How we built a high-end carbon dream bike for $2999

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 sponsored by Wheelworks and Specialized Bicycles. Having started his career in bike shops, Randall went on to architect supply chains in Asia and develop product and market strategies for Specialized. He also co-developed the OpenBike bicycle technology platform and is a trusted advisor to a number of leading innovators and organizations in the 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 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.

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

  • An bicycle that’s a blast to ride on every kind of road;
  • Every last component, right down to the bearings and bolts, selected for performance, durability, and serviceability; and
  • Skipping all the middlemen and 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.

Step 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.

Here's what happens with your traditional bike brand:

  1. Factories produce bicycle components and sell them to the component brands.

  2. Component brands sell to assemblers.

  3. Assemblers mass-assemble these components into standardized bikes, then ship them to bike brands.

  4. Bike brands spend a ton on marketing and on having barely differentiated models for every niche and price-point. These bikes also wait around in warehouses, adding cost as they sit there.

  5. Bike shops purchase bikes from the bike brands, often taking apart the pre-assembled bikes and rebuilding them from scratch to get it done right.
    (And the shop seldom makes a profit despite the markup.) Industry secret: many big brands force-feed their products into shops while saddling them with debt and pressuring them to stop carrying competing brands. Despite a standard markup on bikes of around 35%, "most bike shops do not make a profit on the sale of new bicycles" (Bicycle Retailer). It’s a raw deal for these small business owners, who earn most of their money on service and accessories.

  6. You walk into a bike shop and purchase a pretty expensive bike.
    (And you likely have other costs too.) You may need to swap out the stem, handlebar, crank, cassette, tires, or other components to make a standardized bicycle fit your body and terrain. And because aftermarket components are heavily marked-up, you end up spending hundreds more just to make your bike fit.

In summary: not a winning situation for cyclists.


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 customize a bike for your body and ride with us at half the price of traditional retail. With the OB1, that means a $6000+ dream bike for just $2999.

  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. Your unassembled bicycle (wheels come pre-assembled) arrives on your doorstep. You bring your bicycle to your local mechanic and invest the savings in a professional fit and frame-up assembly (typically $195-$295 with a basic fit).

But it doesn't stop there.

Step 2: Obsessive research and curating every detail

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.


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.
  • Enable you to invest in a proper build and fit. Factory-assembled bikes are often poorly put together and rarely fit right out the box. Investing in a frame-up build and fit by a local professional results in a more comfortable, better performing, and longer lasting bicycle. That’s why we ship the OB1 to you 90% unassembled and pass on the savings. And here’s the thing: once all build and fit costs are factored in, you actually end up spending less for a bicycle built right for you.

I built the OB1 with a lot of nerding and a lot of love. This is why I'm proud to stand behind every material, manufacturing process, bearing, seal, and spec. If you want to learn more, check out the OB1 product page.

Step 3: Unveil the one bike for every road

I created the OB1 to be a lightweight road bike that shreds gravel and loves to travel. 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 only 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.

So why aren’t there more bikes like the OB1? Here's a tightly-held secret: the industry wants to sell you more bikes and for you to replace them more often. They artificially constrain their bicycles and play up the differences to convince you to buy more.

I invite you to dig in to the specs of the OB1. It’s a lightweight road bike, it shreds gravel like a stolen rally car, and it has mounting points for all your gear. It’s also built to last. If you don’t believe me, share the specs with the most discerning bike nerd you know.

Are there better performing bicycles out there? Of course, but
you'd have to spend twice as much for only marginal returns, and it would only be able to do one type of riding. If you’re a professional racer with sponsors who give you a $10K bike for each discipline and a mechanic to keep them tuned up, that's awesome. But everyone else serious about cycling is going to love the OB1.

If you’re still not sold, join me for one of our demo rides this summer.

Step 4: Empowering our stakeholders to thrive

THESIS Founders Alice S. Liu and Randall R. Jacobs


Empowerment sits at the heart of our thesis.
It’s why my cofounder Alice and I started the company in the first place. We are dedicated to building an intentional organization that changes our industry 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

 

 

 

Introducing 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

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published