Monday, September 8, 2008

Adventure Racks

All Photos: Xtracycle Inc.

The Xtracycle Adventure Rack allows you to attach two standard bicycle panniers per side instead of your v-racks and Freeloaders. That's a nice option, but the cost is on the high at $75 each - plus you also seem to need a $39.99 set of Whatchamacollars for each side. That's $229.98 for both sides plus the cost of any panniers.

Being able to attach regular bike panniers to your Xtracycle is a nice idea. Given the cost though I'd stick with the stock v-racks/Freeloaders and use some sort of dry bags to haul your cargo.

I'm trying to figure out where the bottom hook on my Ortliebs will clip into? Hopefuly there is some allowance for this as having the panniers just hanging from the top hooks swinging around wouldn't be ideal.


Clancy said...

I agree with your critiques. These parts can't cost that much. Wouldn't they rather see everyone with lots of accessories?

The Primo Viking clamp might be a suitable replacement for the Whatchamacollars

Kronda said...

Ditto. What's wrong with throwing your panniers into the Freeloaders and keep on trucking? That's what I'll be doing this winter. I just got my Big Dummy rolling and I'm super stoked about it--but also kinda bummed to hear about all the jacked up pricing from Xtracycle.

Mawell said...

Or one of these to hold your racks in, and keep the water out

$1.93 each

Stuart said...

The added price of the extra cycle equipment has put me off getting a big dummy, this cements my thoughts

Neil said...

They might have to absorb a lot of R+D costs for these products. As (hopefully) more people use them the cost per unit will come down. Xtracycle is still a niche product market and I think the pricing reflects this.

Vik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vik said...


I'd buy the R&D argument if Xtracycle had redesigned their Freeradical, but adding a lower rail to a v-rack doesn't require much R&D. I've been involved in mechanical design projects and the Adventure Rack wouldn't take a week of engineering to develop. I also think the idea that the prices of any of these items will come down is highly unlikely.

Freeloader Bags are $89.00 - the design hasn't changed significantly in years other than to go to cheaper materials. Look closely at the Freeloaders and then look at some other low volume bike bags - you get two Ortlieb panniers for just a little more than the cost of one Freeloader and they quality/complexity of the Ortliebs is off the chart in comparison.

I want to wholeheartedly support Xtracycle and I did buy my Big Dummy Xtracycle bits a la carte so I paid big $$$ for them, but their pricing seems to be out of touch. If they really need to charge $39 for a piece of aluminum tubing with two 90 deg bends in it than they need to make some changes to their business plan.

Look at Old Man Mountain...they are a small company making a niche bike product and they build their racks in the US. Have a look at the quality, complexity of their product and the cost. Keeping in mind they don't get their stuff built in a big factory overseas. They pricing makes a whole lot more sense.

Neil said...

Fair points Vik.

Josh said...

Not too impressed w/the new Xtracycle crap and their high prices.

I'm bending up some aluminum cargo boxes for my Dummy (waterproof and lockable).

todd said...

"It just seems that with stock selling out regularly and sales increasing their pricing should be getting more competitive [compared to other specialty bike products] rather than less competitive."

if there were competing "other specialty bike products" in the same functional niche at equal or lower prices, xtracycle sales wouldn't be so strong. i don't think there's anything wrong with charging what the market will bear. charging less is bad business because you can't meet demand, can't grow and invest as well in people and future product, etc.

if you see something priced higher than you think it would cost to make yourself, i think the appropriate response is to make it yourself with gratitude for the design inspiration, not to blast the high price. you might just find that there are a few tricks to fabricating "simple" parts. the apparent simplicity of everything is, i think, a mark of good design. the simplicity is deceptive, and valuable.

xtracycle is finally achieving good market visibility and strong sales after many very, very lean years at which prices were lower. it's still a screaming bargain in my opinion compared to what passes for normal transport technology in industrial societies.

Vik said...

Todd I agree Xtracycle has a nice design, I agree they can charge anything they want for their products.

I paid top dollar for the Xtracycle bits I use on my Big Dummy. So I'm supporting the company financially.

Where I don't agree with you is the idea that if a customer/cyclist doesn't agree with something about a product or company that it is unreasonable to discuss it.

This blog and my day to day cargo cycling is largely a promotion of the Xtracycle concept. I like it and I use it. That doesn't mean I think it's perfect or can't be improved.

