We discussed how he and his partners built a concept store and restaurant in the former stables of the De Koninck brewery, how they turned a 200 year old building into a modern bike shop.
Velodome was the exclusive Rapha dealer for the entire Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg. We look at the new brands they found and promote since Rapha decided to end their presence in retail stores.
Another interesting subject was the enormous rise of e-bikes in Europe, how they took over the majority of bike sales in a shop that was mostly aimed at road and mountain bikes. We look at how the EU supports people with tax benefits to get them out of their cars and onto e-bikes, but at the same time is struggling with regulating these hyper fast bikes on public roads.
Thanks to all partners: Philippe, Stijn and Maarten for their time in producing this video and for bringing better bikes to the people. See the interview on the Kogel Bearings Youtube channel
With the days shortening and Kickr season right around the corner, I thought this is a good time to share some of the best cycling documentaries and tv-shows I have seen recently. Nothing helps kill time like staring at the screen when the indoor trainer is testing your mental stamina.
Being a lover of most things on two wheels, I hope I managed to find a good mix of all cycling disciplines. I have posted links to Youtube where I could find them. Others are available on Netflix.
Here’s a cycling block buster, but consider it for a second viewing if you have seen it. Where everybody knew the basics of the Armstrong story after the collapse of his empire in 2012 and early 2013, this movie shows how much force he used to silence his opponents. What ‘winning at all costs’ really means. As much as it established my opinion about Armstrong being the best of the cheaters and therefore his achievements are still somehow respectable, it mostly left me with a sour feeling seeing the lengths LA would go to to protect the fame and fortune he built for himself. The most interesting parts might be the interviews with Dr. Ferrari, a man who is known to not speak much in public.
Clean Spirit (available on Netflix)
After the doping riddled history of cycling, Clean Spirit shows a new generation of cyclists. It follows the Argos Shimano team (currently Team Giant Alpecin) participating in the 2013 Tour de France. It documents the rise of new sprinting super star Marcel Kittel, who beat Cavendish and Greipel multiple times and we see a young Tom Dumoulin and John Degenkolb as parts of Kittel’s sprint train.
The most impressive part for me was the famous takedown of Tom Veleers by Mark Cavendish in full sprint. The aftershock of Cavendish apologizing via Twitter, but not willing to meet Tom face to face is shown in great detail.
One of the OG freeride mountain bike movies on a larger budget. This movie predates the wide acceptance of action cameras, so the directors got very creative. Cameramen hanging from zip lines, setting up rails in the forest. It’s all amazing. Watch this trailer first to get an idea of the behind the scenes work involved in making one of the best freeride films in history: https://youtu.be/bjuAUTarbdA
Here’s a look into the heart of Flanders. It’s known fact that Belgium has cycling flowing through its veins. The 9 episode series was shown on national television, telling stories about the lives of several families on the day of the 2010 Tour of Flanders. It’s dark humor, mixed with touching stories and amazing cycling footage. The directors had access to place cameras in several team cars and got the Sporza presenters to act in the show. Everything just flows perfectly between the race footage and the fictional story. The first episode is a bit slow and many characters are introduced, but as soon as the race kicks off it’s al gogogo. Subtitles are available on youtube.
Disclaimer: European TV is very liberal. Even though this show was broadcasted on national tv at 8pm, please don’t come knocking on the Kogel Bearings HQ door if you’re offended by images that would have to be shown on HBO in the US
Part of a reality show called Superfans, Frans is not a fan of Eddy Merckx, he thinks he IS Eddy Merckx. The two clips kick off with Frans mixing raw egg and Flemish sour beer for breakfast, just like Eddy. Frans shows his Eddy Merckx replica bikes and jerseys and how he rides the indoor trainer like Eddy. The second clip shows Lookalike Eddy gluing a tubular in 30 seconds, racing his orange bike across the cobbles just like… well you get the idea. Unfortunately, no subtitles on these clips, so you will have to sit through the parts of the wife frustratedly saying ‘I married Frans, not Eddy’, but it’s a good watch.
The same Superfans series followed fans of Sven Nys and how they dedicate their lives to chasing their hero to the races and on training loops. I’m sure you can find it with a Google search.
Ride the Divide (available on amazon prime for a few bucks)
The longest mountain bike race in the world stretches 2700 miles from Canada to Mexico, following the Rocky Mountains. The race is non-stop, so whoever sleeps is losing time. Brutal! The race footage is good (don’t expect any Nino Schurter speed climbing or artificial rock gardens), but the scenery is the real winner here.
I hope this is enough footage to pull you off Zwift Island or the Sufferfest videos when its time to cruise through a snow storm.
Interbike brings a lot of excitement for many, which was shockingly obvious looking at the amount of people hanging out at Mandalay bay an hour before opening. It’s like waking up on Christmas morning, but for bike geeks.
