(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)
A new Portland-based bike brand is trying to presell its first model in order to take a crucial next step in its evolution. Eric Duvauchelle, co-founder of Cylo, has self-funded his company since it launched this past April. Now he needs to find 50 people that want his Cylo One city bike — and with those orders he plans to make the first production batch.
Duvauchelle, 35, grew up in a small town south of Paris and went to design school in London. At at a meeting at north Portland coffee shop last week, he shared his story from those early days in London to his current focus on Cylo. After graduation, he moved to New York City where he worked in the music industry packaging hip-hop albums. A job as design director for the Nike Soccer brand moved him to the Pacific Northwest and inner southeast Portland. As he moved to follow his graphic design career, he rode bicycles whenever he could, but it wasn’t until Nike assigned him to a project in Amsterdam that he “re-awakened to cycling.”
“In Amsterdam, I realized how bikes can be woven into society,” he recalled, “what bikes can do to you, to cities, to people. It’s really unbelievable.”
It was that realization, Duvauchelle says, that led to him eventually leave Nike, settle down in Portland and launch Cylo. “I was happy at Nike, but this was about doing something I could be passionate about.”
With his brother Antoine as a business partner, Duvauchelle looked to other designers he’d met at Nike to help him realize his vision of the ultimate city bike. Working with product designers who had “no bike experience at all” opened the Cylo up to criticism from online commenters after the bike got its first round of media coverage earlier this summer.
“It was criticized as a designer wank-off,” Duvauchelle recalled, “And yes, it’s true, our design agency had no bike experience. But then again I didn’t want to bring another diamond frame to the market. It would have been easy to import frames from China, slap stickers on them, and say ‘voila’ – a new bike brand.” (This is something Duvauchelle has experience with. Prior to Cylo, he co-founded Cycles Papillon, a company that imported titanium bikes from China. They sold about 60 bikes in all before shutting the company down. Duvauchelle told me it was a great learning experience and it allowed he and his partner to “get our feet wet.”)
Instead, Duvauchelle and his team are convinced they’ve come up with a bike that has the right mix of form and function. The Cylo One boasts integrated, dynamo-powered front and rear lights, disc brakes, fenders, lightweight aluminum tubing, and an 11-speed Gates carbon belt drive (three models will be offered, with a 3-speed version starting at $1,900 and the top-of-the-line going for $2,500). Not surprisingly, given its design-centric upbringing, the most striking feature of the Cylo One is its frame shape.
Glancing over at the bike as it leaned against a rack near our table, Duvauchelle said, “When people see this bike, they stop and turn and look. That’s important to us because there’s a need for something different in this saturated market.”
He’s right. The city bike market is much more crowded than it was just a few years ago. With the biggest brands in the industry offering many of the same features the Cylo One has, it will take a lot to get noticed. Duvauchelle’s tactic for attention might be working: the Cylo appears prominently in the new, design issue of Wired Magazine.
With a working prototype, Duvauchelle now hopes to move into production. The company has set a goal of 50 orders before pulling the trigger on the first batch (they’re up to 20 so far). Once that number is reached, Portland-based Zen Bicycle Fabrication will build the bikes.
“The presale,” Duvauchelle explained, “is our way of securing demand and to make sure we’re not throwing money out the window.”
Once the Cylo One is produced, Duvauchelle might expand into other products. His company’s motto is to “Design innovative and inspiration products for people on the move,” and that could mean fashion, bike accessories, or other types of products.
“We’re trying to build a brand, not a one-off product.”