Why not

This is a ‘conversation’ in response to Ian Willetts, who has responded in turn to Stewart Crawford’s discussion in the ‘ideas’ page.

Ian’s comments have made me think hard about what I’m doing and where I’m going…

IW: I’ve been following this blog with considerable interest, seeing the Landseer concept gradually come to life. I think the designs and concepts you’ve been working on have been realised beautifully. I said, many years ago, as have others, that you have a unique product and a great brand.

GA: Thanks for those positive sentiments, and you haven’t even ridden the Landseer yet! Several folks have recently been able to give it a test ride; their smiles as I watched them return indicated their positive experience; their subsequent comments did too.

IW: It’s a shame the planned production-run, some time ago, never came off.

GA: Well, yes and no. From my point of view, I’ve been able to work on so many improvements in the intervening period. I’m really excited about them and, thinking about it today, I’m happy that the earlier version wasn’t produced. There would be a good second-hand market by now, with people upgrading!

IW: I was compelled to contact you after I read your exchange with Stuart Crawford in the Ideas page. Some of his comments must have been quite hard to take, but I understand where he is coming from. You could say we are both potentially willing, but frustrated, customers for an, as yet, unrealised product, and we fear it may never come to fruition.

GA: So am I, customer for an unrealised product, that is. That’s why I decided to design and build it myself.

IW: My own take on this situation is that the Landseer has become your own particular labour of love. It is an intense exploration of, and fascination with, a concept you know to be intrinsically ‘right’, but which you will never be quite satisfied with and, therefore, will never be fully realised, commercially. I think it’s in your nature to perfect the concept – after all, that is part of the fun isn’t it? Stuart made a valid point: there comes a point where you have to ask yourself if enough is enough, stop fiddling, and actually get it out there.

GA: You are quite right. Since September 2009, my work on the AventuraTT, and latterly the Landseer, has become increasingly intense. It does sometimes feel as if it will never end. Perfecting the concept is more a compulsion than fun; in fact it’s bloody hard work. With the completion of the Landseer, that point is here! If I develop any more designs in future, they will be Landseer variants; larger, smaller, or even a recumbent trike!

IW: You were ahead of your time back in the 1980s; and once financially bitten, twice shy. I can understand your reluctance, but the same thing happened to Steve Jobs when Apple originally fired him; he didn’t do so bad second time around.

GA: I think I’m still ahead of my time! A few days ago I celebrated my 66th birthday, I am now officially retired. There will be no second-time-around for me. What I most like doing is riding and, to enjoy it better, I designed and built the Landseer. Age is now taking its toll; the kind of riding I really enjoy will only continue for another five, maybe ten, years, so it’s my legacy to the world.

IW: As much as you know the naysayers will never be convinced, nor do you care about that, you seem far from convinced that more than a few much-maligned others will be interested either. I think you are wrong, and Stuart said the same.

GA: There are people now showing an interest in the Landseer. I (and my supporters) have made a big effort to inform people of the reasoning behind the design and generate interest by contributing to various forum threads, as well as creating our own threads. Whether there are enough who want to actually buy one is yet to be seen.

IW: Because I think the rest of the world needs it! Look at the Evans, Wiggle and CRC websites – each sells thousands of identikit bikes, easily, merely with a change of paint and decals. Look at all those brands that have come to market recently, selling nothing more innovative than generic single-speeds and cross-bikes. Gravel bikes have taken off recently, but only because the wider press cottoned onto the niche.

GA: You are right; I’m absolutely convinced that, with sufficient funding, effective marketing and reliable supply, the Landseer and its variants would find a very satisfactory place in the world bicycle market. Designing and making the first one is my job. Funding, marketing, manufacture, that’s someone else’s job.

IW: Because I can’t buy a Landseer, I recently bought a Surly Pugsley ‘Special Ops’ fat-bike (£2000 with accessories) to ride here in Oman, where I currently live and work. Loads of sand here, dust, extreme heat and terrain – very nice it is too, but not necessarily for typical bike transmissions. Here in Muscat there are miles and miles of fantastic beaches to explore. Just the thing for a fat bike, eh? Yes, sure, for the first few miles. Breezing along a hard-packed beach for the first time, the sand shagged the rear cassette, and got into almost everything else as well. I cleaned it all out, but it won’t now run as smoothly as it did. Oh for a Landseer! Of course, I can spend money (quite a lot of it) and time (quite a lot of it) to completely rebuild it, but is that really why I bought a fat-bike? The big, fat tyres are great, but the bike itself is otherwise just a standard MTB, with all those generic design and specification flaws; this one has even more restrictions in the shape of off-set stays, extreme chainline etc, etc. These machines are flying out the bike shop doors, although many will probably never get used off-road.

GA: I can’t put my hand on my heart and say a Landseer would be entirely un-affected by the Oman sand, but I’m sure it would survive reasonably well, and keep running. It would be a fascinating test, and devising ways of keeping that sand out would be an absorbing challenge.

IW: Anyway, here’s an idea: create a written specification including a custom frame. Cost out all the bought components, bespoke parts and your labour to come up with what might be a total figure for a ‘standard’ build. Such is my belief in your product, and it’s sales potential, provided there was a consistent supply, that I would fund the second Landseer, up-front. I would ‘own’ it, and would eventually take possession, but in the meantime you could use it for promotional purposes, you know, getting it into the press and all that kind of thing. I’d love to give you £500k right now! But I can’t.

GA: There is something I have learned about myself over the years, and that is I hate getting paid for something before I’ve done the work. The Landseer components alone cost between £1750 and £2000, utilising a stock frame. So, adding the cost of a custom frame, at least £1000, and a figure for my time to build it would bring the eventual price very high indeed, for what is, basically, a utilitarian bicycle. I think we need to look into producing at least ten machines.

IW: That’s understandable; when you look at what that sort of money buys, comparatively speaking, most people would be thinking about something extremely lightweight, lots of carbon-fibre and titanium, dual suspension, hydraulic discs and all that sort of thing, at the very least. I can see that it will never really stack up commercially. The kind of value added you’re talking about is functionality, which commercially scores lower than technical sophistication, or bling.

GA: That is one of the difficulties; the qualities inherent in the Landseer are not obvious; you can’t ‘see’ them, you can only fully appreciate them once you’ve ridden it for several hours. Only a few people understand that a true cross-country bicycle can be more efficient and functional; most consider that mountain bike design has reached its zenith. That is until something new comes along, like 29ers, or fat-bikes.

IW: When I look back to those original Clelands, many of the materials and components used reflected the scarcity of suitable kit, and they were pretty much common to you and those building the early MTBs coming out of the USA. But, the way the 1982 Cleland Aventura was put together was fundamentally different; I still remember seeing your adverts and thinking “That’s what I want; it just looks right”. I also remember reading Nick Crane’s review of the test ride up Snowdon; I wanted one so badly!

GA: And the Landseer is, essentially, the same bicycle. The design philosophy has not changed, it has simply been refined, and with that refinement, improved.

IW: None of us can compel you to put your creation into production! Who are we to demand that? But, it’s worth a try! If you do decide you could go in that direction, take heart; there is support!