it's an age related gift.
Post #22 of 24. Posted by Brent on 30-May-2019 17:52:02 GMT in reply to post #14 [18459<--18478]
OPEN
Very exited! AND great job to show us some of the difficulties to make a frame!
Also very keen to see the colours offered!
Post #5 of 24. Posted by Antoine on 29-May-2019 11:34:25 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18441]
OPEN
Hi Antoine, well, our colors are usually pretty simple, although this new one is a hair more complicated.
Post #15 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:45:49 GMT in reply to post #5 [18441<--18460]
OPEN
Great post. It is so interesting to get a little insight into what it takes to make a frame that works with all the different parts available.

Very excited to see what you have planned.
Post #6 of 24. Posted by Eric Hancoci on 29-May-2019 12:47:02 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18442]
OPEN
Hi Eric, and especially with this type of bike, which can be built so many different ways, it's a challenge. With a road bike or MTB, the spec choices are much more limited so it's relatively easy to figure it all out. Guess that's what makes it fun and frankly, it's also one of the ways we can exploit the "loopholes" in the specs to create something unexpected.
Post #16 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:47:12 GMT in reply to post #6 [18442<--18461]
OPEN
Gerard
I presently own to ups and absolutely love them,I’m in the process of trying to purchase a
3 t Exploro and just saw the info on your working on a new frame will it be different than the other opens or similar to the exploro ? I don’t want to buy the Exploro if the new open is something I’d like more thank you
Post #7 of 24. Posted by Elsie on 29-May-2019 12:48:18 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18443]
OPEN
Elsie, a little more patience (really, just an hour).
Post #17 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:47:38 GMT in reply to post #7 [18443<--18462]
OPEN
The authenticity of your story is so refreshing. Love to hear about the real struggles of product development, without the struggle there would be no success. Can't wait to hear more about the OPN-11. No joke, I love my U.P.P.E.R. more and more after each ride, it's a wonderful bicycle that makes me smile from the inside out. Knowing you guys are still growing and inventing makes it even more exciting to be a part of the OPEN tribe.
Post #8 of 24. Posted by Todd Tychewicz on 30-May-2019 00:37:38 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18444]
OPEN
Hi Todd, good to hear from you, thanks for being part of the OPEN story!
Post #18 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:48:12 GMT in reply to post #8 [18444<--18463]
OPEN
Congrats OPEN team
I am one of the first Open owners !!! I am very proud to use my Open 0.1 from 2012 more than 15,000 km ??.
I hope to see soon a nice full suspension
Post #9 of 24. Posted by Guillermo on 30-May-2019 00:55:10 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18445]
OPEN
Hi Guillermo, Thanks for your support, unfortunately a fully is not in development at this moment, so please don't get your hopes up.
Post #19 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:48:55 GMT in reply to post #9 [18445<--18464]
OPEN
That sounds interesting! I guess it will be something like the new Mason InSearchOf, a wide tire gravel/MTB race bike?
Post #10 of 24. Posted by Jeroen on 30-May-2019 01:57:39 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18446]
OPEN
Not really. We don't really believe in big 29" tires for a gravel bike, as it makes the frame big (too tall in the front for most sizes and too long in the chain stays). And a gravel bike with suspension misses the point for what we want to achieve, it sort of combines the worst of both worlds. Then you're just making a bad mountain bike instead of a good gravel bike.

I am sure there are situations we can come up with where it might make sense, but the drawbacks are so much bigger. Principally the on-road performance really suffers, so any mixed-surface riding becomes cumbersome instead of exciting.

So no problem if somebody wants to build that, but for US, that has very little appeal.
Post #20 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 16:51:52 GMT in reply to post #10 [18446<--18466]
OPEN
What about 29 on the front and 27.5 for the rear (sorry half drunk here :-D
(seems to be working on some Emtb though...)
Post #21 of 24. Posted by Raff on 30-May-2019 17:42:46 GMT in reply to post #20 [18466<--18476]
OPEN
Hey, people can do whatever they want! But if you put the big 29er tire in the front, you have toe overlap and head tube height issues. If you put it in the back, you have long chainstay issues.
Post #23 of 24. Posted by Gerard Vroomen on 30-May-2019 17:53:06 GMT in reply to post #21 [18476<--18479]
OPEN
It is a shame ...
Anyway I am more than happy with my O.1 ,,, I hope to upgrade Open+ for boost
Post #24 of 24. Posted by Guillermo on 10-Jun-2019 01:10:17 GMT in reply to blog [0<--18581]
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