Combining Comfort With Speed: Interview With Ian Hughes of Vielo Bikes

This is the first interview of a new series of articles where I talk with various bike designers/bike manufacturers asking them about the art of making a comfortable, yet fun bike to ride. I want to know more about what constitutes a compliant ride, what is possible within different frame materials and how bike designers are trying to achieve the optimal formula between comfort and necessary stiffness (to achieve comfortable, yet fast and fun to ride bike). And in the process, I also discover the idea behind each brand and what makes them interesting in the first place…

CyclingAbout: What is the idea behind the Vielo brand? What does Vielo mean?

Ian: I was in a distribution business first. For nine years, I was helping develop the Marin brand in the UK. I set up a Scott sports group. So I did a big corporate thing from zero. We were up against Specialized, Trek, etc. I headed up a staff of 20 people and we distributed products to over 220 bike shops. This allowed me to learn how to build the brand, and position, and hold everything up from the business perspective. I was doing it for 15 years. After much learning about the business I left the corporate scene in 2010 and then in 2011, I saw the opportunity for high-end brands. There were maybe only Colnago and Pinarello brands in that market at that time and not much more. So we started bringing Storck bikes into the UK. We grew the Storck brand very quickly. In 4 years, we become Storck’s largest distributor. We helped the brand do global marketing and brand positioning. We also brought the Lightweight wheels to the UK. Then we ended the Stork agreement because Stork wanted to do more than we felt was possible at the time. So we started to look for other brands to distribute and at that time we started to think that maybe we can do something to ourselves with all that knowledge. A couple of friends, especially our engineer helped us with finding the vendors and suppliers. We had some ideas about what we would like to produce, what the brand would be called, and where we would position it using our experience and know-how. So that is how the VIELO brand was born.

CyclingAbout: How did you come up with the name V+1? There is a popular belief that we can’t have enough bikes at our homes (n+1). Is this somehow connected with your V+1 name?

Ian: Yes it was kind of based on that theory (n+1, V+1). We did not want to have crazy names or acronyms for the model. The Vielo brand name is also a terribly unromantic story. It sounds like French, it sounds a little bit like Italian but it is just a made-up name that works. We are using a V+1 name for a gravel bike and R+1 for the road bike. We just keep everything really simple.

CyclingAbout: When I was thinking about the Vielo V+1 name, I thought that this is somehow connected with the bike that gives you many options (“wiele” in the Polish language means just that). Did you want to create a bike for many different occasions of riding?

Ian: From the start, I wanted to design a bike focusing on UK customers and UK riding conditions. The state of the roads in the UK is poor with a very broken tarmac, especially on B-roads where cyclist wants to go to get away from the traffic. So I wanted to address that but not with 28-32 mm tires. I wanted a bike that was more all road, road plus, that will do gravel, will do adventure. It will take 700 38c tires that will take a lot of high-frequency vibrations from the tarmac and it has some unique frame designs with seat stays and chainstays that provide additional comfort. It is 1x only for performance (allowing for a 30% stiffer bottom bracket) and with some very nice details: really neat internal cable routing, and stainless steel scratch guards on the insides of the frame so the rotor is not damaging the frame. Mudguards – there is always wet in the UK so I wanted customers to have the option to fit the mudguards if they want to but I don’t want you to see where the mudguards eyelets are so we made them in the inside of the frame. And we did not want the overcomplicated look with loads of stickers everywhere. Just clean and simple so you can see the frame design. The black drive train so the cassette is black, the chain is black so when you see the bike you see the frame design rather than lots of colors and names. I am not a big fan of that. Let the product do the talking itself. And talking about the simple look, we use a single-seat tube wedge hidden in the frame. We also use a 12 mm thru-axle of our own design – it has a fast turn thread using a quick-release lever so only two turns are needed. No special tools are required.

CyclingAbout: Let’s talk more about the unique design of the V+1 bike. What struck me the most was that you don’t have a large bottom bracket drop (usually gravel bike BB drop is about 75 mm and your bike does not have even a 60 mm BB drop). Why is that?

Ian: Ok, you have picked up a unique feature but it was not designed to be a unique feature. We wanted to have sufficient ground clearance when you take the bike for some extreme riding. It is not designed to increase the performance of the frame.

CyclingAbout: To be honest I thought that this is somehow connected with the rear of the bike designed as a suspension system and you needed to put the BB high just to make it work.

