2016 has been an incredible year for Airdrop Bikes. It's just over 12 months since the launch of the brand so now's a great time to take a look back at everything that's happened this year and have a quick look at some of the cool stuff planned for next year.
I know a lot of you have been following progress for a while now, and if you're familiar with the Airdrop story then you'll know setting up this business is the culmination of a life-long ambition and many years of hard work. Until now it has still felt like a startup - like it was just getting going - but in the last few weeks since my shoulder surgery, and the down-time that has necessitated, I've had a bit of time to reflect. Airdrop is a year old, there are a whole load of Airdrop riders out there in a dozen different countries around the world, there are thousands of social media followers and the Edit has had great reviews from a number of different publications. So I really should start to think of Airdrop as "established" now and re-focus on what the future has in store.
Before we get into it I just want to say a massive thank you to all Airdrop's followers, supporters and customers. Without that incredible support none of this cool stuff would be possible. It has been the biggest surprise and the most humbling part of the whole process to discover that so many people are into what I'm trying to do with Airdrop. I've met some amazing people that I otherwise would never had met, I've had encouragement from some pretty unlikely sources and it's been a real eye opener how many people want to know the human story behind the brand, not just the product. So thanks for everything.
But I've got to tell you: this is only the beginning.
The website launched in December 2015. A bit sooner than I'd planned, but the Edit was due to appear in January's edition of MBUK which was a really big deal. At that point I'd been working on Airdrop full time for 18 months so "going public" was a big step.
I don't mind admitting now I was quite nervous when I took the bike down to MBUK's workshop in Bath. I got up so early I drove from Sheffield and arrived there before the MBUK guys even got to work. It was the first time I had any industry contact about what I was doing, the first time I'd shown anyone the prototype really. But I needn't have worried; they were all really sound and positive about the whole idea.
The response was much better than I was expecting; this really kicked things off nicely and got the word out strongly. I got a series of requests for interviews from the likes of Dirt Magazine, Wideopen Magazine and Cranked Magazine off the back of the launch. Suddenly Airdrop went from being just an idea that I was working on in private to this massive thing that everyone knew about. Scary times. Scary and exciting.
The first pre-orders started rolling in. I can still remember how that felt: people were willing to send their hard-earned money to a guy they'd never met, for a bike they'd never seen, just because it looked rad or they liked the whole idea. That was a humbling experience and it also helped me to believe it was really going to work.
The frames were due to arrive on the 10th Feb but they just didn't show up. The container ship was waiting out on the ocean for reasons unknown, and I had pretty much run out of money. I now know this is all normal for a startup, and especially in the bike trade, but I can tell you it was a bit stressful at the time.
Dirt magazine sent their trusty Sheffield duo of Nick Hamilton and Rich Baybutt round to do a photoshoot and an interview, which was a good laugh. Steve Jones at Dirt had a specific request: to see Dave Camus whipping an Edit over the big doubles at Bolehills BMX track; Dave delivered the tricks and Baybutt nailed the shots. It was absolutely baltic but the shots were great.
It was also awesome for me to feature in Dirt, even though it was out of print by then. I'd been inspired by a similar set of features in Dirt issue 98, so to be on the flip-side, and maybe even inspiring other people, was awesome.
The arrival of the first batch of Edits was going to be a big deal, and I wanted to do something to celebrate, and generate a bit of stoke around the brand. I'd been working with Gee Milner and Sam Taylor to produce a video over the winter, and when the opportunity came up to get the Clayspades crew riding the bikes in Wharncliffe, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
We had such a good time producing that video and I think it comes through in the final piece. It definitely got people stoked to ride their bikes and reached a pretty big audience, at least for a one-man-brand. To date it's had over 50,000 views on Pinkbike alone.
After the edit frames finally arrived over the Easter weekend, a frantic couple of weeks ensued to get all the preorder bikes built and shipped out to customers. After that I was able to start customer demo rides and get into building up some custom bikes. This bike I built for Don was a great example; Don has an incredible collection of bikes going back into the '90s and wanted to add an early Airdrop Edit. He'd suffered a life changing injury and far from being bitter about it, he was really positive and focussed on what he enjoys most: bikes. So I built up a bike to his spec and at his request produced a custom decal bearing the frame number - 003.
Finally we had a bit of nice weather to work with, so Sam Taylor went off to Wales with a bike to get some riding shots on Cadair Idris.
I have a strong personal interest in photography, and the big idea behind building the Airdrop brand was always to do it with quality content; stuff that could really get people inspired. This was the first in what I hope will be a long tradition of adventure shoots.
