Whether in the dirty, cramped environs of a small frame shop in Italy, or to any one of the numerous convention centers I’ve stood in for the annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show, witnessing those who’ve committed their energies to building bikes always brings to mind the memorable quote uttered by Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own when he was extolling the virtues of playing baseball: “If it was easy, everybody could do it!” Funny thing, but to me, that’s exactly why I’m not a fan of baseball—because everyone can do it!
However, no matter the level of respect and esteem that I readily offer to anyone who has started their own bike company, can it really be that hard?! Obviously, I’m neither smart enough to run a business or design a bike, but as was illustrated in my interviews with cycling entrepreneurs Blake Taylor and Zach Lambert (RBA, April 2022), who each started their own bike brand with just a few e-mails, they certainly made it sound easy. Much easier in fact than what I’m assuming Elon Musk endured to get his car company up and running. Regardless, I remain mystified (and in awe) at the effort that Ernesto Colnago, Craig Calfee, David Turner and so many others have exerted to see their name emblazoned on a downtube.
“The added benefits of the New Zealand landscape and local Maori culture is also a great way to build storytelling into each frame platform and colorway we produce.”
All that notwithstanding, over my decades-long stint in the business, I’ve lost track of how many bike brands—large and small—that I’ve seen come and go. And assuredly, every bike brand that has come and gone has departed for any one of a million reasons. Just ask Michael Pryde, a cycling enthusiast and entrepreneur from New Zealand of all places, who is making a second attempt at running a bike company with the appropriately named brand, Chapter2 bikes.
THE FIRST SHOT
Along with his father, Neil, who had made an international name for himself designing high-performance windsurfing products, Michael Pryde got into the bike business just over a decade ago. We got our first taste of a Pryde bike back in 2011 and then again in 2014 when we tested a Neil Pryde Zephyr and were impressed enough to also have it featured on the cover. We hailed the bike’s graphics but also its racy handling. Three years later we ran into the NP brand once again at a press launch in Utah where they were showing off a flashy road and aero road bike duo. And then—poof!—it was radio silence.
Fast-forward to 2019. While we were running ragged at the Sea Otter Classic, we came upon a booth showing off some attractive bikes with a name we’d never heard of before. “Chapter2” read the small inscription on the downtube, and lo and behold, who should be standing in the shade of the E-Z Up tent than Michael Pryde himself. The bike we photographed that day was a gravel bike that, like his earlier models, had a particularly impressive design and finish to it.
LET THE MAN SPEAK
I remember seeing my first Chapter2 at the Sea Otter back in 2019. When did the brand actually start?
Chapter2 formally started in July 2017. But, as an idea, it was born in 2015 shortly after I left Chapter1 (Neil Pryde Bikes). It took us 1 1/2 years to design, develop and launch the Tere, which was our first model.
What happened to Neil Pryde bikes, and what was the evolution to Chapter2?
My father, Neil, sold his stake in Neil Pryde Limited in 2015, and the company went through a process of restructuring, which meant the dissolution of the NP Bikes division. This meant that when Neil completed his transaction, I also left the company. We took all the lessons we learned from NP Bikes to develop Chapter2. As a pretty significant company in the outdoor sports industry, Neil Pryde Limited entered the bike market in 2010 with an approach and business model that was in direct competition with all the major players. We did all the usual things, like sponsoring a pro team (UnitedHealthcare 2012–2013), and we had inventory in various parts of the world with sales staff and spent a lot of money. Honestly speaking, we were arrogant and not sufficiently differentiated in product and business model to survive in such a competitive landscape. With Chapter2, the philosophy is much more humble, and we are a small and boutique by design.
How would you differentiate the brands?
We built the business on the DNA of a small boutique brand. Offering frames only was one of the first strategic decisions we made and is still the cornerstone of our business model. The concept is to offer an experience that is similar to a custom builder but have it at a fair price and readily available. Buying a Chapter2 is a very personal experience. It often involves communicating directly with me via Livechat/Facebook/Zoom where I help customers understand our philosophy, frame sets and personal approach to building a dream bike. Then the customer reaches out to our dealer network, and because we only offer a frameset, customers get to build something truly personal and unique. Buying a Chapter2 is a journey, not a “buy it now, ride it tomorrow” experience. We hear time and time again that people are somewhat jaded by all the marketing hype around WorldTour bikes and how some communities are saturated with bikes from the big players. People want something different, unique, and the painting on our frames clearly positions us as a really desirable product that ticks all the performance boxes yet looks and feels completely bespoke.
“Jaded by WorldTour bikes,” but I see your bikes have a UCI-approved sticker.
Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t really know or understand how the UCI homologation works. It’s all about maintaining a particular look and feel that the UCI considers appropriate for the image of the sport and to create a level playing field so that it doesn’t become an arms race.
