At the intersection of crowdfunding and consumer-direct bike brands lies the upstart Thesis, which is offering a carbon all-road bike with carbon wheels and a SRAM Rival group for $2,999. The catch to the price? The bike will show up unassembled — months after you pay for it. Thesis founders Randall Jacobs and Alice Liu are hoping their value proposition and transparency in sourcing will generate sales.
Thesis OB1 features
- Frame and wheels shipped in one box from China; other parts shipped in another box from Taiwan
- Endurance road geometry carbon frame
- Mounts galore
- 700c and/or 650b carbon wheels (+$1,299 for both, including rotors, cassette, tires and valves for second set)
- Choice of stem/bar/crank lengths included
The hypothesis behind Thesis
Jacobs has been in the bike industry for a number of years, working jobs at US retail, at Specialized, and for a Chinese trading and manufacturing company. He and his partner Liu decided they could work with Chinese and Taiwanese vendors to build a high-performance, low-cost bike and deliver it direct, skipping the name brands for wheels, cranks and cockpit componentry.
They believe a single frame design works equally well for road and gravel — just swap wheelsets if you want to change terrain.
"I had the idea for Thesis since I worked on the Diverge at Specialized," Jacobs said. "So many companies using same factories. And so many bikes are the same. The primary differences are tire clearance, marketing BS and some geometry differences at the extreme ends of the scale. What we now call a gravel bike is what we as the bike industry should have been calling a road bike and selling it all along. Let the wheel and tire package dictate the final execution."
Jacobs lived in China for six years and speaks Mandarin. This background, he said, helped him to forge or reforge relationships with vendors, many of whom build for the big name brands.
"You can spend a lot of money on a stem. We have an S-Works-level barrel, and a different face plate," Jacobs said, estimating that consumer cost will be about $35 should someone want to buy an additional stem from Thesis. "There are so many Taiwanese companies that are great at manufacturing but not great at marketing, so you might not have heard of them."
Similarly, riders have not heard of Thesis bikes. Jacobs and Liu are hopeful that a combination of detailed information on their website and select demos around the US will get people engaged with Thesis.
Jacobs most recently worked for Hammerhead, the upstart computer company that sold its Karoo GPS computer to consumers in advance of final product delivery.
Jacobs and Liu hope to ship "a handful" of bikes in August, then 100 bikes in September. Thesis is currently quoting delivery times of between 16 and 20 weeks for orders placed now.
Thesis OB1 first ride impressions
I took an OB1 with 650b wheels for a two-hour spin around Boulder on paved and dirt roads, plus a little singletrack. The immediate impressions, as usual, came from the contact points between body and bike — bars, saddle and frame/drivetrain via the cranks/pedals/shoes — and the contact points between the bike and the ground: the 47mm WTB Byway tubeless tires.
The sizable Byways are a known quantity for me. I enjoyed riding them at the Paris-Roubaix Challenge last year, when more than one fellow amateur riding yelled "cheater!" at me. (Evidently, they're as comfortable as they look on bumps.)
The fat tubeless tires have a slick center and minimal traction on the shoulders. I took corners on kitty-litter-over-hardpack gingerly, because I'm a roadie, but the sheer volume of the carcass offers loads of reassuring purchase.
The saddle is made by industry titan Velo, and is basically a Specialized Power but with a lot more and much softer padding. For a two-hour, mostly off-road ride, it worked well.
The alloy bars feature a 10-degree flare and a medium curve from the flattened tops into the hoods. I am a fan of the flattened bar tops — dispersing pressure across the palms makes good sense and feels good, so long as the corresponding angles of the drops work for you. But the flare I'm not entirely sold on. Call me old school.
Jacobs rode with me and had to remind me to use the dropper post. He has hacked the SRAM Rival left shifter to activate the dropper. (Mountain bikers, bear with me for this short explainer, and try not to roll your eyes or say "DUH!" to your computer screen.) Dropping the saddle helps not only lower your center of gravity but move it further back, because it's easier to get behind the saddle on drops. The end result is a more stable, easier to maneuver machine over tricky terrain. But like I said, Jacobs had to remind me to use it...
The SRAM Rival group is straightforward. Thesis has its own hollow alloy crank and 1x chainring. There is the standard big jump in gears for the 10-46 cassette, but the drivetrain is nice and quiet over bumps thanks to the clutch derailleur.
As for the frameset, what can I say? It felt like a slack road bike with mounds of tire clearance to me. It would be interesting to take or give the old Pepsi challenge to a group of riders with this frameset and a few other name-brand frames.
The Thesis OB1 timeline
While Thesis is telling people to expect wait times of between 16 and 20 weeks now, much of that is for fine-tuning of the design, Jacobs said, citing things such as improving chainring clearance and adding seals to the bottom bracket. Once those are dialed, delivery times should improve.
Unlike a consumer-direct brand such as Canyon, Thesis will not assemble or ship nearly assembled bikes. The bike will arrive in pieces, with one box from a Chinese factory and another box from a Taiwanese factory. It will then be up to the rider to build it, or take it to a shop for assembly.
Thesis is also in talks with a van-based repair and assembly company — which means either Beeline Bikes or VeloFix — to offer riders another solution to receiving two big parts of unassembled parts.
You can read more about Thesis at thesis.bike.