Walking the isles, meeting like minded people and looking at all the bling makes me feel like a kid at the Oakley store. Only 5 big halls worth of that. So without further ado, here are some of the gems we found in random order.
Abbey bike tools bearing press.
It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of the available bearing press tools on the market. It was only a matter of time before Abbey Bike Tools stepped up and redid it from the ground up. An integrated bearing to avoid rotational forces while pressing, a removable, magnetic lock nut (patent pending). I like what I see. A lot!
This press was in prototype stage, but I’m sure Jason Quade will redefine this tool the way he did with his previous releases. I’m hoping for a wide range of bearing drifts to fit all wheels, bottom brackets and head sets.
Two versions will be available, a shop version and a light weight edition for traveling race mechanics.
Alto Velo is a new company that redesigned their hubs to have a solid axle from side to side for maximum stiffness. They added high flanges on the drive side to balance out the spoke tension. This in the end leads to a low friction, high stiffness wheel build. It is the smarter-not-harder approach that really spoke to me.
They do all their machining in Florida in order to control the super tight tolerances that make these hubs great.
Bobby Sweeting is the CEO of this new start-up. Keep an eye on him and his team. Their products might be showing up in the media and your local bike shop soon.
Zoca is a custom clothing company out of San Diego. The cool thing is that their production is all done in house. USA manufacturing with Italian fabrics. The best of both worlds!
The most impressive piece in their booth was this speed suit. I have no info about wind tunnel numbers, but it was super impressive because the entire suit is cut out of one piece of continuous fabric. There are seams all over that just seem to start and end in the middle of panels.
According to sales and marketing director Jason Schutz, this piece has been in development for over a year. He referred to it as ‘a big origami project’.
Boo have been around for a while, but seeing the bikes in person made me realize how much eye for detail is in these frames. The carbon and bamboo sections flow so well into eachother, it is just amazing. Nice detail is how they used two bottom cups in the head set to keep a straight 1,5 head tube and space everything out correctly.
In this feature I will address bicycle maintenance, especially cleaning and how to avoid damaging your bearings while doing this. Riding for decades in Belgium and The Netherlands and now living in the Southwest US desert, I understand that the level of cleaning is not only depending on the type of riding your bike is exposed to, but also depending on your geographical location. A CX bike in Tucson, AZ probably lives an easier life than a road bike in Oudenaarde, Belgium.
How much cleaning does your bike need?
As I brought up in previous posts, bicycle maintenance is very much about being honest with yourself. Think what your prized possession has been exposed to and choose a matching level TLC. If you are a roadie in Southern California, chances are good that your bike can do with a wipe down every week or two weeks and a drive train cleaning every now and then. If you live in a wet climate and your Sunday rides will happen rain or shine, you will probably need a bucket with some brushes, a large sponge and soapy water to restore the showroom shine. Mountain bikes live a harder life and might need some garden hose treatment after a muddy ride. I know cyclocross mechanics that drive straight from the race course to the car wash to get all the muck off bike and kit.
While we never recommend power washing bicycles, in CX there simply are no options. Since the bikes get several treatments during the race already, the one after the race probably cannot do a lot more damage. The result is simple: drive home from the carwash and take the bike apart in order to remove any stagnant water from the frame, hubs and headset.
Do the minimum, but make sure it is sufficient
Once you have determined the contamination level, it is time to determine the minimum cleaning level you can get away with. It is no secret that moving parts on bicycles are no fan of water. If you can avoid using it: good. One of my favorite cleaning products for years has been Pedros Bike Lust. It is a liquid that comes in a spray bottle, perfect for taking dust off a bike, and leaves a shiny residue on your parts that actually repels dirt. It’s a weird slippery goop, so keep it off brake surfaces of rims, disks and brake pads. The goal with this minimal cleaning approach is not to cut corners, the goal is to get the bike back to showroom condition with the least amount of work.
What if you have to use water for bike cleaning?
Again, the minimal cleaning rule applies: a bucket with soapy water is better than the garden hose and the carwash should be avoided when possible. Remember that the deeper you let the water penetrate, the more time you will be spending cleaning and drying the internals of your two wheel wonder.
How to protect ball bearings during cleaning?
Trying to keep water off your bearings is the first step. Avoid spraying water directly into the headset, bottom bracket and suspension pivots is next. There are some steps you can take if you know your next cross race is going to be sloppy. Pack the outside of your bearings with a water resistant grease. When I was a mechanic in Belgium, I would take the fork out of the every bike during service and literally cover the lower headset bearing in a marine grade grease. It was a given that my customers at one point or another would be riding in heavy rain. The same can be done with bottom bracket and suspension bearings. Simply take off the covers, apply a layer of grease on the outside of the seals and put the covers back where they came from. Typically this adds a bit of friction, but nothing close to the friction caused by rusty races.