Ian: No, no. The performance of the frame comes from many different aspects but BB height is not one of them. We wanted 1x drive to provide more lateral stiffness and then it is down to cross-section tube shapes. The downtube is quite oval, and flat, so it provides lateral stiffness but it can also provide vertical compliance. Seatstays are very flat but also pre-bended so when you hit the bump it will provide some additional flex. So the tire is designed to provide high-frequency vibration dampening and when you hit the bigger bumps seat stays will provide additional comfort as well. Yet at the same time, they are also laterally stiff because of the oval section. Headtube is very laterally stiff. The top tube is just performance – its role is literally to hold everything together.

CyclingAbout: Why did you decide to use a wider (30,9) seat tube diameter when 27,2 is considered a comfier solution?

Ian: If you look at a conventional road bike where the seat stays and chainstays are straight, so there is not enough comfort, you will probably need some flex in the seat post to provide some comfort. We have already got that comfort built into the frame so we don’t need additional seatpost flex. So we went for a 30.9 oversized seat tube for extra stiffness. If you want some more comfort we use Fabric either titanium rail saddle or carbon rail saddle so it will take some vibrations from the raider thus we don’t need this additional vertical flex from a smaller diameter seatpost. Plus we fitted the RockShox Reverb dropper seatpost which is compatible with 30,9 mm standard and it is an ideal companion to V+1 bike. We can use a hydraulic lever dropper post and connect it to the left shifter which is redundant in 1x bike, so you can actually activate dropper post by left-hand shifting.

CyclingAbout: When I was buying my first gravel bike in 2016 I have chosen a steel one because it promised a springy, very comfortable ride. And it delivers that but after testing a couple of new carbon gravel bikes I found out that you can get the comfort of a steel bike and at the same time have a very stiff and power-efficient bike (which a steel bike is not). The way you describe your bike and how it is at the same time comfy and stiff makes me think that maybe indeed not steel but carbon is the best frame material for a gravel bike. What do you think about that?

Ian: Yes, exactly that. With carbon, you can change tube shapes and create a frame with the stiffness where you need wherein with steel you are basically stuck with round tubes so whether it is butted internally or externally the performance will be the same. The stiffness and the compliance will be the same and it is not much you can engineer into a steel frame with round tubes compared to what you can do with a carbon fiber layout.

CyclingAbout: As you may know, I use my own methodology of measuring comfort (I measure vibrations). I wonder if you did your own test of your bike just to find out how comfortable it really is?

Ian: When you design the bike on a computer you can run simulations to see how much flex there will be depending on the load and we can also see the strength so we can see if we need to use additional layers to improve the strength but also to improve the flex. We can do all of this on computer simulation and then in 99,9% of cases when the frame is actually built it performs exactly as in the simulations. So we can pretty accurately base everything on the simulations.

CyclingAbout: The reason I am asking this is that there are a lot of marketing activities going on recently around the gravel bikes with rear-end flex. Cannondale, for example, is saying that thanks to KingPin suspension the rear wheel can move up and down by a few millimeters. But at the same time, I hear from bike designers like Gerard Vroomen from OPEN that you can achieve the same amount of movement without the need for any moving part at all. Do you agree with that?

Ian: Yes, we don’t need any specific gimmicks to build into the carbon frame. You can engineer the tubes, cross-sections, and layout to provide the performance that you need. So all of those additional things like Specialized Zerts inserts – it is just the marketing where someone wants to differentiate the brand. But is it really working? Brands will provide a lot of marketing data to support these marketing claims but it is up to the consumer to decide if all of this is believable. We do not subscribe to that. We just rely on simple and honest engineering and simple design which will always shine through. And today’s consumer will understand that. We know now that customers are now getting sick of all of this “corporate speak”. Even at a PRO TOUR customers that are buying high-end road bikes are not that influenced now by what is going on a PRO TOUR as they were a few years back. Those customers are no PRO TOUR athletes with less strength and body flexibility so they do not necessarily seek PRO TOUR solutions. We know from the market’s feedback that it is much more believable to explain in an honest way what the bike is and what it is not. For a small brand without a big budget that can be difficult but if you will send that message consistently and clearly it will stick. That is it.

CyclingAbout: Yes, one of the main ideas behind my comfort project was to test all of those marketing revelations and see if they actually work. Some, like the Lauf suspension fork, work moderately well (you need a low air pressure and ideally a suspension stem to absorb all the extra movement that the spring suspension generates) but there is also a Future Shock front suspension from Specialized that works surprisingly well. So sticking with the front-end comfort: I saw on the video reviews of your V+1 bike, that this bike uses a unique carbon handlebar with a nice flat section and a lot of visible flex. Is this your magical solution for the front-end comfort of your bike?

