How we deliver a custom carbon dream bike at factory-direct pricing

About the author: Randall R. Jacobs is the founder of Thesis, a company that's reimagining how high-end bicycles are created. He is a two-time amateur national champion and a former pro XC mountain bike racer. Having started his career in bike shops, Randall went on to architect supply chains in Asia and develop product and market strategies for a global bike brand. He also co-developed the OpenBike bicycle technology platform and is a trusted advisor to a number of leading innovators and organizations in the cycling industry.

It all started with a simple question: "What bike should I get?"

I've been a bike nerd for a long time. I've worked in almost every part of the bike industry, from wrenching as a mechanic to racing pro to working with some of the biggest brands in the world. I’ve been building and riding bikes for a long time, so I get asked that question a lot.

If you’re like most cyclists, you’ve felt frustrated while looking for your next bike. You’ve seen the marketing hype and empty acronyms. It’s hard to find honest information. I’ve seen from the inside how corners get cut to pad profits, and how middlemen make bicycles so expensive.

So whenever I heard that question, I never had a good answer. But I knew there had to be a better way.

That’s what inspired my thesis: a dream bike for every road at an accessible price. This meant:

  • Fun matters: A bicycle that’s a blast to ride on every kind of road;
  • Details matter: every last component, right down to the bearings and bolts, selected for performance and durability; and
  • Skipping all the middlemen: working directly with the top manufacturers behind the leading brands.

That’s how Thesis was born.

Here's how we did it.

Setting up a photo shoot for the prototype OB1 in our home studio.

Part 1: Go factory direct

The bicycle industry is very old school. There are far too many middlemen between you and the factories that actually produce the components for your bike.

I've known many of the owners of our factories for a long time. As many of you know, most high-end component manufacturers are in Taiwan and China.

I have an unusual story: I used to lead strategy for a Chinese trading and manufacturing firm. I spent a lot of time diving deep into materials, cost structures, and manufacturing techniques  -- machining, forging, casting, injection molding, layups, coating -- and that's why I can tell you in great detail how every bicycle part is made and why. I'm not impressed by brands and marketing. I dig in hard on evidence-based design, engineering, manufacturing, lab data, and field testing.

I also taught myself Mandarin during my years in China, which completely changes the dynamic. I wasn't signing contracts from 6,000 miles away, I was on the factory floor with the line workers and learning about their motivations and challenges. Laughter and warmth is a big part of it. This is why some of the industry’s leading manufacturers are supporting our fledgling company as if we were big. We get their best pricing on high-end components and pass the savings on to you.

We’re grateful for our partnerships with companies like Velo, the manufacturer behind a large number of high-end saddles. Founder Stella Yu (left) is a rare woman entrepreneur in the industry and has been a powerhouse in the space for decades. I deeply admire what she's built.

Here's how we do it at Thesis:

  1. You decide how you want your bike equipped to best suit the riding you want to do.

  2. We order only top-end components directly from the same factories used by leading traditional brands. There’s no need to spend more to upgrade.

  3. We place your custom bike in our next production batch. By building your bike made-to-order, we make it possible to get a premium bike at an accessible price. It then gets assembled by a single professional mechanic.

  4. Your bicycle arrives on your doorstep.

But it doesn't stop there.

Part 2: Details matter


I worked closely with our frame factory in Shenzhen, collaborating with the owners, the engineering team, and the line workers to refine over a hundred details on our frameset.

Here's my no-nonsense approach on how to create an honest high-end bike:

  • Every component matters. I don’t cut corners on performance, durability, or serviceability to save a gram or a buck. Would you rather have trivially lighter carbon levers, or wheels built with carbon rims and high-end spokes that improve weight, stiffness, and aero? A cheap plastic bottom bracket shell, or a slightly heavier sealed aluminum one that won’t creak in 6 months?
  • If I wouldn't put it on my own bike, I won’t put it on yours. No gimmicks or hype. No magic elastomers, pogo stick steerers, or double-stack handlebars. No proprietary seatposts or other non-standard components that don’t actually improve the ride.

  • Be honest and accessible. Even if you’re not a bike expert, I believe it’s important for you to be informed. For example, check out the “why we chose it” section under each component in the OB1 specs. If we help you learn something that improves your ride, that alone is a win.

I built the OB1 with a lot of love. I'm proud to stand behind every material, manufacturing process, bearing, seal, and spec.

Part 3: Unveil the one bike for every road

I created the OB1 to be a premium gravel bike with unusual versatility. We live in a golden age of cycling technology with ultralight composites and alloys, disc brakes, tubeless tires, and wide range single-ring drivetrains. The same technologies that enable race-specific Tour de France bikes also make it possible to create an lightweight superbike for every road.

Here’s the truth: these days, there are two meaningful differences between a road bike, a gravel bike, a cyclocross bike, a bikepacking bike, and a speed touring bike: tire clearance and mounting points. If you wanted to obsess over minutia, you might add a smidge of aero, a few grams, and subtle differences in geometry at the extremes. Otherwise, that’s it. And our industry friends privately agree with us.

Oddly enough, this is what makes the OB1 so unique. By taking advantage of the best shared aspects of gravel, road, and adventure bikes, we are able to build a versatile bike that, with a quick swap of wheels or chainring, becomes what traditional brands would sell as several expensive bikes. We think our approach is the smarter one.

Can you spend more than this on a bicycle? Certainly. But spending more does not make it better. Professional racers care deeply about marginal gains and half-second advantages - I know, I used to be one. Today, I care far more about you, and about making sure we’re all out there having as much fun as possible.

I invite you to dig in to the specs of the OB1. Share the details with the most discerning bike nerd you know. Check out some of the great accolades we’ve earned from owners and from the bike press. Or better yet, if you’re anywhere near San Francisco, join me for a demo ride.

Part 4: Empower everyone to join us

Empowerment sits at the heart of our thesis. It’s why I started the company in the first place. We are dedicated to building an intentional organization that changes cycling for the better. And we want you to be part of it.

  • Radical inclusion. We're not interested in ego. It doesn’t matter what your colors or stripes are, how fast you are, or what kind of riding you do. If you’re a human being who rides bicycles, we share a common love and are part of the same tribe.

  • A collaborative ecosystem. We seek to build collaborative partnerships in which everyone can win. We treat our factory partners like family. We believe that mechanics and fitters are the unsung heroes of our industry. We want everyone to grow with us.

  • Ride to thrive. Our logo is based on the eudaemonia moth. In ancient Greece, philosophers considered eudaemonia -- or human flourishing -- the most worthy aspiration in life, and we’ve adopted it as our own emblem. Our dream is to get more people on bicycles and create a happier, healthier world.

Thank you for joining us on this ride. We can’t wait to show you what’s just over the horizon.

- Randall


See the OB1


Note: Updated in Feb 2019 to reflect latest product details


Meet the OB1

One bike, every road, no compromises. It's the dream bike we built for ourselves, and we're sharing it with you.

Meet the OB1