The last step is to always think about stagnant water in a bike. Taking out your crank and cleaning the inside of your bottom bracket shell is a good one, but think of the water that can get trapped inside suspension pivot points, inside brake levers and derailleur pivots. This is where compressed air is your friend. If you are the lucky owner of an air compressor, get a gun with a long nozzleand blow every nook and cranny dry. As with pressurized water, I am always afraid that compressed air will actually force water underneath the bearing seals, but I have never been able to prove this. Keep a bit of distance when aiming directly at your rotating parts.
Most cyclists care more about their bikes than many other things in life. There is a good chance you dropped serious cash when you rescued yours from the shop. It deserves the best care you can give it. Remember minimal but sufficient cleaning and prevention when you know things are going to be bad. Washing your bikes frequently will help you build up a procedure to do it thoroughly and quick. The above video of team Tinkoff Saxo shows incredible amounts of muscle memory and hand-eye coordination. Something that can only be achieved after years of repeating the same exercise over and over.
Sponsorship is a sensitive subject at Kogel Bearings. We get questions about it almost as much as we get questions about how to install a bottom bracket. And I understand it. Cycling is an expensive sport for most people, although that is relative if your other hobby is racing Aston Martins on the weekend. Add race registrations and travel expenses to your bike purchase and you’re looking at a pretty penny.
I also understand that everybody loves free stuff, as you can witness if you ever visit the Tour de France caravan. People ending up in fist fights over beer coolers with the name of an insurance company printed on it or even better: used water bottles thrown out by pro riders. The big problem for Kogel Bearings is that by giving you our products in exchange for only your race results, it becomes just like the used water bottle: free stuff. The shine wears off within minutes of scoring what looked like a precious gem at one point.
Will Kogel Bearings sponsor our team? We will put your logo on our jersey.
So, you have a team and some are landing podium spots. Awesome! At any time we will be happy to give you a team deal if it does not conflict with the below points or one of our local dealers. Here’s the catch though: The entire team proudly wearing the Kogel Bearings logo on their jerseys but Chris King and Shimano bottom brackets in their bikes makes us look silly. Before you ask that question, have a team meeting and see if every single rider is willing to make a discounted purchase.
How do you represent our business?
Here’s an obvious one: if you ride around with our logo on your jersey, you all of a sudden become the face of our business. If you race like a douche or tell the slowest person on the training ride to hurry up because you need to be home in time to watch Bar Rescue, this person is probably not going to become a Kogel Bearings fan. Be nice to people, even when you don’t want to. After your worst racing day ever, we still expect you to go to the podium ceremony and applaud the winners.
While you’re at it, make sure your social media makes us want to be you. Athletes posting pictures sunsets and post ride espressos are more likely to get our support than athletes having strong opinions on controversial political topics.
When you approach a business and ask to receive their products for free, always keep in mind the number one goal of any business, which is to show a profit at the end of the year. By sending you a free bottom bracket or set of wheel bearings, you have just put a $200 negative transaction in our account books. Always keep in mind what you do to replace that money and a bit more. That makes the transaction valuable to your sponsor. This could come in the form of promoting the brand to your friends and fans in such a way that they want to buy, it could be in getting a review written on your personal blog or better yet in a magazine. By doing that, you have just saved the company some advertising dollars or generated a sale for them. Imagine if you would talk to your local bike shop and turn them into a devoted Kogel Bearings dealer. You’re guaranteed a spot on our team for a good while.
Be an ambassador for the brands that support you
So now that you have decided to be nice, sponsor logo correct and understand the business side of your deal, try to have fun with it! This womens team recently came on my radar. At the time of writing, Fearless Femme p/b Haute Wheels Racing still have to start their first race and I already consider myself a fan. A team of badass girls in well-coordinated kits, riding expensive custom frames and with Lexus team cars. On top of that they will kick most people’s rear end on a thirty minute climb or in a sprint finish. What struck me most is that every single post on their Facebook is about having fun and shows that they think outside the box. We would be honored to have them promoting our brand next year. In fact, Amy Cutler is already part of the Kogel family for some time.
But, I asked if you will sponsor ME?
That’s entirely up to you. Although road and mountain bike racing season is in full swing, cross season is coming up. Reach out at any time with a well thought out proposal andKogel Bearingswill be all ears.
This week, our blog will feature an interview with Sem Gallegos. Sem has been a big promoter of Kogel Bearings ever since I first set foot in his work shop at Crazy Cat Cyclery in El Paso, TX.
Since then Sem has been helping us with product development and recently joined as a team member to support our growing brand.
