Friday, 10 October 2008

2009 Downtube Range available Now!

So, we've just launched almost the full range of current Downtube models! Very exciting. We don't currently have the No Suspension, since Downtube are very short of those, but the Front and Full suspension models have joined the Mini, in both 9 speed derailleur and 8 speed hub gear versions.

These bikes will be drop-shipped direct from the USA - the warehousing of bikes in Britain caused Downtube many problems, and a great deal of cost. The good news is, they should arrive within 3-4 days of order date, and all the tax will be paid, so what you pay is what you pay, the bike arrives, and it's yours! Prices have of course risen significantly - anyone who didn't believe the prices we had really represented a sale, and was holding out to get the new model year bikes at the same price will be severely disappointed. In reality, the current prices reflect what it actually costs to get these bikes to you. It's the US price, plus the cost of air-courier, and the tax.

We could of course ship them to the UK en masse by boat, and that would make the courier charges much lower, but then we'd have higher warehousing costs, plus we'd get hit with a gigantic anti-dumping duty, and the price would be very similar. By doing it this way, we can make sure that the European market is offered exactly what the US market has, rather than the situation we've had where there's a warehouse full of old stock needing to be sold. And we're still cheaper, and better, than Dahon! Hurrah!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Bargain Price IXFS Sold out!

We've finally sold the last of the UK based stock of the Downtube IXFS. The bad news is, that means no more super-bargain bikes. The good news is, we'll soon be able to offer the entire range of Downtube bikes. These will ship from the USA, but we're working on 3-4 day airmail shipping, with all duty paid in advance, so it's just as quick as a UK based bike, and there are no extra charges - everything is included in the upfront price. I hope these bikes will be on the site in the next 2 weeks, so keep your eyes open!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Lockblocks FINALLY in stock!

Being a small new bike business is not easy. The big distributors don't want to deal with you, and the small ones are run by enthusiasts with problems of their own.

We've had some great lights, with enormous output for the money, sitting on the shelf for several months, but couldn't sell them because we didn't have suitable bike mounts. Twofish make the fantastic LockBlocks system, which we wanted, but they almost went out of business because their manufacturing partner decided to take 4 months to deliver, instead of 7 days. Thankfully, they came through in the end, and now we have the mounts too. Shortly, the new lights will be added to the site, as will LockBlocks, and of course, we'll offer a special price if you buy the two together.

We also nearly got mudguard mounts, but a small issue there has blocked us. Expect them soon. Finally, we plan to try again for Nutcase helmets soon. They're not easy to get hold of, but they're so cool, and we feel like you deserve them.....

Friday, 20 June 2008

Downtube Mini now available

As of yesterday, the Downtube Mini is available to purchase from Velo Chocolate. It's priced at £350 including shipping. We've put it that way because, as it's in America, if we gave the price ex-shipping, it would seem very low, and then the shipping cost would come as a nasty surprise. The shipping is, in real terms, about £100, but even with the shipping included it beats its main rivals on price. Bromptons seem to start at about £500 for the 3 speed, and the Dahon Curve is £350 for the 3 speed version before shipping. Factor in the 8 speed Sturmey Archer hub, and the Mini looks like the best deal on the block!

Given that the bike is shipping from the States, you should be prepared for a potential tax bill following it into the country. This sometimes doesn't happen, for reasons we can't fathom, but often it does. This will be for VAT against the purchase price ex-shipping, and given the amount of the actual price you pay is made up of shipping and assembly and tune-up in the US, it's not too high.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Downtubes on World Naked Bike Ride

Sometimes an opportunity comes up that's just too cool to turn down, and World Naked Bike Ride was one of those! It's not so much a protest, more an awareness raising event, pointing out the problems of the dominance of oil in our economy, and by way of nakedness, illustrating the fragility of a cyclist in traffic. It also happened to look like a lot of fun! So, I recruited a female friend, packed up the Downtubes, and headed for the Southampton ride. We hung some Velo Chocolate adverts on the racks, and headed for the Common, with a little trepidation. Poor Jo, now known as Lady Downtubediva in the cycling community, was more than a little nervous, but after we'd shed our clothes, it didn't seem such a big deal, and the combination of that and the signs attracted quite a bit of interest!

The ride itself was huge fun (Jo said she'd never had so much fun in her life), going right through the centre of Southampton, and attracting 156 riders. We were cheered and applauded all the way round, and saw nothing but smiles and support. Judging by the rise in the number of hits on Velo Chocolate since the weekend, there's nothing quite like getting a naked girl to ride your bike through town to attract a bit of commercial interest! Below are photos which are hopefully "safe for work" enough. I think the second one captures the joy of the event rather well!