I know enough about bikes and outdoor products to know what works and what doesn't, what's reasonable and what isn't. Just because I'm not satisfied with something doesn't mean I should shut up and go sew my own Freeloaders.

Providing some feedback to a company/community is constructive. If someone who can comprehend spending the $$$ to buy a Big Dummy finds the pricing of your products out of line that should be a alarm bell for a company hoping to expand it's market. Particularly when the sentiment seems to be shared by a number of independent cyclists.

I like Xtracycle as a company and I enjoy using their products. I can't accept your assertion that my only two options are to happily pay whatever they ask for a product or shut up and build it myself. I can support Xtracycle by using their products and still speak my mind about it - both positive and negative.

todd said...

"Where I don't agree with you is the idea that if a customer/cyclist doesn't agree with something about a product or company that it is unreasonable to discuss it."

i said no such thing. we are, after all, discussing it. i was challenging the logic and assumptions behind your assertion that they should lower their prices because (a) the parts seem simple to you and especially (b) sales are strong. i think you have these precisely backwards. also, without knowing the financial or operational challenges of the company (i don't either) it seems presumptuous to opine publicly how they should price their stuff.

criticism of the design seems totally productive to me, strengths and weaknesses relative to the hypothetical competition, etc. but armchair business analysis re pricing when you can't know the backstories or the real cost data: that's pretty tenuous.

Vik said...

Todd said: "if you see something priced higher than you think it would cost to make yourself, i think the appropriate response is to make it yourself with gratitude for the design inspiration, not to blast the high price."

Vik said: ""Where I don't agree with you is the idea that if a customer/cyclist doesn't agree with something about a product or company that it is unreasonable to discuss it."

Vik said: "Just because I'm not satisfied with something doesn't mean I should shut up and go sew my own Freeloaders."

Todd said: "i said no such thing."

So Todd my reaction was to your quote at the top of this comment. You said I should go build my own widget and not complain. I'm not sure how you feel that comment encourages critical discussion. I can't see it myself.

todd said...

alright, i retract the phrase "appropriate response" because it sounds to you like i'm trying to shut people up, and i'm not. how about "less amusing response"? i am challenging people to consider how sensible it is to complain of high prices when sales are strong and there really are no true competitors, apart from homebrew fabrication (which is totally valid, and frequently inspiring, and so on).

there's a difference between "these freeloaders seem cheaply sewn in view of the price" and "xtracycle should sell these freeloaders at lower prices because i know about manufacturing and they keep selling out of them and i could do better myself and 'the competition' is cheaper and i care about the company succeeding so much... they need to lower their margins."

Ross Evans said...

Hey Vik,

I'm writing to you because a) you clearly care about xtracycle and longtails b) i love your blog c) i want you to attempt to address some of the concerns you raised about pricing on our new products.

To start, I'll admit that I don't have a good sense of what Xtracycle the company looks like from the outside. I can imagine that many people look at our website or the rising number of our products in the world and insert us into their imagined picture of a smallish product company. In fact we are a tiny group of extremely dedicated, often quite bright, do gooders.

Depending upon how you look at it, one could say that I started working on xtracycle in 1995. You may or may not know that Xtracycle the biz actually arose out of non-profit work and that I had to be convinced that being in business could be good for the world. (That non-profit work still continues --

So while I completely agree that discussion on the web can be powerfully effective at creating the change we wish to see, I must admit, I felt a little hurt by your comments. Mind you, that doesn't make your concerns invalid or inappropriate. It may just point to the fact that I'm a bit too sensitive sometimes. This is my baby after all...

In light of all that, I thought I'd take a stab at describing the process that went into making the whatchamacollar, adventure rack and tekdeck-- which is reflective of our process in general, so will apply to all other products current or future. I hope it helps. I do get the sense that you care about our little company's success and I take your feedback to heart.

The three products were sort of conceived of in unison as I was grappling with how to send the message to touring cyclists that the longtail platform is one that they should consider seriously. That said, several great designers have thought about these issues for a while (we had a prototype snap deck with a little rail for hooking on your panniers back in 2002-- and ultimately decided it would work but not provide the kind of experience we wanted to create for the user.) Indeed all of the prototypes were made quite quickly and cheaply in an inspired week of Interbike design preparation--which would suggest DIY compatability. As Todd suggests, we love it when people make their own, in fact that was the whole idea of having the modular rack system in the first place. I hope it is clear that this is not a, "if you don't like the price, go make your own" retort.