Tell us about yourself, where are you from?
I was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and still happy to call this little big city my home. Although I ventured out of town for college and other personal and business ventures, I could not wait to come back home and explore our beautiful mountains, on and off the bike. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt in December is one of my favorite pastimes (Sorry, rest of the country haha). But I also enjoy skiing and snowshoeing, so I am glad I am only a couple of hours away from the alpine forest that I call my second home: Ruidoso, NM.
Besides the passion I have for cycling, I enjoy listening to music, the occasional trail run to keep the ankles nice and strong and my personal delicacy of various cheeses…yes I love cheese.
How did you get into cycling and racing?
If it weren’t for my older siblings whom discovered the sport, I probably wouldn’t have crossed paths with cycling. I started as a weekend warrior, where I thought riding 4 miles was epic. Then quickly became more interested in the racing and training aspect. Now I can say that I have participated in every discipline of cycling: from the full-face helmet and 40lb bicycle of downhill racing to the skinny tires and paperweight bike of road racing. I did my time as a young rebel on the BMX bike, only to soon find myself in a tight skin suit in 20-degree weather with mud flinging off my cyclocross bike. Soon I realized that my passion in cycling was and will always be in mountain biking. Whether it is a short lung busting cross-country race or a long mind boggling endurance test on sweet sexy singletrack that makes me smile. Every time I feel like a grade school kid when discovering the freedom and fun to be had on two wheels.
Can you share some crazy moments from your races?
Crazy moments? Hmmmm…. I believe riding a bicycle on trails that are obviously not meant to be ridden on a bike is crazy enough.
Bend, Oregon, host to 2011 Marathon Nationals was the setting for a good race experience, with a major fail! Ten minutes into this long day in the saddle I found myself in a spot of trouble, I was redlined! The primary reason for this oxygen depletion to my brain was Peter Stetina. Fresh off the Giro d’Italia, he appeared to be making my destruction his first task. Ka-Boom! Only 20 minutes into this 4-hour affair, I had blown up and recovery had become my new goal…. Hours later I crossed the finish line still waiting for that to happen. Ouch!
How did you get started as a bike mechanic?
I was simply thrown to the wolves. At the ripe age of 17, I began my journey as a bicycle mechanic. I did not know what to expect and didn’t know what was expected of me. I was always intrigued with my father and his passion for breaking and fixing vehicles. Although a car mechanic and bicycle mechanic are completely different, working with my hands and solving problems is something that quickly became second nature to me. Since then I have moved up the many ranks of a bicycle technician (giggles). I am still pleased to be getting my hands dirty and help customers tune their ride.
Which are the best bike hacks or McGyver projects you worked on?
I work in an industry were bike hacks are almost mandatory. Guess I don’t think of it as out of the ordinary when you have to conduct a b-hack as the last resort.
Some bike hacks are there, just to get home or make things work. Like using a power bar wrapper to fix a torn tire, or using duct tape and a stick to support a broken frame after a crash. Others, I am proud to have helped accommodate the rider to his ride. The ultimate hack for me was setting up all the control levers of a Di2 setup on the left side using a correct brake/shift lever and climbing shifter on the same side for a passionate amputee. Along with that, we recreated the brake line with a splitter to allow the use of one lever to control both brakes, of course with independent modulation for each brake.
How did you get involved with Kogel Bearings?
Ard, the founder of Kogel Bearings, came through the shop door and asked if I wanted to aid my customers in improving their experience. And I said hell yes! I have always believed in high quality upgrades to improve the customer experience and why not put confidence in them where it is necessary? With all the new and different bottom bracket standards in the industry and its run of bad luck, I was running out of options as to solving those problems. But here was my answer. Good-bye creaking frame! And the quality of the bearing itself compliments the cups to the fullest. It’s a ceramic revolution and I knew I wanted to be involved further with the development of this product.
How are you involved in Kogel’s product development process?
I am lucky to still be a full time service manager at a shop. This provides me the opportunity to test the cups and bearings on all of the industries bottom brackets. At Crazy Cat we are a dealer of all major brands on the market. On a daily basis I make sure that the tolerances are exact and the quality of the bearing is up to our standards. I make sure that the installation procedure is easy enough for the consumer to install, although I always recommend a certified technician to install them with the proper tools. I am basically in charge of finishing the samples in such a way that it causes the least amount of headaches to the user.
Which other tasks do you have at Kogel Bearings?
Besides helping with product testing, I handle sales in Arizona, New Mexico and South Texas. I am also pleased to be available for any customer service question you might have. This includes technical questions and/or product availability. Along with this, you may be at the receiving end of my super fast shipping and handling.
What are your future plans, any dreams, professionally or in your personal life?
