FLO Cycling Wheelset Review
article & images by Nick Salazar
Apr 20, 2011
If you haven't already watched the video review, be sure to start there first. Below is the Question-and-Answer session we had with FLO Cycling's co-founder, Jon Thornham, after reviewing the wheels.
TriRig » Can you tell us a little about you and your brother Chris, your engineering backgrounds, how you got into triathlon, and how you came to start FLO?
Jon Thornham »We are both mechanical engineering graduates from the University of New Brunswick. The design of sporting equipment has always been an interest of ours. In high school we developed a machine that cast a fly rod with up to 50 ft of line. THE PROJECT ended up placing third in the Canadian National Science fair, landed us a publication, and put some scholarship money in our pockets. Upon graduation,we worked a design engineers. This gave us invaluable experience with drafting, manufacturing, specifications, and the whole design process in general. Two and a half years later we became sales engineers. This gave us a good understanding of customer relationships and how to manage accounts.
We have both been athletic our entire lives. Growing up we were both nationally ranked martial artist, and downhill ski racers. Shortly after graduation we were no longer competing and began to miss that. Chris read an article in Men's Health about triathlon and thought "I could do that". He had never been a swimmer, cyclist or runner. It was a steep learning curve but he hasn't looked back since. Now he's hooked and competes often! Jon began running and has run a number of 5k races. He has taken up cycling and mountain biking as well. I guess he's 2/3 of the way to a triathlete.
The idea for FLO Cycling was born when Chris received his first set of high dollar race wheels. He opened the box and we thought "there HAS to be a more affordable way to do this". That lit the fire and the rest is history.
TR » How did you arrive at the present design of the wheels?
JT » The design process was iterative. At first our focus was the price. We had originally planned to use the cheapest components we could find and plastic fairings. We found out that yes you could build really cheap wheels but then we said, "who in their right mind wants to ride cheap plastic wheels". That was really a turning point. We decided that if we were going to do this that we first of all had to be proud of the products that we produced, and second, we didn't want to feel like we were giving up quality or performance when we made the switch from our "high dollar race wheels" to our FLO Cycling wheels.
From there the engineers in us really kicked in. We started working with an import export specialist. His involvement has been priceless. With his help our goal of finding cheap components changed to finding high quality affordable products. In total, we have contacted hundreds of factories. It was a long and bumpy road but well worth the journey.
Instead of using a standard open-mold aero section, we drafted a variety of fairing shapes using a 3D modeling software. We hired a computational fluid dynamics engineer who created a simulated wind tunnel using CD-adapco's Star CCM+ software. In total it took 28 continuous days for Star CCM+ to calculate our results. Of all the shapes we tested, our current design was the clear choice.
TR » Are the current wheels optimized for any particular tire width?
JT » Yes. Our wide brake tracks and fairings are intended to provide a smooth transition from tire to rim to fairing. For optimal aerodynamics we recommend a 23mm tire.
TR » There's an elephant in the room - namely, your rim shape is strikingly similar to the new Zipp Firecrest shape -- can you comment on that at all?
JT » There are two distinct types of companies who offer race wheels. There are the companies who spend the time and money to develop and engineer the most aerodynamic wheels available, and then there are the companies who re-brand an "open mold aero section" with their own sticker. In the past the engineered wheels come with a big price tag and the re-branded wheels are more affordable. As you said, we are trying to bridge that gap.
Does our shape look similar to the Zipp Firecrest? Yes it does. But you could also say that our shape looks similar to the shapes of the other companies "engineering" their wheels. HED's new wider Stinger and Reynolds new RZR also look similar to the Firecrest. We believe our shape is a product of "engineering". The fact that our shapes are similar to the shapes of the best in this business (Zipp, HED and Reynolds) is a good sign that we have done our homework.
Many people are wondering how we are keeping our prices so low. People assume that we are using cheap components. That's not the case. The answer is in how we go to market. When companies like Zipp, HED and Reynolds were formed, the internet was nothing like it is today. Word of mouth will only get you so far. Companies were forced to form relationships with distributors and bike shops in order to get their products "out there". Their path to market typically looks like this:
We are a younger generation of entrepreneurs. At 29 years of age, we can't remember life without the internet. In fairness, we have options for going to market that weren't available when others opened their doors. There are only so many factories making high quality parts. FLO Cycling uses some of the same components and factories that other large cycling companies are using. Our Sapim CX-Ray spokes are a good example. Our pricing advantage is really in how we go to market. Our product touches fewer hands on the way to the customer and in turn keeps our prices very low. Our path to market looks like this:
TR » As a followup, how'd you navigate around the various patents out there that cover aero wheel design?
JT » To avoid any potential conflicts or lawsuits we performed extensive patent research and developed our own intellectual property based on our findings.
TR » Have you developed customer service policies for the inevitable issues, i.e. crash replacement?
JT » Yes, we have developed our customer service policies. We will offer a two year limited warranty. Our warranty will cover all manufacturing defects and will not cover abuse. So if you're riding in a halfpipe, you're out of luck. In general we want to treat our customers as we would like to treated and keep them happy. As for a crash replacement program, our business model is much different then anyone else in the industry. For starters we sell directly from our website. Our everyday prices are in line with crash replacement pricing offered by other manufacturers. Other manufacturers that offer crash replacement programs are selling the replacement wheels directly to the customer. This allows them to avoid the markup typically added by the distributor and bike shop. Since you are buying wheels from us directly at all times, you are in theory getting crash replacement pricing from the beginning. For this reason we will not be offering a crash replacement program.
TR » Right now you're offering 60mm, 90mm, and disc wheels. What's next for FLO Cycling?
JT » Our number one goal for the next 6-12 months is to get our company off the ground with as much success as possible. Beyond wheels, we feel that there are many products in the cycling and triathlon industry that are greatly over priced. Assuming our wheel division gets off the ground in a successful fashion, you can expect to see other products from FLO Cycling at incredible prices. We have a few preliminary designs we are working on. For now, we'll leave it at that.
TR » Any plans to release no-fairing training wheels? It would be really nice to have a shallow set of wheels for windy days, that match the rim width of the race versions.
JT » Absolutely. Our same great rims, hubs and spokes will be available without fairings during our pre-order. This means you'll get the same ride quality benefits of a wide brake track wheel, and you won't have to adjust your brake tracks on race day when you switch to our race wheels. As an added benefit, they will also feature our custom color graphics.
TR » Thanks Jon, we're excited to see what unfolds in the future.
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