Ian: We have not combined the handlebar to specifically complement the frame. It is a carbon bar that we have sourced from a supplier that ticks the boxes for us in terms of the shape on the top – it is very comfortable for the palm of your hand, very ergonomic – it has a slight back sweep, and the flare is just 8 degrees. We did not want to get a big mustache-style handlebar and yes it does provide some additional comfort in terms of flexibility but not to the point it is going to be decremental to the steering and the agility of the bike. We did a lot of considering which bar supplier to use and the one we chose ticks the right boxes. The inside cable routing is nice and tidy, and to additional complement the look we use a Fabric silicon bare tape. It provides really nice tactile feel and does not have any sticky tape on the inside so you can easily wrap it and unwrap it when servicing the bike. And finally, a nice little detail that you have might noticed – we start wrapping the tape near the stem, and from there go to the bar end so you don’t have to finish with horrible black insulation tape. So it is really, really clean and tidy. Again, just tiny little detail but for me, it makes a lot of a difference.

CyclingAbout: Yes, but going back to this comfort versus stiffness theme. During my testing of a Redshift suspension stem, I found that when you use a stiff set of elastomers the suspension effect is almost non-existent and you have to use a softer setup to feel the difference but then you also start to feel the handlebar movement. So it looks like you always have to try to find the right balance between comfort and stiffness, between compliance and a fun, enjoyable ride. It somehow becomes like a holy grail for the bike industry right now, just to strike this fine balance. Do you agree?

Ian: Well, I think even when you come back to the early MTB days where the front suspension was coming you either suspended the bike or the rider. The quickest and cheapest option is to suspend the rider so you have flex in a stem or flexible seatpost to provide some comfort but the frame is very, very stiff. Now we have wider tires that will make probably 3 to 4 mm of suspension and comfort in the first place. That is the big asset, the big help. Then you get another 2, maybe 3 mm of flex from various part of the frame in a way that you are not suspending the rider like a flexing stem or flexing seatpost but you are providing that comfort that will not compromise the steering, agility, and the feel between you and the bike.

CyclingAbout: Yes, I know exactly what you mean. In the search for more comfort, I was experimenting with 700×50 mm tires and of course, the comfort was great but the feeling was not so great. It was like riding a tanker ship. So again, you have to find the right balance between comfort and agility, fun.
But on that topic of finding the right balance:  when designing your bike did you feel the temptation to go for even wider tires than 50mm? Gerard Vroomen made a Wi.De. bike with 60 mm tire clearance…

Ian: In terms of how wide you need to go on a gravel bike, yes, OPEN Wi.De. is a very interesting concept and I see why Gerard has come to that route but is it something that we will follow? The answer to that is: NO. The Vielo brand is more about race kind of like performance so the next generation of the V+1 gravel bike will be more about race performance. There will be an optimum tire width but we are not going to chase the big fat MTB tire market because, I think, when you start to go down that route, then it is kind of difficult to go anywhere else. We want to be in a lightweight race gravel segment because nobody owns that and in terms of marketing and communication that is how I want to position the Vielo brand.

CyclingAbout: OK, and what size of wheel and tires you are using on the V+1 bike?

Ian: My personal choice is 700×38 mm on day to day basis. If I want to go to the forest and really gravel off-road then I would run 650b with 47 mm tires.

CyclingAbout: And the air pressure?

Ian: Well, 700×38 mm we normally ride at 30 to 35 psi and similar sort of pressure on 650b tires. Of course, a lot depends on the tire manufacturer.

CyclingAbout: Is there any difference in terms of comfort (compliance) between UD and UDG carbon frames?

Ian: There are from the exact same mold.  It is just that one is a slightly more economical layout so we can produce a UDG frame for a slightly cheaper price. Performance-wise there is very little difference between them. If you were riding and comparing them all day long you might be able to tell that you feel more compliance in the UD frame, but generally, there is not an awful lot of a difference in terms of performance. It is literally just the weight difference. One is about 880 g and the other one is 1100 grams.

CyclingAbout: OK, the next question is about the bottom bracket and threaded versus press-fit battle. There is a lot of discussion going on in the gravel market about why we should not have a press-fit bottom bracket on carbon gravel bikes (reliability issues, cracking noises, etc). But your bike has a press-fit BB. Are you confident that it will work without any issues?

