I first heard about Team Kovi this past spring after stumbling on them via a cycling companies twitter feed. After watching them over the past few months I’ve slowly become more interested in what their offering, especially as they’ve tweaked their program to be more appealing.
So I had a chance to talk with Robb Zbierski, one of the guy’s behind Team Kovi to understand exactly what it is…and what it isn’t.
Team Kovi’s purpose in life is actually multifaceted. One side of their operation is to be a testing/validation pool for cycling related manufacturers. They do this by working with manufacturers to get product to send to their members, which then in turn provide honest feedback – in most cases – prior to the units hitting retail. Sometimes the products are unbranded to minimize brand related bias.
The other – yet integral – side of their operation is to give you and me products that you can not only test, but also keep. For example, on the low end with their $500 level you get a full new Saris CycleOps Joule that’s yours to keep. On the higher end option, you get a new bike to keep each year. We’ll talk more about the bike piece in a second (since I know ya’ll just now started to pay attention).
Looking a bit more in depth at that first piece – providing feedback to manufacturers. To me, this is what separates Kovi from being any sort of retailer/distributor. They aim to slot themselves into the development cycle for products and get products into the hands of real users earlier in the process. Further (and this is the important part) – they aim to remove the inevitable user feedback bias that comes when folks test a product from a specific company and have the relationship directly with that company. Because folks typically want to keep the relationship ‘happy’, they often provide ‘happy’ feedback – when in reality, brutal/honest feedback is really needed.
So Kovi acts as the middleman and makes the feedback from it’s members anonymous. But they’re also careful to pair the right folks to the right products, as Robb noted “We match the product to the profile”.
For example, this past summer they did a product test with Saris around indoor trainers. To get into the indoor trainer test program you filled out a survey they detailed out your trainer habits. For example – would you be using the trainer during the summer? Did you have a dedicated bike for the trainer? Or did you switch bikes daily?
These were all important questions, because the ideal candidates for the test were actually folks who didn’t have a dedicated bike – as they were looking for feedback specifically on the release/attachment mechanism on the trainer and wanted folks who were constantly swapping bikes. Though, they don’t tell you this up front, as it would alter the feedback loop.
While we were discussing how companies typically solicit feedback Robb pointed out that “the value of Kovi is…being part of a group who’s voice is heard by manufacturers and who’s feedback helps shape cycling products”.
I asked Robb how many companies they’re working with today, and some of the examples of items they have tests either currently underway, or just about to start.
- A bike rack
- Bike computers
- A few frame companies
- After market brakes
- Bike Trainers
- Carbon fiber wheel study
That last one is pretty interesting. Rob explained that they’ll be sending out each tester 5-6 different wheel sets to try, each for about 2 weeks, to get comparative feedback on them.
Of course, one of the major draws of Team Kovi is the higher level membership which includes a new carbon bike each year. Now, before I get into the deets – I should point out that this isn’t for everyone. It’s aimed specifically at folks who would otherwise be purchasing an expensive bike somewhat routinely (1-3 years). I’m not one of those peeps.
So…the bike program…
At the highest level you pay $3,500 a year and get a brand new bike that’s yours to keep. The bikes are valued between $7-8,000 and are ‘pro level, and all carbon’. There’s also a slightly different option for $2,500 a year where you can get the same deal…but you don’t get to keep the bike – it goes back to its Kovi birthplace at the end of the year.
The bikes are from a variety of manufacturers, but are mostly road bikes with a handful of triathlon bikes. Because of the effort to get unbiased feedback, it is possible the bike would be unbranded. Though, some of them are actually branded as well. Just depends on what bike would fit you and your profile best.
One important aspect of the program is the bike is fully yours. Once it arrives on your doorstep it’s really no different than if you bought it. Meaning, you can keep it as long as you’d like (ideally that first year), or you can sell it if you wish. There aren’t any funky legal agreements to enter in regarding the bike. So if you want to make some form of new-age art to hang from your ceiling out of it…go for it.
If however, you aim for the $2,500 membership, then you’d have to send it back at the end of the year. So no ceiling art there.
Speaking of sending back – I asked how they handled bike fit related items. For example, my fiancée is pretty small and thus has problems finding bikes that fit her well (heck, she rides 650’s!). He said that their first goal is to make someone happy on a bike. So you’ve got 14 days from when it arrives at your pad to return it. The bike actually arrives fully assembled, just add pedals! If it doesn’t work out, they’ll cover the shipping back to them and get you a bike that does work.
Robb commented that “It’s our goal to get you on a bike that works great and your confident in. Well do everything we can to make you happy, if for some reason we can’t make you happy, we’ll offer you a refund.”
One of the reasons for this is as he pointed out, if you’re not happy on the bike, then you won’t be happy with any of the ancillary items that you test – such as a new wheel set.
What ya get for your cash
As I mentioned earlier, they’ve got basically two different paid program levels (well, sorta three actually, plus one free level).
First, the free level includes basically includes semi-insider information – sorta like a newsletter.
Next, is the $500 a year level. This level includes the ability to test one concurrent product at a time. So if you want to test wheels – their all yours. But if you then wanted to try out a trainer, those wheels have to go back. When you sign up you also get a Team Kovi cycling kit and a Joule bike computer. Say what? A Joule? Yup – this is where I did the double-take the other night. The Joule itself sells for $500 (version with the HR strap, which is what you get). So for $500 I would get the Joule, the kit, and other products to test. To put this more bluntly: If I was in the market for the Joule…I’d simply sign-up for Kovi since you’re gonna pay that much anyway.
Finally, the $3,500 level. This level gets you a new bike each year that’s your to keep. The bike is a ‘pro-level’ bike and all carbon. While you won’t know what brand bike you’ll get, they’ll work with you to ensure it fits the type of bike your looking for. If you don’t want to keep the bike, then for $2,500 you can do the same thing. Additionally, instead of testing one concurrent product, you get to test 5 concurrent products. I asked about triathlon bikes, and he did say that they did indeed work with triathlon bike companies.
Robb pointed out that in many ways this is aimed at the person who goes out and buys an expensive bike in the higher end range of $7-8K – but then keeps it for 2-3 years before trying to resell it. That person won’t likely get much of a resale value (a few thousand at best). Whereas in Kovi he argues that in that time period for about the same amount they could have had 2-3 new bikes at the same price point that they can keep. And that’s even before you look at offloading the older bikes…
I find the program interesting at a few different levels. At the cheaper $500 level the ability to get a free Joule is mind-boggling – basically completely paying for your membership…and that’s before you start to play with new products/toys. As I noted above, if I were in the market for a Joule…then I’d probably sign up tomorrow.
Meanwhile, at the higher level for the segment of the population who replace their expensive bikes frequently – that program does make sense. I can’t say it makes sense for me personally, because I’m just simply not replacing my bike that often, or buying that expensive of a bike. But I do know folks that it would make sense for.
On the industry feedback side, I love the idea of getting unbiased feedback into the loop – and I certainly want to see that expand and continue. I think there is (especially in sports technology) still too much guessing about what users actually want in a product, versus what their given. I think there are also a number of companies that I spoke to at the ANT+ Symposium that could benefit from this type of feedback loop. So anything that helps to clarify that picture is great in my book.
Thanks for reading!