“Honestly speaking, we were arrogant and not sufficiently differentiated in product and business model to survive in such a competitive landscape. What we learned from the Neil Pryde days of doing complete bikes and following the seasonal rat race had a big influence over how we wanted Chapter2 to look and feel.”
The UCI approval process doesn’t address anything about the engineering and design that create the performance benchmark or workmanship and safety of the frame, but many consumers believe that since it’s a UCI-approved bike, it “must be good.” The reality is that almost every bike at the WorldTour is produced by a contract manufacturer using materials and processes that are very mature. Whether a bike is good or not comes down to the quality of the design/engineering and the quality of the vendor.
Beyond the model names and graphics, what does the spirit of New Zealand mean to you, and what bearing does it play in bike design?
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The fact that we are so far from just about everywhere in the world also gives us a bit of an exotic cachet. New Zealand has a lot of high-tech businesses that punch well above their weight despite a small population of just 5 million. In areas of composites and aerodynamics, New Zealand is one of the leaders in yacht design (America’s Cup) and track cycling, and that expertise has helped us in product development. Some of our models were developed and tested at the Auckland University wind tunnel. Of course, it’s also a fantastic place to ride, so product testing doesn’t become work; it’s playtime in some amazing and inspiring scenery.
Everybody who looks at the bike thinks it’s custom paint. How much extra effort is involved to make them production-oriented?
What we learned from the NP bike days of doing complete bikes and following the seasonal rat race had a big influence over how we wanted Chapter2 to look and feel. In a market dominated by big players, there was simply a need to stand out amongst the crowd and attract early adopters looking for something different. So, we turned a marketing problem into a unique selling proposition. The added benefits of the New Zealand landscape and local Maori culture is also a great way to build storytelling into each frame platform and colorway we produce. We don’t follow any industry seasonal sales patterns, so I am constantly working on new and creative narratives to develop the next colorway, and when we are ready to launch a new color, it just gets added to our collection as we phase out another color. I guess you can call it technical fast fashion with painstaking attention to detail and quality.
Chapter2 has a road, gravel and aero bike. What’s your favorite and why?
For me, personally, the latest bike is my favorite. Right now I am riding the TOA a lot, but on the gravel side the AO offers a lot of versatility, and in a country like New Zealand where the landscape is constantly changing, it’s just so much fun to ride. However, I am actually riding something right now that’s not even available yet. Riding under the cover of dawn, I’ve been testing something really fast. More on that to come!
How many people make up the Chapter2 team? Is your dad
We’re small and personal. The team consists of six full-time staff, and we work with a number of independent agents in various countries. Back in 2015 when I was at Neil Pryde I was sitting in an office with around 80 other people (plus 2000 in total globally), and it’s definitely not the environment I am comfortable with. Chapter2 is more like a family, with most of the staff coming over from Neil Pryde Limited when we established our office/warehouse in 2017. My dad is a pivotal part of the business. His 45-year tenure at Neil Pryde Ltd. is invaluable in putting in place good business practices to ensure that we are financially viable.
“My ‘why’ sits squarely in the drive to design bikes that I want to ride. Sounds somewhat selfish, but it’s hard for me to think about it in any other way.”
Most creatives are poor at time management, but my eight years as an architect has brought structure to my design process, and married with Neil’s business acumen, we make a great team. He’s now 80-plus years old but works harder than ever before. He thrives under pressure and is driven by a desire to succeed. My “why” sits squarely in the drive to design bikes that I want to ride. It sounds somewhat selfish, but it’s hard for me to think about it in any other way. There’s nothing like the feeling of throwing a leg over something you were intimately involved in the creation of.
How has your philosophy of bike design evolved since we tested the Zephyr in 2014?
Design is an evolving process, and market trends and consumer needs are always evolving, so I make it my job to always know what is coming around the corner, making sure we are able to respond and be relevant yet have a certain Chapter2 swagger that sets us apart. At NP Bikes, we spent most of our time looking at what the big players were doing and somehow trying to emulate them. But, with Chapter2, I find myself inspired by the many boutique handmade brands that often swim against the tide and dictate their own terms. Where we differ from handmade bikes is that we are very focused on performance. We are constantly questioning our engineering decisions and measuring the performance of our frames against industry KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). We weigh and measure the stiffness (BB, head tube, rear and fork dropouts) on 100 percent of our frames before painting. Any frame that does not meet our testing benchmark is rejected and destroyed. That’s why we are confident about our products, and hence have a lifetime warranty on the frame’s structure (two years on the painting).
Okay, my favorite question: what is it about the bicycle?
Bicycles are pretty amazing machines. After horses, they are the earliest form of mobility and have stood the test of time and continued to shape the urban environment. With growing concerns about global warming and urban congestion, the humble bicycle will become even more important to society. Personally, I find cycling has this zen-like quality that I’ve never experienced with other sports. When you find that rhythm in your pedal stroke, the terrain just falls away, and I’m just in my own little bubble.