John Neugent has been in the bike industry forever. Maybe not literally, but longer than the vast majority of people currently working, and he has developed a really unique way of creating product and looking at what is happening. John started Neuvation wheels in 2002, and was the owner of the value-based wheelset company that had a loyal, yet small following. John shut the doors to Neuvation in early 2014, but is already back with a new approach to bringing high-value wheels to the cycling industry.
There are no minced words when John speaks about his company, or how the industry works. It is refreshing and honest, something he says is what creates his loyal followings. There are a lot of people out there who just want to ride a bike, and not sift through the clutter, and John speaks directly to them, both literally with his popular newsletter, and through the products he is bringing with his new company, Neugent Cycling.
We recently caught up to John to hear his thoughts on starting something new, and where he thinks the industry is doing things right or wrong…
BIKERUMOR: Often times, when building a brand, the high-end product is created first to create a brand image, and then its quite easy to filter down. You are going the opposite, which can be a challenge to get the higher-end product accepted. What sets your high end product apart enough to pull through this?
John Neugent: I am not looking for the super high end. I focus more on really good product that offers a good value. Currently, it’s my reputation that is selling wheels. I have about 25,000 sets out there and people like them. I do my best to tell it like it is and honesty is very attractive. So in that sense, I brand myself rather than my wheels and if I say these are a great deal people believe me.
I should be clear in saying that I do believe my wheels would be competitive at the highest levels. When I go to Asia my strategy is to keep my head out of the wind. Let the big guys teach the factories the hard stuff and I will just go and take their development for free.
I was the first to set up high end wheel building in Taiwan (2000 for Velomax – I went over with Brad Hunter – the Velomax owner and Rick Hjertberg – Wheelsmith – and we taught high end hand building. Schwinn was specing Velomax wheels on their bikes. Since then there are hundreds of good wheel builders there but it took us about a year to get it right the first time. So everyone takes advantage of everyone else – it’s normal.
BIKERUMOR: You said that you wont even be making budget-priced items anymore. Why the complete switch?
John Neugent: There is little profit in the lower price points. No other reason.
BIKERUMOR: Your prices are still really good, for a high-end wheel. Is this attainability something you plan to carry through to the new product?
John Neugent: You were a product manager, so you know what things cost. A $50 retail stem often costs $6-7 – the rest is mostly overhead of one sort or another. I do my best to keep my overhead low and give the savings to the consumer. I still make a good profit. I am never going to have a $2000 set of carbon wheels. I don’t need to and honestly almost no one needs to pay that much for a really great set of wheels. I may do some wheels with straight pull spokes – which cost more and that will knock prices up about $100. I also have some new rims coming that are 31 mm deep and 24 mm wide and still weigh in the 470g range. That will make a sweet set of wheels. They are due in around the end of the year.
BIKERUMOR: I don’t see any trademarked acronyms or proprietary technologies on your website. Whats up with that?
John Neugent: I don’t have a decal for Neugent Cycling yet – I do, but I haven’t put it on the wheels yet. Outside of that I really try to avoid trademarking things because, for the most part, it’s marketing hype. It does sell product and people believe it, but my message throughout the years has always been anti-hype. I have been heavily involved with both marketing and product development and management since 1982 when I became, I believe, the first product manager in the industry (or the first that had that title that I am aware of). Things I did to sell product were frequently sales pitches of one sort or another. I am tired of that.
BIKERUMOR: What are your thoughts on the “wide rim revolution” that everyone is talking about?
John Neugent: It’s the best thing that has happened to road wheels in a long time. It really works. I first heard about it because Bob Stapleton is a local here and when he was selling off all of the old HighRoads Team bikes, he sent people to me for wheels and told them to get them made with HED Belgium rims – which are 23 mm. He said the team won’t ride anything else. Everyone I sell wide rims to loves them. There is no down side and they go a long way to improve performance.
BIKERUMOR: Is there any mountain product on your horizon?
John Neugent: I tried it once and failed so not at this point.
BIKERUMOR: Are you working with any athletes or teams to get the word out?
John Neugent: Just my long time wheel tester – John Kodin (11K miles a year for the last 30 years or so and age group state road and TT champion over the last few years). But he’s just for wheel and bike testing. I do offer team discounts and have a few teams that take advantage of them – that will continue. It’s my opinion that if you really want to sponsor teams you need to do it at the highest level and I don’t have the budget for that. Scott Montgomery, when he was at Cannondale, told me either go to the top pros or don’t do it at all and I believe he’s right.
BIKERUMOR: The bike industry is pretty small, and a lot of different branded parts are made in the same factories. Some companies even tout their product is made at the same place as some larger, more well known product. The larger companies will say that design and technology is everything. What do you think here, can getting something out of the same factory yield similar results?
John Neugent: Absolutely. That’s the problem with bringing production to Asia. You can protect patents but you have to give up many trade secrets if you want something done right and when you do, you open up the door to any other customer. That is why when I go I like to visit their factories and see who they are working with. It’s relatively inexpensive and I still love going.
BIKERUMOR: There is a lot of changes in road bikes, with disc brakes, wider tires, it seems it is starting to segment up into smaller niches like mountain biking did 15 years ago. What do you see in your crystal ball for the next 10 years?
John Neugent: Road bikes are becoming skinny tire mountain bikes. I love it. More comfort and more stability, possibly better performance (depending upon how big the tire). I believe that will continue to evolve, but outside of that I see no new magic material coming that is going to dethrone carbon. The modern generation of carbon (unlike the carbon of 15 years ago) is astounding. Electric will continue to evolve. I also believe electric bikes could be one of the real growth areas for the sport. I worked with Lee Iacocca on his e-bike project for a year and for the “sport side” of it I imagine a pedal assist bike that could do 20mph on it’s own but with a stronger rider, up to 50mph. Somewhat like a motorcycle race but with endurance being a key factor. It’s a dream right now but you never know.