Ian: So, just looking back for the reasons why the press-fit bottom bracket started to get a reputation for poor performance, cracking, noise and etc. That is born out purely from the tolerance and manufacturing process. If your tolerance is micron perfect then there is no reason why any press-fit bottom bracket should not last and be completely noise-free. It is when you get to the point when you mass-produce frames and maybe the quality control is not as tight it can become a problem. But we are literally talking about just microns there, so when the BB shell is 1 or 2 microns oversized compared to what is should be, that BB shell will go slightly too easy, and then you are going to get the problems you were describing. It has to be a performance fit, a real performance fit. So when your quality control is spot on and for a small manufacturer like ourselves we can make sure that happens, there will be no issues with the press-fit bottom bracket. Besides, the press-fit bottom bracket also allows you to maximize the width of the BB and this makes it stiffer so press-fit is very beneficial in terms of creating additional lateral stiffness. In our R+1 road bike, we maximized the width of the BB still maintaining the narrow Q factor and thanks to focusing on just 1x design (no cut-outs in seat tube) we have increased the stiffness by about 30-32% compared to 2x solutions. And that increased stiffness R+1 bike is all about.

CyclingAbout: When I was on the market for a gravel bike in 2016 I read a lot about why I should not buy a carbon gravel bike because carbon frames can be easily damaged by rocks hitting the frame etc. But right now almost every big and small manufacturer has a carbon gravel bike. So should I be still worried about these durability/safety issues?

Ian: No, I think just in general you should not be worried about stones and rocks bouncing off the tires and hitting the downtube. I can speak about ourselves here but the number of carbon layers that we use in critical areas of the frame will prevent the frame from any real damage. If you drop the frame or crash the frame then yes, it’s going to damage the frame potentially. But is it going to be less strong than steel or titanium? As we know carbon is 7 times stronger than steel. Also in the event of a potential failure, carbon does not tend to fail catastrophically, at least on a rock hit. You get the outer layer that will take the hit but the inner layers will stay in place unless it is an absolutely massive hit, like a car crash. But then either frame will probably fail in that instance. So customers should not have to be worried about the strength and safety of their carbon frames. And the other thing that I want to say about durability is that we put our frames through MTB ISO safety standards (along with the road ISO standards) and both UD and UDG frames surpass that standards.

CyclingAbout: OK, let’s talk a little bit more about fork compliance. During my testing, I discovered that there are two main things that contribute to fork compliance. The position of the thru-axle in relation to the fork axis (when you move the axle either closer or further away from the rider the compliance increases) and the fork length. I wonder what kind of solutions did you apply to make the fork of your V+1 bike more comfortable?

Ian: Going back to the frame design, yes, we wanted the front end to be comfortable and it is a combination of the wheel and tire, where tires will take the high-frequency vibrations out of the road. Steering wise it needs to be very positive but without being too nervous or too lazy, so the head angle is very important. Then in terms of strength – the crown area needs to be incredibly stiff. When you think about the pressure that is generated around the crown area by the rotation of the disc brakes you understand that it has to have additional carbon layers to guarantee that stiffness. Then when you go down you can start tuning the tubes for more compliance and then you reach the thru-axle mount, which again, needs to be very, very stiff so it does not allow for the wheel movement and provides a negative steering feel. We can see on a computer simulation how much flex we can safely engineer into the fork and if you look down going on the bumpy section you will see the tip of the fork vibrating very slightly providing that extra compliance. Again, not being disrespectful to Lauf and other companies, we think that there is no real need for a suspension fork because we can get 3-4 mm from the tires and another couple of millimeters from the fork to provide sufficient flex. With the suspension fork, you are changing the geometry and adding weight. If you want to have more suspension you simply should go for an MTB.

CyclingAbout: What is next for the Vielo brand? What changes do you considering for the successor of the V+1 bike?

Ian: I think systems are going to be a lot more integrated. We will see a lot more bar-stem integration systems with internal cable routing so you will not see anything outside of the frame. Wireless, more clean integrated systems. Still, two-wheel sizes have that option. But to be honest, a successor of a V+1 bike will probably be some sort of refinement because it is such a good product in the first place. So it’s then just the tiny, tiny little details that you can improve. The rider may not even see them but we know and want to improve them.

CyclingAbout: And what about comfort? You seem to say that you have somehow reached the optimal level of comfort versus stiffness. Do you see any room for improvement there?

Ian: Oh, from the engineering perspective there is always room for improvement. This is how the engineer’s brain works: how I can do this better? Let me try this, let me try that. So there is always something that could be done and then it is just the impact and what does it mean to the customers. So there are almost endless options but then you have to somehow drill them down to those that the market will accept. But yeah, for our next bike, it would literally be a very small finetuning.

CyclingAbout: Maybe this finetuning will be the main theme for the whole gravel bike market now as it seems to be maturing and entering the phase where you can choose from second or even third generation of already very refined gravel bikes?

