Competing against the big boys isn’t easy. Economies of scale, massive marketing budgets, and brand recognition can all conspire to keep the little guy down. But don’t tell that to Boyd Johnson, founder and president of Boyd Cycling. The Greenville, South Carolina-based high-end road wheel maker claims his offerings are on par with top shelf products from the likes of Mavic, ENVE, Reynolds, HED, Zipp and the rest. And in many cases Boyd Cycling wheels are less expensive. For example, a set of 44mm carbon clinchers run $1400, roughly $500 to a $1000 cheaper than some of the competition. Johnson claims this price disparity isn’t the result of inferior product, but instead is due in large part to a company structure that operates with less overhead or extraneous expenses.
“We don’t take out full page ads in the big cycling magazines,” explained the 35-year-old Johnson. “We mostly rely on word of mouth for our advertising. Keeping people happy is the most important thing for us. And because we are a smaller company, we have less overhead. When someone buys a wheelset from us, their cost is just what we need to support a few families. We’re not some big corporate entity.”
But price competitiveness alone doesn’t win loyal customers. Product performance, especially in the carbon wheel market, is critical to success. RoadBikeReview caught up with Johnson to hear the Boyd Cycling elevator pitch.
RoadBikeReview: How did you get into the wheel business?
Boyd Johnson: Well I’ve been riding and racing bikes most of my life. I started racing when I was 13, and ended up racing pro in the U.S. for about 10 years, mostly on the east coast. When you spend that long racing you get to ride a lot of different wheels, so I had a chance to see what worked and what didn’t. I was always thinking about what I could do different.
So around 2009, as my racing career was winding down, I decided to start a company. When we started out we were making a lot of different products, frames, wheels, accessories. At the same time I was learning the business end of things on the fly and pretty soon it became too much to handle myself. That’s when my wife Nicole left her job at Hincapie Sports to help. We also realized pretty quickly that we needed to become more focused, so in 2011 we narrowed the product offerings to just wheels, and changed our name from Boyd Bikes to Boyd Cycling.
RBR: How did that change the way you made wheels?
BJ: Up to that point we’d been using an open mold rim to make our wheels. The quality was good, but to do this the right way we knew we needed to have our own designs and contracts for materials, construction methods, layup, all those things. That way we could ensure total quality control. So in 2011, we went to Taiwan, met with a bunch of manufacturers, got everything set up, and started our own line of rims and hubs. We released our first models in January of 2013.
RBR: How big is the company today?
BJ: We’re still a really small operation. My wife does sales and marketing. I do design and engineering. And we just hired a operations manager for our facility in Greenville. Also depending on the time of year, we have 4-6 wheel builders on staff, plus a couple sales reps.
RBR: So what actually qualifies you to design wheels and what sets Boyd Cycling wheels apart from the competition?
BJ: Well, I’m basically a self taught engineer who’s always been good at math and has learned to apply it to cycling. Spending a ton of time riding and racing obviously helps, too. Like I said before, you learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. As for Boyd Cycling wheels, we know we cant just be competitive on price, and because we are a newer company we feel like we have to punch above our weight. That means designs that are just as or more aero than what other companys are selling, while at the same time being competitive on weight. You’ll also get a great customer service experience. Because we’re not selling thousands of wheelsets we have the time to pay attention to everyone.
RBR: Give us a basic rundown of your product line.
BJ: Right now we have three models of carbon clinchers (44mm, 60mm, 90mm), three composite tubulars (44mm, 60mm, 90mm), and three alloy wheelset options (two clincher, one tubular). All of them can be built up standard or with disc hubs. We also work with PowerTap, so you can do a power meter build as well. Build quality is another big part of our story. All of our wheels are hand built here in Greenville, so essentially we’re doing things just like a custom wheel builder would, taking time on each wheel with all the parts on hand. In house we have a tension meter and calibration machine. We’re putting about 90 minutes into building up each wheelset, and each wheel is stress relieved multiple times to make sure it won’t ping and pop on those first few rides. It’s also worth noting that we don’t sell our rims separate, except through custom wheel builders. That helps us stay on top of QC even more. We only sell full wheelsets, either consumer direct on our website or through a select number of dealers.
RBR: All your wheels are built around Boyd Cycling hubs. So what’s the elevator pitch there? What’s special about one of your hubs?
BJ: All our hubs come from a CNC factory in Taiwan, who builds them specifically for us using our own designs. We focus on hub flange spacing to make sure that the flanges are spaced out as far as possible. We also do that with bearing stance. That gives added stability and stiffness to the hub. We also use oversized pawls for better engagement. It’s similar to what Zipp does. There is also a nice pre-load system. By tightening the pre-load on the axle first, you are not going to put side load pressure on the bearings. Once the pre-load is in place, the end cap screws into the pre-load. A lot of other hubs will have a long end cap responsible for both tightening and locking, but that puts pressure on the bearings and they wear out a lot quicker.
RBR: Okay, time for a little free association. What’s your take on disc brakes for road bikes?
BJ: For pure road racing I think the change will be slow. You have to get the wheel change issues sorted out, and right now there are still so many variables. There need to be some established standards in place. But for regular riders, I think it makes lots of sense, though I think some people are downplaying the heat issue. I think on the road it’s possible we’ll see problems with hydraulic fluid boiling or even pad failure. For cyclocross, on the other hand, I think they are perfect. But coming down a big mountain descent, I’m still a fan of rim brakes where you have a much bigger rotor so to speak, because you have the whole wheel, not just a 160mm or 140mm rotor.
RBR: What about the braking issues associated with carbon wheels? It’s not exactly a perfect set-up either when you’re talking about rims heating up or riding in the wet.
BJ: Well, I think it was much more of an issue a few years ago than it is now. Around 2012, you started seeing a lot of companies putting money into higher temperature resins, which lessened the chance of heat-induced issues with the wheels themselves. Of course brake track technology is another huge issue. We sent our rims to a brake pad manufacturer and they made pads specifically for our rims. We’ve done lots of testing. For instance we did a test with our pads where after 7.5 minutes of continuous braking they still didn’t get too hot. That said, we still encourage proper braking technique. I look at it like driving a car down a mountain road. If you ride the brakes the whole way down you can overheat the brakes. So we try to educate our customers, four seconds on, four seconds off, and you wont have an issue.
RBR: How about the whole ‘wider is better’ phenomena we’re seeing in road rim design?
BJ: We do feel like it helps aerodynamics and improves tire shape, which helps with handling because your tire gets better traction. Right now our wheels are 23.5mm outer diameter, 16.3mm inner. And we have rims coming out in the spring that will be even wider.
RBR: Last question: If someone is in the market for a new wheelset, give us your wheel buying advice?
BJ: It really depends on what type of riding they are doing. What terrain? What speed? There’s no one wheelset that’s perfect for everyone or everything. That’s why we have multiple spoke count offerings. The tiny women who’s doing triathlon doesn’t need the same wheel build as the Clydesdale guy who’s racing criteriums. So start out by asking yourself what you want to do with the wheels, and then go from there.
More info at www.boydcycling.com