My goal and dream when I first began my career in cycling was to reach the professional level in mountain bike racing, and I was fortunate enough through lots of hard work and dedication to attain that goal. Although I am currently semi-retired in racing, my current focus will be to continue racing occasionally with an emphasis on being an ambassador to the brands I represent. There is always a chance that I might reinstate myself to the life of competitive racing and set new goals for myself. I will continue as service manger for Crazy Cat Cyclery, vice president of the Borderland Mountain Bike Association, and working for Kogel Bearings.
With the integration of these three, busy but very exciting times are to be had. I will continue to spread the word and craving for this amusing lifestyle, one tune up, bearing upgrade and group ride at a time!
As far as my personal life is concerned, I will continue to shred snow and single track lines in winter and repel off sketchy lines in the summer. And who knows, I might just move closer to the equator in the future.
Coffee or beer?
Not a fair question…but I choose coffbeer.
Any funny jokes about balls?
What is the difference between a snow man and a snow woman?
Snowballs…. Hahahaha, that’s pretty fun, right??
Sem is mostly working behind the scenes, but he will be traveling to stores in the Southwest, Texas and he will visit events with us. He also might pick up the phone when you try to reach Kogel Bearings. Don’t be a stranger! Hit him with a technical challenge, he gets a kick out of that.
We’re excited to have you as part of our Ball Bearing Adventures Sem, Welcome to the team!
I am a firm believer of everyone being the king or queen of their own Facebook page. I choose to keep my private and the Kogel business pages on social media upbeat, positive and supportive at all times. But boy, do I have a hard time today. I came home from the Cyclocross National Championships in Austin, TX, ten hours earlier than planned. I am left questioning how this fantastic event spun out of control in a matter of minutes.
Hashtag CXNATS was going to be a teambuilding trip for Kogel Bearings. Mind you, we are a team of two in the US, so we could have called it ‘two dudes in a minivan’ as well. During the 9 hour drive across Texas we were looking at pictures of Tim Allen ripping his Kogel bearings to a podium finish in the single speed category. Sem and I knew this was going to be a good ‘business trip’, on par with the Louisville, KY worlds of 2013.
Friday morning we hit the course and it was full of life: riders training, expo booths open, people having a good time. Not bad for 8am. The rest of the Friday was spent visiting shops and going to the movie premiere of For the Love of Mud, a ninety minute documentary about the history and current state of Cyclocross. Spirits were high!
On Saturday we watched the girls’ collegiate race. The course had gone from ‘people trying to ride it’, to ‘people trying to walk it’ overnight and these youngsters were attacking it like true soldiers. Another spectator came up and mentioned that we were almost more fun to watch than the girls racing, enough said.
Sunday morning started with watching the Belgian Championship. This race was hit with four days of consistent rain before the event. The puddles were well past ankle deep and we saw images of bulldozers scraping the mud off the course because the show needs to go on. Sem and I were racing to layer up our clothes and head to the park until we saw a tweet about the event being delayed, then cancelled, then being rescheduled due to rain, mud and erosion of the ground. What the heck?? CX Nationals cancelled due to that what makes it so much fun??
I am trying to wrap my head around why this event went belly up so fast. Clearly the mud in Belgium did not stop anyone from riding, the Louisville worlds course was about to be flooded in 2013, but somehow the city worked it out to create one of the most memorable events in my personal cycling history. The city of Louisville clearly had a different approach to cycling as does the city of Austin. Many feel that Austin was happy to take the economic impact of thousands of cyclists coming to town and spending their money, but not so happy to take the physical impact of bike racing in a public park. People are feeling robbed. According to Twitter, it took a phone call from Austin’s most famous cyclist to reschedule the event instead of canceling it all together.
Just off the phone with @ausrincityparks head Sara Hensley. Both the city and @usacycling working towards a solution for #CXNats2015
My heart goes out to the racers and their fans, who spent hours training and thousands of dollars to get to this event, only to not race their biggest race of the year. Sure the event is rescheduled, but even riders at the elite level of this sport have day jobs to support themselves. Katie Compton had to spend a bunch of money to rearrange flights, rental cars and hotels, which is bad. But my toes curl when I read that Jess Cutler, one of the most badass women in US pro cycling, needs to miss the delayed event because her day job is calling. Marian University is returning home without letting their U23 and elite riders compete, since the kids have classes and exams to go to. I really wonder if the decision makers at Parks and Recreation understand the impact of their actions. Why can a small town in Belgium and Louisville, KY make the best out of a challenging situation and Austin fails on all levels. Those events will be talked about for years. In a good way.
To add insult to injury, news is starting to come in about bikes being stolen from teams overnight. Mosaic lost one, the Pony Shop team had to hand over another five to Austin’s criminals. I sincerely hope that Austin Police will work as hard to catch the thieves as they did to keep riders off the course on Sunday.