So when we went to the production process, I was totally caught off guard by how complex and expensive it was to get these products made. And I have an engineering degree and a lot of experience doing manufacturing! Every "simple" step as I had conceived it turned out to be a major "headache", as our agent in Taiwan likes to call many of my ideas. As you suggest, my thinking was, how hard can it be to make a collar, bend a little laser cut aluminum or weld up a little cross support to an aluminum rack? Turns out we had to buy a lot of expensive tooling to get the collar to work the way it needed to-- especially for forthcoming products. And custom machining small quantities of anything is expensive, especially when you are as picky about the manufacturing conditions as we are. As it turns out, bending and welding aluminum often sees highly variable results. So our price must also include all of the rejected ones that they have to recycle. We had to order a special small quantity batch of 7000 series aluminum so the racks didn't need heat treatment post welding. (our first samples were wildly inconsistent, bowed etc.)

So once we get the product we have to mark it up to stay in business. Anyone from the early days of Xtracycle can tell you that it took me a while to actually learn how to ask for a fair price. I was happier selling a below value product and eating rice and beans than facing someone who thought I was ripping them off. Thankfully, I got past that, and the fact that the biz is still around is directly related. In the end our margins are not much in the bike world -- our cash flow would look a lot juicier if were producing plastic widgets, fashion tees or software.

So I should wrap this up but I don't want to end without a note about you.
You are truly remarkable. Out of your passion and zeal you have created a unique and informative (even inspiring) website ode to my little baby. Wow. I'm deeply touched--even teared up just now as I thought about it. We recognize that it is people like you that have helped this company stay alive. And now we are in the position to create some seriously positive change. I'm thankful to have you as an ally in the mission.

Please feel free to email me directly if you ever have any thoughts, product review (+ or -) or your own ideas you'd like feedback on before you take them to market.

In it for the long haul,

Xtracycle, Inc said...

Greetings from Xtracycle. 

Wev'e gotten some feedback lately regarding the raised pricing on several of our products, as well as a window into some of your inspired discussions about this. First and foremost, we want to say, thanks for your thoughts.  We definitely strive to balance all the factors that go into the pricing of goods: materials and manufacturing costs; buying in huge quantity to drive down price vs. managing cash flow and keeping quantities low; compensating our suppliers and our team well; building in opportunities for distributors/dealers to make a living selling our stuff as well.  

Perhaps you've heard the adage from the bicycle industry: "What's the best way to end up with a million dollars selling bikes?  Start with two million."  Bicycles, like most commodities, suffer from a great deal of externalized pricing, whether it's the artificially low (now rising) cost of fuel, the artificially low (now rising) cost of Chinese labor, the artificially low (now greatly rising) cost of raw materials, or the fact that the bike industry has never had enough self respect to ask for what the products are worth to grow the market share of bicycles to cars.  Seeding a revolution in transportation and quality of life won't be free.  It will however, be way cheaper than owning a car. 

Todd's right that we've put nearly 10 years into carving out the niche for longbikes in the broader bicycle market.  It's been a wonderful, if at times, fiscally challenging journey, and we're not making a profit yet.  Never fear, no one's getting rich off of Whatchamacollars (or FreeLoaders or Footsees or Pea Pods).  We're not opposed to making money, mind you, but it's been proven out over 10 years that the reason we do this is because we love the product, the lifestyle, and the opportunity to present a true transportation alternative to the world.  It has been our number one goal to keep the Xtracycle as affordable as possible while making sure that our products are well built, long lasting, well designed, and attractive. 

What I'm clear about from some of the latests discussions is that our customers need more information about why our new products are useful and what value they offer.  We trust that each person will decide for themselves what products will help to expand their Xtracycle lifestyle.  We'll be adding that content to our webstore in the weeks to come. 

Furthermore, we're excited to announce that we are officially open-sourcing the Xtracycle Long Tail Standard to encourage other players to make Xtracycle-compatible platforms and accessories.  Surly has been a fantastic lead partner, and has aptly demonstrated a concept not altogether understood by the bike industry at large: that collaboration and partnership, built on trust and passion, lead to great solutions and a shift in the bike industry at large. 

By "open source," we mean that you don't have to pay licensing fees or royalties, or get permission to make a product that works with our system.  We want to lift those barriers to encourage a fertile environment for ideas, innovation, and partnership.

