By Chris Meehan | Mar 24, 2020
Bicycles and components
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Bicycles and components
"We wanted to make high-end bikes," says Miller. "We wanted to make the best of the best."
Already the company's two mountain bike models have been heralded by biking media. Enduro Mountainbike Magazine, Pinkbike, Bike Mag, and other publications have heralded the company's Rail, a 27.5" wheel, big travel suspension bike, and Rascal, a 29" wheel, full suspension bike.
Both bikes use the Canfield Balance Formula (CBF) suspension system, making them ideal for most trail use, the bigger suspension travel on the Rail makes it suitable for more downhill pursuits.
Miller explains why the company chose to license the technology. "It's the best system, the best, absolute best," he touts. He says when he wanted to develop a full-suspension bike company he tested multiple rear-suspension systems. "This is just hands down the best one. I knew it pedaling a hundred yards in a parking lot. . . . The main thing is, it's consistent at 100 percent of the suspension travel, even when you're going over bumps and rocks."
Other than Canfield Bikes, owned by Lance Canfield, CBF developer Chris Canfield's brother, Revel Bikes is the only company that currently has the license for the technology. While Canfield is making aluminum bikes and frames, primarily for downhill biking, Revel is making carbon fiber frames and is focused now on more all-trail type bikes.
Revel also introduced a new technology to the biking industry this spring -- fully recyclable carbon fiber wheels. "Instead of using epoxy to impregnate that material as the curing agent . . . we're using a nylon polymer," explains Miller. "The nylon is what makes it recyclable."
The new method has other benefits. "It makes for a super fast manufacturing process," Miller notes. "It takes about 20 seconds to cure the material compared to about 45 minutes for traditional epoxy-impregnated carbon fiber."
Traditional carbon-fiber wheels are strong, says Miller, but the epoxy makes them brittle. "The nylon is also flexible, so that's what helps make it so strong," he explains. "Instead of getting impacted and then kind of exploding or cracking because it's brittle, it just sort of deforms a little bit but holds its form." He claims Revel's rims are 15 to 100 percent more impact resistant than competitors and they're up to 100 grams lighter than competitors' rims as well.
The new rims are made by CSS Composites in Utah. The combination of new technology and processing methods means the process is initially more costly, so Miller elected to use it in a product that's difficult to make and to put to the test.
"The rims were really step one," says Miller. "And the cool thing is that it's a product that's made in America. It's completely recyclable. It's stronger, it's lighter, and, in the future, it will be cheaper as we grow. My goal is to kind of keep expanding on what we learned and to hopefully make most likely other small parts first, like stems or chain guides on the bike."
Ultimately, he says he could see bigger applications for the technology, including building frames. "It's just expensive and it's going to take some time to experiment. But I do think it's the future of all composite material, not just the bike world, but everywhere."
Miller says the technology is highly automated, which adds to the up-front costs. "Once all the machinery is in place and the molds are in place, because it's so automated, the cost can come down," he notes. "So with that model, manufacturing in America is actually going to be cheaper than manufacturing Asia. It doesn't require a lot of hand labor. It does require highly skilled engineers to set up the equipment." Revel currently manufactures frames in China and Vietnam.
It's not Miller's first spin in the industry. He founded Borealis Fat Bikes in Colorado Springs and sold it in 2015. In 2016 he was grinding gears at the helm of new companies. "I have another company, Why Cycles, that does titanium bikes." Both Why Cycles and Revel were founded at the same time in Utah, and Miller has since moved back to Colorado with Revel.
Why is a titanium, hardtail bike maker while Revel is focused on carbon-fiber, full-suspension bikes. "If you get into full-suspension, there's a lot more that goes on there and there's kind of no questions asked that carbon fiber is going to be the best product out there," Miller explains. "It's definitely not the cheapest, but we weren't going for the best-priced product. We were going in for the highest performance."
While Why Cycles introduced its first bikes within a year, Revel had a longer development timeline. "Revel took three and a half years of development to launch that brand," Miller states. "With carbon fiber and full suspension there's a whole lot more prototyping and development that goes into that."
Looking ahead, Revel will expand its offerings of mountain bikes. "Our goal with Revel is to make high-end full suspension, carbon mountain bikes," Miller says. "The other bikes that we're working on developing are just going to build on our current offerings, but still be kind of within that realm."
Beyond great reviews from the media, Miller credits a strong dealer network for the company's quick growth. "I thought it'd be mainly a direct-to-consumer company with some retail partners as it turns out, I think we're actually really bad at selling our own bikes," he quips.
"I've been very surprised how awesome our regional partners are," Miller says. "We have about 35 brick-and-mortar dealers right now and then we have three exclusive online retail partners. Between all those, they do about 90 percent our overall bike sales." He reasons that with the sale of a $2,700 bike frame or bike that costs $5,000 or more, it's understandable that customers want to test it out in person before buying it online.
Challenges: "Being able to pay employees and pay for health care and whatnot is our number one challenge," Miller says. "The other challenge is kind of keeping up with demand. Right now we don't really even have a sales department."
Opportunities: "Our goal is to expand from all levels of mountain bikes, from cross-country to downhill, so our next few products will help us with that, but I see a lot of opportunity to branch out with this," Miller explains.
Needs: "Our biggest issue is just cash flow," says Miller. "It's such a tough inventory business. To keep hundreds of bikes and all their parts on the shelves means cash flow is a constant hurdle."