Glad we had 5 bikes stolen sat night and not Fri night before we raced.
What remains is a sour after taste and the cycling community picking up the pieces of this explosion. For me, I will be ringing my cow bell in front of the live feed to support the riders that did manage to stay overnight and race the race they worked so hard for. We took a few steps back during amateur hour, let’s hope that everybody involved is taking a good look at their work and tries to cover all the potholes on our way to success. We have another chance to show the world that US cycling is not to be messed with. Let’s make the 2015 Richmond Road Racing Worlds an event that is on everybody’s mind for the years to come!
Chandler is currently putting our bottom brackets through a hard endurance test in Chicago’s Chicross Cup. Three elite riders are pushing Kogel bottom brackets to the limit to see how they hold up to the Illinois mud, snow and sleet. Keep an eye on Wookie Approved to read the results after CX nationals in January.
Originally posted on Wookie Approved Nov 28, 2014:
The cyclocross season is long and arduous. You need your equipment to last the test of time and to be able to perform at its optimal capacity, all while being pushed to the limits every weekend.
A couple months ago I started a season long endurance test of 3 Kogel Bearings Bottom Brackets. So far the expectations have been met wonderfully. The BB’s are performing like the day they were installed, even after being put thru almost every element the cyclocross gods can throw at them, and the Illinois State Champs are still ahead, not to mention CX Nationals in Austin Texas in January.
Its time now to get to know the man behind Kogel. Ard Kessels is a busy busy guy. Traveling all over the world promoting his passion for cycling and his passion for a better bottom bracket, as well as placing in super crazy hard MTB races in Mexico, Ard truly lives the cycling dream.
“Who” is Ard Kessels?
I was born in the Netherlands, my parents both came from a very rural area but moved to the city before I was born. As a result of that, I spent most of my youth going back and forth between city and farm.
As a son of Dutch parents, cycling has been a big part of my life since the day I could walk. I would commute to school and often turn down my parents’ invitation to go for a casual ride with the family, only to race off to the local BMX track two minutes later. I guess my love for adrenaline was always there.
Whats your background, and relationship, with cycling? How’d you get involved in the industry?
At age 16 I bought my first mountain bike with money borrowed from my parents, I have been riding and racing mountain bikes on and off ever since. The highlight of my racing career was finishing with the top 10% in the Transalp Challenge, a huge stage race in Europe with 1200 riders. Absolute madness.
In 2010 I left my career as a fashion product developer behind to open a bike shop in Antwerp, Belgium. In Belgium, being a bike mechanic is a protected profession. Everyone who wants to open a bike shop or plans to work as a mechanic needs to be licensed. I spent two years in evening school and taking internships at shops before I was actually allowed to open my own shop. During my years working for several fashion multinationals, I learned a lot about how to run a business, how not to run a business, international communication and the basics of logistics and marketing. It was a great learning curve that perfectly translates to the development process for Kogel Bearings.
Three years into my shop adventure, my wife was offered a job with the US government. She wanted to be a diplomat ever since high school. I knew I had to choose between shop and family. The decision was made in minutes. I sold the shop to one of my riding buddies and set sail for a new life in the US.
I started my American adventure with importing products from Belgian bike companies which I had done very well with in my shop. The main obstacles I ran into were communication with the companies back home. I guess their expectations of what one person can achieve in all 50 states was a bit optimistic. I learned that doing business in the US is similar but very different in the details to doing business in Belgium.
At the beginning of 2014 I decided that it was better to take matters in my own hands and Kogel Bearings was born.
Why bearings? Why not another aspect of the bike?
I could have tackled anything, but ball bearings seem to be a forgotten part of the bicycle. There are a few big players on the market, but nobody really seems to be bothered to make the best possible product. Seeing $10K bikes outfitted with $1 bearings has always confused me.
Besides the bearings themselves, bottom brackets are causing issues throughout the industry. Like with subpar quality bearings, it seems to be accepted that bottom brackets need constant attention. I wanted to change that.
What was the inspiration behind Kogel?
The name is taken from the Dutch word for the balls in a ball bearing, it is also a synonym for bullet. I liked how it represents speed. What I also like, is that the word looks totally foreign but can be pronounced in English.
What’s the major flaw with today’s BB systems?
In my opinion: lack of communication in the industry and quality control.
For the lack of communication, the best example is that we cannot even decide what to call that new middle wheel size on mountain bikes. I need to be careful what I say, though. The fact that there are a gazillion bottom bracket standards is keeping Kogel Bearings in business. Forget I ever mentioned it. I look forward to a new bottom bracket standard coming out soon (insert giggle).
