Stokemonkey is composed of a mix of components manufactured in Portland and imported from China and Japan. Throughout the prototype development stages, I was paying more in air freight costs than the components themselves, as time was important and sea freight makes sense only for larger volumes. I’ve been held up entering business this Summer by shipping delays. Today, finally, I received documentary evidence that my twenty-five cartons of motor and batteries were on board, having heard that this occurred more than a week ago. The name of the vessel: the Lightning. The Lightning moves at the speed of a bicycle, night and day across the Pacific. So it’s looking like I won’t have the goods before the end of August. The initial expected date of readiness at the time I paid for this stuff? End of April. I have no recourse. I really can’t afford to get harsh on the (partially) responsible parties I know, because they’re still the hands that feed me.
Note to self: don’t pay all up front. 50% to start, 50% on completion, with time penalties. They might laugh at me to insist on such while my volumes are so low. But I’d pay more, even, to have dependable ship dates.
Brent Bolton of Ecospeed here in Portland tells me that he’s never had any trouble selling his product (which is quite a lot like mine, except for recumbent bicycles). The problems are all on the supply side, keeping product available. Unless you’re a mega-buyer with paid agents looking after your interests at every step, long delays appear to be the norm. So there’s a lot of pressure to make really huge orders to avoid running out of stock, and to get economies of scale going, but then what if sales aren’t so hot after all, or if there’s a problem with one or more subcomponents, and you’re stuck with a warehouse full of incomplete product? You’d be screwed!
Yesterday some folks came by to assess my personal ride: a messenger and his electrical engineer friend. They want to do something similar, but with a solar charging scheme somehow integral. I figure there could be synergies, and am not worried about competition in such an undeveloped market anyway. The engineer wanted to know the part numbers of the chips in my controller, and the cos φ value of the motor. Wha? I have real-world performance data, but not reduced to the language of electrical engineers. I’m glad he noticed approvingly the “German” connectors I use, though they’re from Liechtenstein.
The messenger had ridden my bike so knows the approach works, but the engineer seemed not to consider the mechanical and ergonomic factors of the design as particularly relevant. Setting off on a test, he had trouble shifting the bike into the proper gear to pedal faster than about 30 RPM, at which wobbly lurching speed neither his legs nor the motor could operate very effectively. He said the saddle was too high, but his knees were still distinctly bent at the bottom of his stroke. And the driven pedals unnerved him. He was unimpressed, I think. He supposed, as is commonly the case, that an assisted bike should somehow require less attention to technique than a regular one. In fact mine requires a little more — it’s like a tandem. The messenger chimed in to assure the engineer that his troubles were a question of training. I hadn’t really thought of it as “training,” just as being a regular bicyclist.
So I had him sit on the back and I hauled him around the block, including some grades, at a good clip to show how it works. This was just another of countless confirmations that the product is unsuitable for those people who don’t already possess the habit of shifting to maintain a reasonably smooth, reasonably high cadence at all speeds. I think the definition of a niche product is one whose weaknesses for the many are strengths for the few.