The Tea Tricycle - a tale of frustration

Velo Chocolate has a sister business, at least theoretically; the Tea Tricycle. This is my wife's brave venture; a mobile tea service selling 32 varieties of organic and fair trade tea from a cargo trike. The plan was that people strolling through Southampton town centre wouldn't be limited to very expensive coffee, but could also buy a lovely hot cup of tea. The trouble is that Southampton City Council, in their infinite competence, gave us wrong information about licensing, and are now insisting that no license is available, and that all the street traders are being prosecuted in Southampton. Now, apart from being fundamentally illiberal, this is a royal pain in the backside, since we've invested the money in the trike, the stock, and kitting it out. The new plan is to run market stalls selling boxes of the tea, with the trike at the end selling hot cuppas, and maybe to do festivals and events as well. Since Velo Chocolate is responsible for the maintenance of the Tea Tricycle, I thought you might like to see it (and no, that's not my wife, it's her business partner). The trike now has a lid, too......

The Downtube Mini Arrives

Not very long ago, Velo Chocolate received a Downtube Mini, for test purposes, and assuming we decided it fit the bill, to use as a bike for the press to test out. Well, having tested it fairly thoroughly (my 11 year old son decided he should test it by going over the handlebars at least once), we've decided it's a bike we really want to offer.

The Mini has a very similar frame to the bigger Downtube bikes, and is similarly stiff and robust, but is smaller, with 16" wheels rather than 20. This means it folds really compact, almost as small as a Brompton, and fits in even very small cars, is practical for the tube, in fact anywhere that the folded size is really important. We see it as a direct competitor for the Brompton, and it has some distinct advantages. For one, it seems likely to be better at accommodating bigger riders, for another, it has an 8 speed Sturmey Archer hub gear, which gives a wider gear range than the Brompton, thirdly, with a seatpost rack fitted, it carries luggage much better than any Brompton I've seen, and finally, it's going to be cheaper than even the 3 speed version. The Brommie definitely folds a bit smaller and neater, but for us, the price differential is too much to overlook. The final price here has yet to be decided, since we need to find a price point that makes Downtube enough money to justify the extra hassle of shipping them to customers over here (they'll ship direct from the States), but which represents the usual great value for money that you expect from a Downtube.

Our bike has been going through it's paces, carrying me on several London commutes, and carrying a friend on a very special ride (more of that later). At 6'3, it doesn't quite have the seatpost height for me, but I only need an inch or so, and I'm looking at a device called, unprepossessingly, the Butt Buddy which would move my seat up by another 2 inches. With the Axiom quick release seatpost rack on, it carries my Ortlieb Office Bag 2 beautifully, and has plenty of ground clearance for panniers too. I've added a Brooks B66 in an attempt to get the extra saddle height I needed, but it turned out not to be any higher. The bike has acquitted itself well on the Embankment Grand Prix (my lack of full leg extension not withstanding), and it folded up tiny to be out of the way on a crowded train, and also in a clients office. I'm loving it, and I can't see me wanting to do without it! I'll have to, however, since once we agree the price with Downtube, I'll be working hard to get it out to the press, ideally the mainstream press rather than cycle mags. One publicity stunt we pulled has already attracted a lot of people to this site, but I'll say no more of that for now. The pictures below are not really presentation quality, I simply snapped them with my camera and Blackberry at different times - expect better on the site. Looking at the second image, I can see that I have been blasting around London with the cardboard badge still attached to the rack. What a class act!

New Products on the way

We're working very hard to add new products to the Velo Chocolate range. It's not easy, because as a small new retailer, wholesalers don't really want to deal with us, but we've got some exciting, new and innovative products on the way. The first of these will be front lights which are almost as bright the the £100 Dinotte lights, but will cost £20. We have those in stock, but we're waiting on Twofish, a supplier of really good light mounts, to come through with mounts for us.

Of course, we're also very excited about the Downtube Mini as well, but more about that soon.

A number of people have asked about racks and mudguards for the Downtube bikes, which are something we wish we could offer. At the moment, we can't find the right supplier, so what we're about to do is add links to other online bike sellers who have the best racks and mudguards. To fit the mudguards to the IXFS you need a fitting kit, since it doesn't have the conventional holes and mountings. We've ordered the parts to put these kits together, and will be adding them to the site soon, so you can easily mount any set of standard 20" mudguards (the Dahon ones look to be the best).

We're particularly excited to be taking on the Nutcase Helmets line; we think the UK market is short on really cool and fun helmets. Protecting your head is a good idea, but why would you want to look bland or dorky? Look out for the designs below to appear very soon:

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

270 mile Round Trip on a Downtube?

As you may or may not know, I have a day job. I'm a training consultant, and the company I work for enters a Dragon Boat race in Cambridge each year. I live in Southampton, and had been toying with the idea of cycling to and from Cambridge for the event, around 136 miles each way.

