To Be Determined Journal

To Be Determined is a journal of cycling, adventure and photography, curated by a NYC-based cycling team known as TBD Racing or Team TBD. From criteriums to cyclocross to product reviews and travel diaries, it is all part of the TBD Journal.

The Interview: The Rover Cycle Co

We recently had the chance to sit down with Dan Cleiman, TBD racer and one half of The Rover Cycle Co to talk about the state of play in the mobile bicycle mechanical services business that he launched with Roger Parmelee just over one year ago. 

If you're curious about The Rover Cycle Co check them out on Instagram where you'll find some of the prettiest bikes in New York City or head over to their website to book their services. While you're at it don't miss Roger's recap of CX Nationals 2017 featuring the Richard Sachs team (the images for this post are from that very cold weekend). Now for the interview....

How did the idea behind the Rover Cycle Co come to fruition?

The idea behind The Rover came up, as many do, at a bar one evening over a few too many brews. We had both crashed at a race and needed to get our bikes serviced. I was complaining about the fact that most bike shops were only open from 9am to 5pm when my working hours were more like 8am to 7pm. Roger was frustrated at the lack of quality service and trust in the person wrenching his bike. And from that discussion, we created some of the basic concepts around The Rover: pro-level, client-centric servicing. We were obviously not reinventing the wheel, but we thought that if we could successfully execute around these guiding principles, we could fill an important gap in the NYC cycling world.


Can you speak to each of your backgrounds and how it informs how your approach the Rover?

For those who know us, it’s quite clear that Roger and I have very complementary sets of skills. I’m a numbers guy. I am extremely focused on ensuring that our business runs in the most optimized manner both in terms of purchases, expenses, scheduling and logistics. And our clients benefit from that structured approach as The Rover is not only able to pass on savings to its clients, but it also allows for a high degree of transparency around the work and cost structure. I’m also a stickler for ensuring that we’re on time to every pickup and drop-off appointment and on-schedule for turning work around.

Roger brings on the creative aspect of The Rover. He’s a marketing genius and is capable of thinking outside the box and nailing phenomenal ideas. As an example, everyone who sees the graphics on the van is always immediately impressed. When Roger explained to me how he created that, I was dumbstruck. He basically took thousands of pictures of aluminum foil crunched in different ways and digitally joined them to create patterns that are never repeated - just crazy if you ask me! But it works! Roger is also the brain behind our website which is clean and efficient. And he is also one of the key drivers in future products that we intend to launch under The Rover umbrella.

While we bring to the table fairly different skill sets, there is one thing that we both agree on: we never compromise on quality. We pride ourselves on hiring the most talented individuals that we can find, equipping them with nothing but the best tools on the market and delivering the best service possible to our clients. And the results are clear - to date we have a 98% hit rate on returning clients.

What has the learning curve been like for launching the Rover from scratch?

The first few months were rough. While I had already launched a successful start-up in the past and leveraged many of the best practices, setting up a platform for retail clients was challenging. We made a few mistakes along the way, purchased tools that we ended up not using, but nothing major that couldn’t be quickly rectified. The one thing that we underestimated was how successful The Rover ended up becoming. We originally planned on a purely mobile model. But given traffic patterns in NYC and the increasing complexity of the work being entrusted to us by our client we had to adapt and eventually expanded to a physical location in addition to our mobile fleet.


When it comes to differentiation versus peers - be it bike shops or otherwise - what makes Rover different?

I think that our differentiation really comes in terms of attention to detail. And as I mentioned before, that permeates into everything that we do at The Rover. And that’s one of the reasons why we have a very simple service structure. A client can select the base level service (Bronze), the mid-level service (Silver), or the full overhaul (Gold). When we receive a bike, we don’t simply “fix issue X”. We give it, at a minimum, a pro-level wash. We inspect every part for wear and tear. We give it a full tune-up in addition to fixing any issues specifically pointed out by our clients. It’s a holistic approach to bike mechanics. And, perhaps most importantly, we test ride every bike that comes off the mechanic’s stand. And that’s our final level of quality control. Most bike shops “go through the gears” on the stand. And more often than not, when you take that freshly tuned-up bike out for a ride, it’s making noises or not performing as well as you’d want. Well, testing it on a stand versus putting it through the rigours of the weight, pressure and torque generated by a rider are two completely different things. And that last step is really what allows us to ensure that every bike that gets delivered to our clients is performing at the level acceptable to us.

How do you see the service element of the cycling industry evolving over time?

Clients are becoming more knowledgeable about the mechanics of their machines and are demanding a more personalized approach to servicing. We get many requests for tailored set-ups, recabling in more discreet ways, hiding electronic shifting components in the frame, and bar tape being wrapped in a very particular manner. We’ve positioned our business to adapt and be receptive to those needs and we think that the high-end service element of the cycling industry is heading that way.


What are the medium term plans for the Rover?

Right now we’re focused on a controlled expansion in order to satisfy the growing demand for our services. We’ve revamped our website and scheduling tools, we’ve set up a physical space where much of the work gets done and we’ve added some key talent to our team. Our next step is to explore drop-ship and custom building with select partners and the launch of products under The Rover umbrella. We’re also looking to further expand our offering into Westchester and Connecticut where we already have a sizeable client base.

What Rover products or services are you most excited about?

That’s an easy answer: bar tape. We did quite a bit of R&D to come up with The Rover Basics Bar Tape (offered in Volume I and Volume II). We get them manufactured in the same plants as all the other major players in the bar tape space, but to our precise specifications. We love the texture and feel of the tape and the feedback from our clients has been very positive.

What are some of your favorite bikes that you have worked on so far?

Now that’s a harder answer… We’ve been lucky to work on the best of the best when it comes to bikes. But it’s less about the bike itself and more about the attention to detail, the problem solving aspect and the pure love for these machines.