Road product manager Jodie Shann is responsible for bringing every machine in the Vitus Bikes portfolio that isn't a mountain bike from concept to delivery. He manages this challenging role with support from his team of designers and engineers.
What is product management? I guess I’m the guardian of every category of Vitus bike that isn’t a mountain bike. A lot of the bigger brands have category-specific product managers, who focus on road, for example, or mountain bikes or kids bikes. But I manage everything for Vitus Bikes that isn’t a mountain bike - road bikes, cyclo-cross bikes, gravel bikes, kids bikes, city bikes, time-trial bikes and track bikes.
With a bit of help, I get to choose which direction we go in, within each of those categories. Through market research and looking at new technologies, I put ideas forward for new models. By managing projects and project teams, I take a bike from the concept in my head on day one, through many, many stages to create a product delivered and ready to sell to the customer.
There are so many exciting steps on the journey from concept to delivery and each is as enjoyable as the other. We start by brainstorming where we go with a bike. Coming up with a solid plan is really exciting, but the next stage involves an industrial designer and we get to see the reality of that concept on a screen or a piece of paper. Then we go a step further and create a 3D model in software that allows us to look all around the bike, underneath and on top. After that, we receive a 3D-printed sample and have a physical object for the first time. With every step, the excitement and the enjoyment builds.
The breadth of the Vitus Bikes portfolio makes it a challenging role, but we’ve got a fantastic team. For example, I work closely with Ben Marvin, our design engineer, across all of the product categories that I’m responsible for. We have a fantastic relationship, built on a history that we both have within the sport. I think a lot of the stuff we’ve done together has worked really well, and long may it continue.
We’re already working on bikes for model year 2023, which can be mind-blowing, but it all comes down to organisation and planning. I’m also working on the bikes that we still have in stock from last year, alongside the bikes that are landing for the new model year. The rest of the team is focussed only two to three years ahead. I can rely on them to carry forwards the initial brief. If I was trying to run everything myself, it would be a nightmare, but we’ve got the right teams and the right staff in place to manage that, like the design engineering team.
Balancing design and commercial requirements is a chicken and egg scenario. They both go hand-in-hand, and have to. You can’t look at one and not the other. If sales became our sole focus, we would lose the brand - we’d become a sales machine and the bikes would become purely volume drivers. Similarly, if you flipped it on its head, and the brand became entirely about design and engineering, we’d lose our broad market appeal, and become an exclusive, high-end brand, which isn’t where we want to be. We want to cover everything as well as we can.
Ultimately, we don’t only want to sell high-end bikes. We want to help people enjoy cycling, from children through to people cycling for general fitness, to weekend warriors, up to pro level. I think we’re in a really good place at the moment, in terms of knowing our brand and its breadth, and understanding what is possible. In terms of resource, we probably wouldn’t be able to stretch more at the moment, so we’re focused on evolution, which is a positive thing.
I’m excited by the heritage of Vitus Bikes, but I don’t find it daunting. We have an opportunity to build a much broader brand than its first incarnation, when Vitus Bikes was known predominantly for performance and technical advances. We have more product categories now, and we want ultimately to be the best in each of those categories. By ‘best’, I don’t mean high-end bikes or Formula One engineering, but bikes that are desirable, which most people can afford, and which have credibility. That last bit is where Vitus Pro Cycling Team, powered by Brother UK comes in - brand credibility.
The team bike definitely stands out and our artwork designers have done a fantastic job with what we call the paint mask; how the two different colours work together on the bike. The first thing was to get the paint mask right, to make the bike look fast.
The second aspect is the new technology we’ve used for the holographic decal. Bicycle decals are usually placed beneath a layer of clear coat, which prevents the holographic effect. We worked with a specialist company to develop a decal which can be applied on top of the paint to deliver the full holographic effect. You walk past and it changes from blue to pink to green to orange to yellow. It looks fantastic and a lot of people have commented on it.
Colour choice was the other key aspect. We could have painted it in a standard red finish, but we’ve used a metallic finish, which makes all the difference; that’s our designers knowing their jobs really well, I guess. We take a lot of inspiration from the motor industry. The matt stealth finish is just starting to disappear from cycling now, and there’s a lot of interesting paintwork starting to appear. You’ll start to see that across the Vitus Bikes range, and the first iteration is with the team bike.
As we speak, the team have had their bikes for only about six weeks, and already we’ve made four developments. One example is seat post length. We began with one length only, but we’ll start to make varied seat post lengths for various frame sizes. We found that guys racing at the highest level want smaller frames with longer posts, so they can get lower at the front end. Ours weren’t quite long enough for some of the extreme positions that pro athletes desire. Our mould for a new carbon seat post is just about finished and we should see some new lengths in the next three weeks.
Product development is one benefit we gain from working with the team, but it doesn’t stop there. The relationship works as a testing ground for components and specifications, too. For example, we’ve never spec-ed SRAM components on this model before. We’ve worked really closely with SRAM over the last nine months, looking at the RED eTAP AXS groupset and testing it on the bike. Now, we’ll be looking to introduce SRAM groupsets on the consumer model. Hopefully, having done all the research and development and testing with SRAM and with the team, our customers will receive bikes that work perfectly.
The most valuable feedback doesn’t necessarily come from the most experienced riders. The younger guys can be more flexible and their feedback broader as a result. A lot of their input will be felt in the evolution of the model. The guys are aware of what we have in the pipeline, but I’ll be asking for feedback from them on the current bike; things that we’d change if we were going to do it again. There are limits - I can’t change the geometry, for example - but there are some things we can change.
It’s been important to get to know the guys. The more comfortable they are with me, the more valuable the feedback will be. We don’t sit at the sponsors’ table in the dining room; we sit with the riders. We want them to be comfortable with us. I’ll ride with them here in Calpe, and meet them at various times throughout the season and get their feedback.
The training camp is especially valuable. This is probably the only opportunity in the season where everyone is together, including the support staff and mechanics, and I’m including them in this feedback. It isn’t just about the riders; input from the mechanics and the team staff is just as important.
I’m already looking forward to the 2019 season. The calibre of riders on Vitus Pro Cycling Team, powered by Brother UK has gone up significantly this year, which for me as a race enthusiast is very exciting. Seeing the guys riding our bikes at the front of some of the biggest races in the UK is a very exciting prospect.