Two things have decided me that I should do just that. The first is the death of a good friend from liver cancer; he was a guy who was always up for anything fun or challenging, and I feel that I'd like to do something in memorial, and raise money for cancer charities at the same time. The other is Velo Chocolate! I'm ready to do just about anything to draw attention to the business, and to the products we sell. I'll be riding 136 miles on the Friday, racing in the Dragon Boat on Saturday, and riding another 136 on the Sunday, all on my Downtube IXFS, and if that doesn't convince people it's a viable bike, I don't know what will! I'll be riding the bike 95% standard, the only alterations being a Brooks saddle, the addition of a seatpost rack (which I recommend to you all anyway!), and some even more puncture resistant tyres. I might also add some mudguards (something any British rider is going to want to do), but the fundamental bike won't be upgraded in any way.

I have yet to decide on a charity to support, but as soon as I do, I'll let you all know.....

Monday, 19 May 2008

Exciting Times, New Products

These are exciting times; we'll shortly be adding two new bikes to our Downtube folding bike range, and hopefully very soon after some other products. Watch this space!

Friday, 25 April 2008

Soft Launch, Hard Lesson

So, having got the site ready to the point that anyone clicking the button could actually buy a Downtube, I submitted it to Google, and blithely headed off to the USA, safe in the knowledge that the site was unlikely to get far enough in the rankings for anyone to stumble on it before I got back. Of course, I returned to find that we'd received our first email that very same day, and I had yet to reply, 12 days later! Talk about customer responsiveness!

So, whilst goods are shipped straight away no matter where I am, I realised that quite often I'm away for a day or two, and the idea of customers waiting 48 hours for a response did not please me. As a result, I'm now the proud owner of a Blackberry, and Velo Chocolate email will find me almost wherever I am. Of course, I'm still sometimes in meetings or unavailable for other reasons, but I can promise to respond in reasonable time.

I've now started talking to suppliers about other products I could carry, and hope to be able to add some soon. First priority is accessories suitable for the Downtubes - mudguards, seatpost racks etc, but there are some other fairly interesting things out there that other online suppliers are neglecting. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

As we prepare to launch our business, I felt it would be a good idea to set out exactly what we're about, and here seems a good place to do that. Some or all of this will also be added to the main site in the near future.

Velo Chocolate is not a big-time internet bike sales business, and nor do we plan to be. Instead, we are a small business with a very specific market, and though that market may grow and see us grow with it, we don’t ever envisage trying to take on the Wiggles and SJS Cycles of this world. They’re already there, and very good at what they do.

We see the price of fuel rising, we see the introduction of congestion charging, and instead of seeing these as bad things, we’re excited! These developments mean that more and more people are seeing bicycles as a real means of transport, as a tool. In recent years, people have started to think of cycling purely as a sport, or a recreational activity, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What it overlooks is just how useful the bicycle can be as a means of transport. Something close to 40% of car journeys in this country are under 2 miles, and so many of those could be completed by bicycle. But why would you do so? Well, it’s cheaper, for one thing. No fuel costs, no insurance, no road tax. Secondly, you get into shape while you travel. Imagine cycling 10 miles each way to work. That might sound like a lot, but a relatively fit cyclist can do this in 45 mins easily. Every day, you’ll get yourself a 45 minute workout, without paying for the gym! 10 miles of city driving will take you most of that 45 minutes anyway, so why not go by bike? Thirdly, it cuts down on traffic congestion, and reduces the risk of road accidents. Finally, it’s FUN! You arrive at your destination wide awake, with your cardio-vascular system working well, and you feel really good.

We exist to serve people who use their bikes as part of their daily life; be that for commuting, doing the shopping, popping to a friends house for a cuppa and a round or two on the Playstation. We call these people Lifestyle Cyclists, as opposed to hobby cyclists; simply, they’re people who’ve decided to make cycling a part of their lifestyle. At the time Velo Chocolate was founded, if you wanted to outfit your bike for use in commuting, or for shopping, you would end up making it look, to put it concisely, a bit tatty. We want to provide equipment for lifestyle cyclists which makes their bikes more useful, AND makes them look great. The products we will stock will include innovative solutions to carrying luggage that look really nice, helmets that are fun, rather than just serious looking, and products that overcome some of the little niggles that afflict cyclists. Indeed, we’d like to hear from you about what products you wish were available, or about products that are available abroad, but not here, that you’d like to buy.

What we’re hoping to do is to make this “Lifestyle Cycling” a really enjoyable experience, and help you put together a bike that not only does what you want it to do, but also makes you feel fantastic about riding it. We want to give you special cycling treats.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Dawning of a New Era

Welcome to the Velo Chocolate Blog. This is really just a test posting, but this will be where we'll introduce product ideas, give you details of what we're planning, and generally discuss what's interesting in the world of cycling.