May also saw the publication of Cranked Magazine issue 5, which contained a genuine long-form feature entitled "Honey, I built A Bike Company". Seb Rogers had come to stay at home with us for a couple of days to shoot the feature and conduct the interview, so we fed him up and plied him with red wine. It's fantastic getting coverage on mtb websites but there's nothing quite like seeing your bikes in a proper printed magazine, especially one as quality as Cranked.
With word about Airdrop spreading, and customers getting hold of the idea that we're up for full-on custom builds, the start of the Summer saw some lovely bikes coming through. It was a particular pleasure to work with Brett from the 3sixty Stunt Display Team to put together his enduro race bike for the summer.
Later in June we got our first proper bike review published in Dirt. The guys at Dirt had been super keen to get hold of a bike since day one, but it's a real challenge to get a review bike together - it's not cheap, and with all the customer builds keeping me busy it too a long time to actually sort Dirt out. By Summer the number of customers wanting an objective assessment of the Edit from a source they could trust was massive, and I built up a review bike overnight.
I know that the Edit is a good bike; I wouldn't have bet my life savings on it otherwise. But there's always that nagging doubt that other people - and particularly seasoned bike testers with years in the game - might think otherwise. So when the review came out and it was so positive it was both relief and a real confidence booster, both for me and for customers.
If I had written the review myself, I could scarcely have come up with a better result. This is exactly what I wanted the Edit to be.
With the summer now in full swing, and the trails running perfectly, a lot of people were out in the Alps on their bikes, sending in their pictures. For me this was the busiest time of the year, with everyone suddenly deciding they should have bought a new bike weeks ago and wanting to get an Edit asap. It's always great to see customer pictures and to hear their stories of how much they're enjoying their new bikes.
This is pro photographer Dan Hearn's custom built Edit. He spent most of the Summer in the Alps riding and covering the Downhill World Cup. Seeing his pictures come through while I was slaving away building bikes didn't make me jealous. At all.
I'd been doing quite a lot of riding, but mostly demo rides with potential customers and the odd bit of product testing. With Airdrop really taking off and working flat out all the time just to ship the orders, I hadn't had much chance to get away for the weekend or to do any racing. But I had an entry into the 'Ard Rock Enduro, which is a fantastic event, so I was going to make the most of it. I headed up to the Dales a couple of days early and got some riding in before the event, then spent the practice day out on the course with a mate who was filming. That evening I prepped the bike and got all my kit ready, and promptly ruined everything by dislocating my shoulder... again. That was the start and the end of my 2016 race season: DNS.
Despite the setback, it was a real privilege to see a bunch of Airdrop customers out racing their bikes and obviously having a great time. For me this is the best kind of payback and real validation that Airdrop is on the right track.
Being unable to ride for a bit gave me the opportunity to do some development work, so I cranked up the work on the revised version of the Edit, and got the hard yards done on the next bike: the Bitmap. More on that later...
One of the biggest things to come out of this year's Eurobike show, for me at least, was the introduction of Cane Creek's new DBcoil IL shock. Cane Creek is a really cool company to work with, and the guys there are really supportive of Airdrop. The DBcoil IL seemed like the perfect coil shock to work with the Edit so we were amongst the first to get hold of a shock for testing. In fact the blog post I wrote about the testing process was probably the biggest hit of the year - it seems like there's a big appetite out there for an Airdrop bike with a coil shock that's plush and takes the big hits but without a big weight penalty.
I still haven't written up the results of the testing process, but the bottom line is simple: the DBcoil IL is ace. I've got one on my bike and I'm not taking it off. You can now buy the Edit frame with a DBcoil IL shock or the new Edit Coil as a full bike.
As things cooled down a bit and the days starting growing shorter, things slowed down a little at Airdrop HQ, which was not a bad thing. The Summer had been amazing, but a lot of hard work. Then out of the blue I got a call from an old colleague who offered me a job: big salary, car, the works. Basically an opportunity to sell up (sell out?) and go back to the world of work. No thanks.
In October I also finally pulled off something I'd been working on for a year: getting an account with Hope Technology. You might think that a Yorkshire based, all British component brand would be a perfect fit for Airdrop, and you'd be right. But the guys at Hope are very protective of their product, their brand and their existing customers, which I respect. They must get a lot of calls from people saying "I'm setting up a bike brand" so I think they were waiting to see if Airdrop was the real deal.