As for quality control: the dimensions of bottom bracket standards are clearly defined, including the tolerances on each of them. When I use my caliper in shops to measure bottom bracket shells, the results are all over the place. On a PF30 bottom bracket one frame might be 0.2mm large, the next is 0.2mm under. With a 0.4mm variation it is close to impossible to make a bottom bracket cup that fits on any frame. At Kogel Bearings we try to compensate for this tolerance by following a simple 4 step design philosophy: use quality materials, move the bearings as close to the crank arms as possible, reduce the amount of parts, make sure it looks good. There are a few more technical tricks in our products that I’d rather keep to myself for now.
Common sense is another thing that sometimes lacks in our industry. If all the power of a rider goes through the cranks and is supported by the bottom bracket, why is this bottom bracket only 62mm wide on some frames? Would it not make sense to make it wider, more stable and stiffer? In that way more power can be transferred to the rear wheel. The same thing I see in wheel bearings. Mountain bike disc hubs deal with enormous forces in all kinds of directions. Why are the bearings so small that they have to use pinhead sized balls in some wheels?
What makes Kogel so much better than other options?
At Kogel Bearings we back up our products with exceptional service. Having owned a premium level bike shop, I understand that the most important thing is to keep our customers on the road. Any frown can be turned into a smile if you handle customer’s issues instantly. For this reason I have installed our ‘very few questions asked’ warranty policy. I want retailers to be confident when they promise their customers that their expensive bottom bracket is good for at least two years of use.
For the same reason, we do pick up the phone after business hours, return missed calls and reply to emails. It’s a cliché to say we treat our customers the way I would like to be treated, but that’s what we strive for.
We are not the only company making good or great bearings, but that is not the entire buying experience. I want customers to buy a Kogel product and know that they’re buying a good looking product that is dipped in service and technical support.
Do you discount your products online vs in store?
Kogel Bearings makes a premium product that is not seasonal. Bottom brackets do not expire, like frame colors do. I see no reason why anyone would discount our products.
We handle our own distribution and shipping. This makes it easy to track shops that do not follow our pricing strategy, speak to them directly and put them back on track.
Where’s Kogel heading? Anything exciting on the horizon?
With my wife’s next posting being outside the US, we are working to decentralize the business. She will be working and living overseas and I will spend my time commuting between the US and our new home for two years. In the end, it is not so much different from what I do at the moment: splitting my time between working from home and traveling around the country to visit customers.
With all the modern technology available nowadays, it is very easy to run the administrative side in the cloud. I can make my telephone ring anywhere on the planet. With that in mind, I can hire people that serve a double function between brand ambassador and any other tasks. Our guy in Texas can handle logistics and sales in his area, while our New York ambassador can visit local shops and work on marketing.
This set up allows us to find the best people anywhere and not require them to relocate for the job. Or allow them to relocate anywhere if they so choose.
On a brand awareness level, we have signed some amazing sponsorship deals this year:Helen Wyman is doing a very good job promoting our bottom brackets in cyclocross. The United HealthCare team will be racing with our bottom brackets too. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder how we pulled that one off as an unknown company in its first year of business. It seems unreal how fast things have gone since we started this.
Where do you think the industry is headed?
That’s a hard one. There are so many things going on in the bike industry. Many brick and mortar stores are looking for ways to balance between their traditional business model and online presence. The big brands are killing it: I have never in my life had the urge to buy a Trek, but caught myself going to their website the other day, looking at their new cross and road bikes. Specialized knocked the XC full suspension category out of the park this year with a bike that has built in storage and room for two water bottles. On the other hand, small custom builders are selling five digit bikes like hot cakes. I see gravel riding become a lot bigger, it offers the go-anywhere-freedom of a mountain bike with the cover-lots-of-ground-easily aspect of a road bike.
I am not sure where the industry is heading, but I sure know it is going to be exciting. In my 25 years as a bike nerd, I have never had a dull moment. I would love to discuss this more over a few beers.
How can someone interested in trying Kogel Bearings get more information?
We are on all the big social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our website has a lot of product information.
We just started a blog on our website called Ball Bearing Adventures, which will be very interactive. The blog will cover technical aspects of our products, but will be mixed with cool things that I find on my travels: the best coffee shops and group rides, product news, amazing hacks found at shops and interview with industry people. A large portion will be dedicated to answering questions from our customers. Kogel Bearings is a very open company and we do not shy away from many subjects. As long as they are relevant for our business we will answer them.
We always appreciate calls from our customers, because that’s how we get to know them. Please reach out to us, I promise we will be nice.
Where can you buy Kogel Bearings currently?
We have a network of about 100 dealers in the country. I understand that is just scratching the surface of where we need to be, but not bad considering we have only started this at the beginning of this year.