We're looking at sharing our standard right now with independent US fabricators of Xtracycle compatible SnapDecks, fabric bags, new Footsies, etc.  Wanna play along?  We welcome your input, your products, and your thoughts about pricing.  We will publicize the Xtracycle LT Standard developer kit on our website and within our online communities (Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, Rootsradicals Yahoo group, etc.) in early October, so keep an eye out.  

Will these items be Walmart cheap?  No way.  Likely they'll be competitively priced with our products, but in buying them you can feel great about supporting creative individuals and a movement dedicated to innovating something truly new and valuable within the bike industry.  

Will there be Xtracycle knock offs in years to come, competing with us on price and quality?  More than likely.  Such is the way our economic system works.  We feel that competition will only help us to refine our offerings and to better meet your needs, so as nice as it feels sometimes to have built an amazing platform and community, we realize that in order to be truly excellent at this, we have to give it away.

Vik said...

Hey Ross,

Thanks for your comments. Before I respond to the issues you've raised I just want to make sure that we keep this discussion in perspective. I'm not down on Xtracycle as a company or on the concept. I have been happily promoting the idea of the Xtracycle as a versatile cargo bike option and will continue to do so. I use my Big Dummy a lot for utility missions, fun rides and for tours. The Big Dummy is a great frame, but what takes it to the next level of usefulness is the suite of Xtracycle components that can adapt to so many different missions.

So for taking the time and energy to make that happen many thanks. I appreciate it and so do the many cargo bikers I run into in Calgary and online around the world.

Please don't take my criticism of a specific product or the pricing issues that have been raised as anything more than they are. In the proper context they represent a small segment of my global opinion of Xtracycle.

I think it's great that you are letting the Xtracycle standard out into the market as open source. I've been saying on online forums and blogs that a single standard for the cargo bike market would be a very healthy thing - at least until such time as it grows big enough to support multiple product lines. I was hopeful Kona and Trek would see the logic in that as I don't think three or four different systems have sufficient market to prosper let alone survive. Hopefully when they look at what it will take to develop their own accessories they'll rethink the matter.

At this point Xtracycle is the only option for that standard simply because it is the only product line that is truly versatile and comprehensive enough to address almost any reasonable cargo bike requirement.

Although I haven't needed any customer service support from Xtracycle everything I've read and all my interactions with other Xtracycle owners points to a sterling record of looking after people that buy Xtracycle products.

I'll end this post here and address the pricing issue separately as I want to make sure everyone who reads this gets the clear message that Xtracycle has done great work for the bike community and is a really nice product line.

Thanks for your vision and efforts Ross to bring Xtracycle to reality and for continuing to develop the concept.



Vik said...

To address the comments I've made about pricing I want to first say thanks for taking some time to explain your side of the issue. There are at least two sides to every story and the more we hear about the factors that led to a particular decision in the design or pricing of a new product the better.

Surly faced a similar situation with the pricing of the Big Dummy and then the recent price increase on that frame. They did a pretty good job explaining what was going on behind the scenes via their blog.

I also want to say I feel bad that your feelings were hurt by my blog posts. I can understand how it would be tough to read some negative criticisms of things you've worked hard to make a reality. As a customer I feel it's not unreasonable to be critical about such things, but those criticisms are not meant to be personal or intentionally hurtful. So for that aspect of my comments I'm sorry.

I am an engineer and project manager who has been involved in developing new products. So I know what a pain it can be and how even simple things cost more than you thought they would.

I have no doubt that you aren't sitting on piles of gold bars and that the Xtracycle crew isn't rolling in a limo to a 5 star restaurant for lunch every day.

Xtracycle has to charge enough for a product to make it, ship it, market it, deal with warranty issues/defects and have enough profit to invest in new products as well as reward the folks putting their time/energy into the process.

So I think up to this point we are both in agreement. Where we diverge is in evaluating the resulting product in context of what it does and what else is available in the bike/outdoors gear market.

Besides my Big Dummy I've also got 6 Ortlieb panniers, other Ortlieb bags, a Bob trailer, a couple touring bikes, various backpacks and outdoors gear. I've used them all extensively and have a good sense of what they can do and what they cost.

My evaluation of Xtracycle products have been in the context of the other bike and outdoor gear products I use. I have been looking at the obvious manufacturing challenges to making a product, the materials and utility of the product compared to other items that I have knowledge of. Ultimately the question I ask is the cost reasonable for what you get, what it does and what other companies are offering?

