On Monday I reported on the Aerospoke Crisis of 2007. Well, after breaking one of the biggest cycling news stories ever, I found myself actually wanting to know more about them. Aerospoke has been around for a long time, so I thought it would be interesting to hear how the fixed-gear trend has affected them as a company. I emailed them and Bill Micol was kind enough to agree to answer some questions by email. I present them below.
(Yes, this is a departure from the kind of material you usually find here, but fixed-gears and Aerospokes have been a hot topic lately. Yes, this is a real interview. And no, I did not receive free Aerospokes or any other compensation, so if you’re looking for a pair don’t come to me. This town’s still dry.)
Thanks, Bill, and thanks everybody for reading.
What is your role in the company?
The wheels are my domain. We do other things at our facility, but I have a hand in everything that has to do with the wheels, from manufacturing to technical support to sales for the last 18 years.
When and how did Aerospoke begin?
Since the 70s, Ed Giroux, the owner of Aerospoke, has had a successful business building investment casting and plastic injection molds, as well as other kinds of tooling. His hobby was, and still is, triathlon, so that is how the whole wheel idea was conceived. 1988 saw the first prototypes and we started shipping mid-1989. Ed still competes, in fact, he took first in his age group at Ironman Louisville recently and will be competing in Ironman Hawaii soon.
What sets Aerospokes apart from other popular pre-built wheelsets, past and present?
We have been known for our strength and durability from the beginning. Our customers have come to depend on us for that. Many people come to us who have a history of destroying wheels because of how they ride, or, they may be too heavy (I call them gravity-challenged) for some of the very lightweight wheels on the market. In addition, you do not have to true the Aerospoke wheel, so that is a great feature for those who want to ride and not fiddle with spokes. The wheels are also reasonably priced for a carbon wheel and they are made right here in Michigan. We do use Velocity aluminum rim extrusions made in Australia and bearings made in Asia, but other than that, everything is done here.
Are Aerospokes UCI legal?
What kind of aero advantage does an Aerospoke offer vs. other wheels?
The spokes are airfoil shaped, so they cut through the wind nicely, especially when they are up to speed. We are not big on performance testing in a lab, as real world conditions are hard to duplicate. The positive response we get from our customers is the data we like. Having some world records set on our wheels is nice too.
Your wheels have become very popular with the new crop of fixed-gear riders. When did you first notice this?
We did make fixed-gear stuff many years ago. We sold some now and then, but no major numbers. I would get requests from time to time to do the wheels again, but we had no idea how big it would be. This time, I had all of the first couple batches spoken for before they were even made, and this was before it was ever announced that we were going to make them! Gina at King Kog in NY and Travis at the Freewheel in San Francisco had a lot to do with this.
When the word got out, it spread like wildfire and the response has been overwhelming. I see wheels in my sleep. It's nice to be busy, but I must admit that it has been frustrating trying to keep up with demand, especially when I was so used to being more responsive. We have added people, but the wheels are hand-made and labor-intensive and there is only so many that can be made in a day, regardless of how many people are here. We have been backordering the 700c wheels since early Spring.
I don't want to come off sounding like I'm complaining, however. We feel lucky to be so busy, especially being in a state that is bleeding manufacturing jobs.
To what do you attribute this popularity?
I've been afraid to question this, as I am afraid I might jinx myself. I don't know, maybe the fixed-gear crowd is in tune with what we are all about; durability, low-maintenance, and asthetics. I've talked to messengers who told me that not having to maintain and adjust derailleurs and brakes is key in their line of work. So, I guess a wheel that does not have a bunch of maintenance points (spoke nipples) is appealing.
Fixed-gear riders seem often to use Aerospokes on the front only. Why do you think this is?
I have seen some pictures of riders with them only on the front, but I honestly don't know why. I know some people ordered our standard front road wheel, before we had bolt-on, and used the locking skewers. At that time, we had nothing available for the rear. However, we still sell more front than rear, so ??
Some fixed-gear riders use their bicycles aggressively in an urban environment. Do you think Aerospokes are a good choice for this application? Do you recommend them over, say, a pair of well-built traditional wire-spoke wheels?
I've seen pictures of people airborne and it makes me a little nervous, but it seems to me that most riders know the limitations of their equipment. Pushing the envelope can cause problems for equipment in any sport and I think that they know and accept this. The wheels are tough and hold up well. We don't underbuild.
Are you planning to implement any changes in your wheels that take this new group of customers into account? Can we expect to see built-in spoke card holders anytime soon?
The wheels have constantly evolved over the last 18 years. We don't change things that work just to have something "new" for marketing purposes. We try to make a wheel that works for the largest number of consumers, including heavier riders and riders who ride in varied conditions.
Has uber-curmudgeon and serial retrogrouch Jobst Brandt ever tried to sabotage your headquarters, and if so are your armed guards under direct orders to shoot him on sight?
Yes, he showed up one day and staged a sit-in; lying down in front of our UPS truck.
Kidding... Actually, we have his wheel-building book here. I don't have a problem with, and I'm not out to bash traditional wheels. They have worked well for a long time. I think, however, that we offer a great alternative that addresses some issues with traditional wheels.
I’m sure you’re pleased that your wheels have been enjoying a new level of popularity, but are there certain qualities of your wheels you think are underappreciated or overlooked?
Many overlook us because of our weight, that is the biggest issue. This industry caters to the weight-weenies, but we have filled a void for many riders who are looking for something more than a wheel that looks good on the scale.
Well, nice typing at ya! I have to get back to work and make some wheels, I love the smell of carbon in the morning!