For consumers we have a shop section on our website with a very easy product selection tool. As long as you know the bottom bracket standard of your frame and what crank you are running, you can pick the one product you need in a couple of clicks.
Our business model is set up really well to serve the retailers. We offer good margins, no order minimum and a $5 flat fee for shipping. If riders want to buy a product and have it installed at their local shop, we are very happy to send it to the shop directly so they can make their margins on it.
Coffee or Beer?
Now that is not a fair question. It’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child.
Thinking of it, I could not name ten different types of coffee, but I have no problem giving you a top three in every beer category. I guess that is your answer!
There you have it, straight from “The Man’s” mouth. The 3rd, and Final, part of the season long test will be out after Cyclocross Nationals in January. Ill weigh in with my thoughts and experience as a mechanic taking care of the bikes, and you’ll get to hear opinions from the riders themselves. Stay tuned for that article as it should be super fun to read.
With the holiday season fast approaching, lots of family members of avid cyclists will have an easy job deciding what to buy for their spandex clad friend: something for the bike. BOOM! That was easy. Reality sets in when said family member walks into a bike shop. Picking only one or two of the shiny bits and knowing you get the right thing is about as easy as getting an engineering job at NASA.
For all family members and friends of cyclists, Kogel’s Ball Bearing adventures have made a list of six things that any cyclist will be happy to find under the Christmas tree. We tried to represent all price levels.
Power bars, gels, nutrition: Price level $2 and up.
This sounds like a totally boring thing to buy, but believe us: almost every cyclist uses these and the purchases get expensive over time. It’s a sure shot, every cyclist will love a bag of Skratch or some Hammer.
Clothing hangers made of bicycle rims: Price level $25.
Some wheel companies make products from their rejected parts in production. Reynolds cycling makes clothing hangers out of their faulty rims. We have not seen these in many cyclist’s closets yet.
Lightweight also makes hangers out of faulty rims, but since their wheels typically run $6000 per set, expect these hangers to cost top dollar.
Chris King coffee tamper: Price level $85 – $125.
Most cyclists love their coffee, so don’t be surprised if your shaved legged friend owns a manual espresso machine. This tamper from Chris King is again made out of production parts that were not good enough to sell for their intended purpose. They still make great eye candy for any cyclist’s kitchen.
Wooden Bike Shelf: Price level $150.
Cyclists love to show off their rides and some bikes look good enough to be displayed as art. There are several companies offering bike shelves made out of wood, our favorite is Urban City Bike shelves, although their Facebook page recently announced a hiatus in the production. Bri+Co also gives some good shelf recommendations.
Casual Clothing by Pavé, Upright Cyclist and Panache: Price level $22 – $250.
There are quite a few companies that make casual clothing for cyclists. These can be jeans with a little extra room in the thighs for cycling legs, plaid shirts with technical fabrics or little cycling features to look smart off the bike. Here are some of our favorites:
Upright Cyclist is a Colorado company and is on a mission to design functional apparel that performs like bike clothing, but looks like every day clothes.
Panache Cycle Wear is mostly known for its racing kits but they have a great casual collection.
Pavé is another favorite. The brand is not officially launched yet, but has been generating a lot of media attention with their pre-Kickstarter campaign. US Pro cyclists Alex Howes and Kiel Reijnen have been endorsing the brand.
Gravel bike: Price level somewhere between $800 and being in need of a new mortgage
This is only if your significant other has been a VERY good boy or girl this year. There is literally nothing on the planet that makes a cyclist happier than a brand new bike. Gravel riding and racing is a segment that has been growing explosively in the last year. It is basically taking road bikes and riding them on a combination of asphalt and gravel roads. For this new segment a new bike is an absolute necessity (cyclists refer to this as the ‘n+1 rule’). Just go to a bike shop, say ‘I am looking for a gravel bike for my husband/daughter/friend/aunt’, swipe the Visa and prepare to never have to get up out of your chair to get anything from the kitchen come Christmas time.
If you are really a family member of a cyclist and read this article all the way down to here (we expect 95% of readers to be cyclists, asking themselves how to bring this article to the attention of their significant other), we have another piece of advice. Take a trip to your friend/partner/parent’s local bike shop and talk to the employees. There is a good chance they know your receiving friend by name and know what he/she owns and likes. If anything, they have kept a record of previous purchases and can advise you what to buy.
From us at Kogel Bearings, we wish you happy shopping and an amazing holiday season.
**If you have any questions about Kogel Bearings, ball bearings in general or our Ball Bearing Adventures, please ask them either in the comments section below, one of our social media channels or by email via firstname.lastname@example.org. We will answer them in a highly professional, but not always scientific way. We do not shy away from many subjects. Please ask, we are here to answer.
An entertaining view on the bicycle world. Always professional, rarely scientific.