Here are a couple non-Xtracycle examples:

I use a number of Old Man Mountain racks. They aren't cheap, but when I think about what goes into making them and the quality of the product, the use I get out of them, the customer service I've rec'd and the cost of other similar products my feeling is the price is reasonable.

My local outdoor store [] sells some stainless steel and wood chopsticks for $29.00. When I do the same analysis I come to the conclusion they are not remotely worth that much to me based on what they do and what they are made of. Now it's quite possible the company behind them is pricing them reasonably based on their actual manufacturing costs. However, regardless of that fact as a consumer the pricing just doesn't make sense.

I know that I've had to shutdown projects because the cost of building the product exceeded the value it represented to the client. We did our best and we weren't gouging anyone, but we just couldn't build the product in question at a cost that was reasonable.

So I hope that might explain why there might be some disagreement on pricing. If the manufacturer or dealer approaches the price based on what it cost to make and the customer approaches the price based on what the item does, the apparent costs to manufacture it and what other products cost. Those two perspectives may not agree.

In the hopes of being constructive and not just complaining here are some ideas to help get the two viewpoints better aligned:

- communicate what the product does. I know this sound sounds obvious, but if you've been working on something for months you totally "get it" - while a customer looks at the product and may not see the same thing.

- communicate the value added by the product. This is more than just what the product does. The Whatchamacollars hold the v-racks in place, but why is that a big enough deal to drop $80 on two sets? A snapdeck pad makes the snap deck more comfy and it's value added is your BF/GF will be more likely to want to ride your Xtracycle with you.

- communicate any particular challenges to manufacturing and selling the item. You made some good points about why the adventure racks are hard to make. This allows the customer to appreciate why the item costs what it does.

- from the customer's perspective we need to listen to what you tell us, evaluate it fairly and communicate our feelings back to you.

We don't need to see eye to eye on things, but a process like this would develop a relationship between the company making the product and the person buying the product. That's good for everyone.

Thanks for taking the time to write. I learned something and have a better appreciation of some of the behind the scenes issues involved in making Xtracycle products.

Kronda said...

I'd like to thank Vik and Ross for sharing your perspectives, which have been most informative. But mostly for showing that it's still possible to have a reasonable discussion on the Internet!

Ross Evans said...

Hey Vik,

Again, thank you for your continued interest in riding and writing about xtracycle products.

I think you are astute in your assessment of the product/value mix. As you mention in your experience, sometimes you have chosen to cancel a product because the cost have been too high for the perceived value. In our case, we decided to go ahead and make the products (to our high standards) and offer them at a standard mark up. Indeed we all do get to determine whether a product is "worth it." From a certain perspective, it may look like we are gauging simply because we can, while in fact we are doing everything we can to get the costs down while offering more and more options for users of the LT platform.

In my own life, I choose to live quite minimally. I enjoy creative reuse and voluntary simplicity. In our first catalog we said "you can always strap a banana box to a skateboard and tow it behind your bike." I may even have done such things. I am also so confident (after many many years of use) that the loaded ride of a longtail is superior to the other available options. So if I were to go on an extended bike tour and wanted to use my Ortlieb panniers, I would seriously consider investing in the LT touring kit (tekdeck, adventure racks, WTMC). Then again, I might decide to make due with a banana box ;)

Enjoy your everyday adventures,

Vik said...

Hi Ross,

Thanks for your comments. You have a reasonable perspective and I'd rather have the option of buying something and not doing so, than to not have that product exist at all.

I'm not suggesting you are charging a ridiculous amount of profit on your accessories. I can take at face value your assertion that stuff is just costing you guys that much to make and you are selling it at a reasonable mark up.

Ultimately as you suggest the market can decide what a given product is worth.

I do have two questions I'm curious about and haven't found answers to yet:

1) Does the Xtracycle open source concept include the Freeradical sub-frame design or just the accessories that attach to it? Can companies make a copy of the Freeradical or something very similar and sell it?

2) How would Ortlieb panniers attach at the bottom of the Adventure Racks? The top hooks secure around the upper bar, but I am not clear where you'd secure the lower QL1 or QL2 hook. If you had a photo of these panniers attached to the Adventure Rack/Freedradical from a rear view that would be very helpful for people to understand how they work.



Erik Sandblom said...

"The bike industry has never had enough self respect to ask for what the products are worth to grow the market share of bicycles to cars."

Never was a wiser word spoken! Ok never say never... well said anyway!