By October my constant nagging paid off, and we got in. To celebrate the very first thing I did was order up a full bike's worth of bling Hope components and built up a very special custom bike: The Hope Bike. I was all for revealing it straight away but we've been using it for a special filming project, which is coming out in the new year. But for now here's a sneak preview:
With demand for Edits running high and sales going well, stock was starting to get a bit thin so it was time to get more frames on order. I'd been working on some revisions since the Summer so I got everything finalised and another order in. Those frames are due to complete in February (where have we heard that before?) and will be here in March, all being well. There are some small but significant tweaks to the design, not least the inclusion of stealth dropper post routing and updated geometry. Look out for an announcement in the new year along with the launch of pre-orders - there are a lot of people waiting to get a stealth-compatible Edit.
November also saw another big step forward: I signed the lease on new business premises. Until now Airdrop has been a garage brand - albeit a very nice garage set up for the purpose - but it's time to grow. The new place will enable Airdrop to launch new bikes, have a dedicated workshop and photo studio, and eventually a showroom too. It's a lot of commitment but if I'm going to even do half the things I've got planned, it needs to happen.
In true Airdrop style, I've taken on a big project. It's a fixer-upper. But since when was doing things the easy way the right way? When this place is done, it's going to be awesome.
Almost exactly a year to the day since the website was launched, I rebuilt the whole thing and launched it again. In some ways a year is not a long time, but on the web it's an age. Plus I'd got so much fantastic content built up over the course of the year it would have been a crime not to give it a proper site to live on. I've you haven't spent much time on the new site, take five minutes to look around. I'm really proud of it, even if I do say so myself, and I think it's something that's actually quite rare for a very small bike brand to have a high quality website. But to me it's really important to do everything well, and that includes the way I communicate with customers.
In mid December I had a surgery on my shoulder to fix the latest dislocation, and the damage done by all the previous ones. It's left me in a sling for a few weeks, and at time of writing my right arm has withered to a puny, weak appendage thanks to the lack of activity. But I'll be back stronger than ever by next Summer.
The best way to round out the year was to get an appearance in the very special Dirt publication Get Rad. It's a celebration of Dirt's 20 years in the game and a summary of everything that they've been up to in that time. To get a page in that book was, without wishing to overstate things, quite an honour. In many ways, Get Rad is a 20-year history of the sport, so for Airdrop Bikes to be written into that history is a real privilege.
At the start of 2016, my goal was to sell 100 Edits, and that's exactly what I've done. The whole year has been a massive learning experience and one of the best things is the amount of feedback I get from customers. Very few people just buy their bike and ride off out of sight. So what I have now is a deep resource of real-life feedback from genuine customers as to how the Edit could be improved in future. Some of those things have been developed and are in production for the next version for the Edit already. Look out for the announcement in January, but what I can tell you now is that internal routing for a Stealth Dropper is coming, along with revised geometry and a few little tweaks that will refine the design. Plus there will be a different colour option and a revised graphics package.
In pretty much every interview I do, I get asked why I didn't start with a hardtail. That would have made a lot of sense, and it certainly would have been easier than to start with a 150mm full suspension bike. The truth is I always intended to do a hardtail, I just didn't want Airdrop to be a "hardtail brand". So I'm pleased to announce that the Airdrop Bitmap is nearing production. It'll be a true "hardcore hardtail" in the British tradition; fast, fun and very aggressive. It'll be a hooligan of a bike, and it will uphold all the most important Airdrop values of quality, simplicity and creativity. I'm very excited about this bike, and I can't wait to show it. It'll be here by Summer.
Behind the scenes I'll be developing a new set of bikes to launch in 2018 and beyond - it takes that long. And I've got a million ideas, but I can't do them all, not yet. I'd really like to get your input on this, so if you've got an opinion on what kind of bikes you want to see from Airdrop Bikes in future, please drop me an email.
Clayspades was great, but that was almost a year ago. We've been working all Autumn on something new to release in the new year, and it's very nearly done. Expect an amazing bike, awesome riding, local trails, golden light and all in glorious HD. It will get you stoked to ride, that's a guarantee.
There's also an adventure film project in the pipeline, but I don't want to say too much about that yet. As with all these things, it'll be ready when it's ready, and only a fool would rush it.
2016 was a hell of a year for Airdrop Bikes, but if I keep working hard and you guys keep supporting the brand, 2017 is going to be even better. Cheers.
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James is the 'other' member of staff at Airdrop. With a background in DH and a lot of bike park laps under his tyres, his custom built Edit v2 is unique. So we thought we would kick off our new series of bike checks with a look at James' bike, and why he's chosen to build it this way.