Ian: I think that a lot of bike companies are making compromises and are for example using the road bike and adapting it to the gravel market by adding different forks, moving stays so it can take wider tires and they are calling it gravel bike. But there are going to be also brands like OPEN and ourselves that are more specific for that type of product and a lot more finetuned. Yes, I have massive respect for Gerard Vroomen and his style of thinking and engineering thought process. That is the route that he sees, we certainly do not follow it and we do not follow the dropped chainstay style that, he says everybody is copying. We don’t and we can still produce sufficient tire clearance. We certainly do not copy anything and we are creating our own identity. You can see this, especially in our R+1 road bike, extremely brave, pure 1x drive only  – so not really another 3T Strada. We designed this bike with the future groupset in mind: 1×12 or 1×13 speed and we feel that the need for the front mech on a road bike becoming less, and less, and less relevant. This means that from an engineering perspective, we can be very creative in how we design the frame and the performance of the frame.

CyclingAbout: Do you plan to have a V+1 with Shimano GRX components?

Ian: Yes, we have one right here. We can offer a complete GRX setup either mechanical or Di2 so it is on build options right now. Or we can do a completely custom build. We have even built, for a customer from Sweden, a bike with a 1×13 Rotor groupset and he also wanted a dropper post mechanism on the left shifter so our engineer created a small solution to make it happen and that is the world first, I don’t believe anyone has done that before us.

CyclingAbout: The electric gravel bike segment is growing quite fast. Do you consider making a V+1 with a motor?

Ian: I think that a Vielo brand is a performance brand and always be a performance brand. Electric-assist is, I think, a great feature and it has a place but I don’t see electric-assist as being a part of Vielo. We will not have an e-gravel bike but if we grow enough it may be our other brand in the future, something completely different. So it is not on our radar at the moment but we keep our eyes open. It would be foolish not to. I also think we should have to wait for the development of better motors and better batteries, for smaller components allowing for better integration and performance. Now it is still too much of a compromise for us.

CyclingAbout: Ian, when you were talking about how you designed your bike for UK road conditions I was thinking that maybe somehow in the process you also designed the best bike for Polish conditions because our roads are even worse and the weather is also not that forgiving. So when we will be able to buy your bikes In Poland?

Ian: Yes, initially the bike was designed for UK conditions but then you realize that similar conditions you can find in many other countries as well. Poland for sure. I have been a couple of times in Poland, to see some car rallies and I saw the land of a Thousand of Lakes, where you can ride your bikes. So yes, not just the UK market, we will be going to the west coast of the US in 2020, developing more sales in the US market. We have worked on a collaboration with the brand called CHPT3. They have a massive fan base and they wanted a gravel bike to help increase their brand awareness. They selected our V+1 and R+1 bikes to be part of their portfolio and we are going to launch CHPT3 V+1 and CHPT3 R+1 bikes at the end of May. This will allow us to open some new territories both in the USA and in Europe.

We don’t have the resources to capture many different markets at once so it’s just a specific territory to focus on, grow that, enjoy it, and then select another one, that you want to grow. We are not after big funds and big distributors. We want to distribute bikes directly to the shops. This means that we can control the brand communication and brand service, the whole brand experience. But if the consumer wants to buy directly from us he can do just that. And in terms of Poland, I consider the Polish market as a very important one but again, I just want to make sure that if we start feeding that market, I have got all the resources to do it properly.

CyclingAbout: I will be honest with you Ian, after hearing all about your bike I simply can’t wait to have an opportunity to test your V+1 in the near future and have the opportunity to somehow, introduce it better to the Polish customers.

Ian: Yes, after our conversation seems logical to send you a test bike as fast as I can!

CyclingAbout: Thank you, Ian, for making this interview happen. It was a real pleasure to talk with you!

Ian: It was a pleasure speaking with you and thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed.


For more info about Vielo bikes just visit www.vielo.cc

Ian has over 36 years of knowledge of the Bicycle and Sports Trade and retail markets in the UK. Plus a thorough understanding of the global bicycle industry, markets, and consumer habits.

Ian was recruited to join ATB sales in 1985 to help them establish Marin Mountain bikes into Independent Bicycle Shops in the northern territory of the UK. Marin Mountain Bikes were one of the early pioneers of the mountain bike scene in California in the early 80s. In 1995 Ian set up Scott Sports Sa (UK) Ltd based in Cramlington, Northumberland, a wholly owned subsidiary of Scott Sports Sa based in Fribourg Switzerland.

From the ground up, Ian ran the company for 15 years and supplied 220 Independent bicycle shops with Bicycles and accessories and 85 winter sports shops with Skis, goggles, Ski poles, and clothing. Employed and managed a staff of 18 people with a yearly Turnover of £24 Million.

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