Why We Don’t Do OEM

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could buy a complete bike that is already equipped with Compass tires? Take a bike like the Masi Speciale Randonneur (above), roll out of the bike shop and into the hills, your tires gently humming as they roll over the rough pavement. When the road turns to gravel, the feel of the bike changes on the loose surface, but its speed and comfort remain the same.

We get a fair number of requests from bike manufacturers who want to install Compass tires as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts. It seems like an opportunity for Compass: Once riders have experienced the joys of riding on supple tires, they won’t return to stiffer, harsher, slower tires. So why don’t we do OEM sales?

The answer is simple: Cost. Compass tires use the highest-grade materials, from the fabric for the casing to the rubber for the tread. They are made by hand, which requires skilled, experienced labor. Compass tires are made in Japan, a country with high wages. All these factors increase our production costs.

At the consumer level, we (and other small makers of bicycle components) can compensate for the high cost with our low overhead. Big companies need a lot of money for administration, marketing, shareholder profits, etc. We eliminate most of those, and the final consumer price of a Compass tire isn’t much higher than that of a mass-produced tire.

OEM prices are low because the orders are large, and even big companies can significantly reduce their overhead. For small companies like Compass, there isn’t much overhead, and to compete at the OEM level, we’d have to reduce our production costs. We’d have to downgrade our specifications and move production to a low-wage country. That direction isn’t really where we want to take Compass Cycles.

Others have taken our ideas and made them ‘OEM-comptabile.’ At Compass Cycles, we welcome that bike makers now can spec affordable bikes with wide allroad tires. Bikes like the Surly Midnight Special (above) simply wouldn’t exist if there were no affordable OEM tires to ship them with from the factory. Similarly, Masi’s Kellen LeBlanc explained that their Speciale Randonneur was delayed for years until a lower-priced, wide 650B tire became available.

Now more and more cyclists experience the joys of all-road riding on wide rubber. In the past, we never saw another bike on our favorite routes in the Cascade foothills. Now we meet cyclists on almost every ride. Their smiles tell it all.

And in the future, our Compass tires (and other components) provide great upgrades that will make them fall in love with their bikes all over again.

More information:

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into the high-performance components we need for our adventures.
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10 Responses to Why We Don’t Do OEM

  1. Michael Jenkins says:

    Glad to see you’re sticking to your business model. The siren song of high volume sales is frequently punished by lower profits and loss of loyal customers.

  2. Dana Shifflett says:

    Off the subject, but you’re the one who posted the photo of the Masi SR: I hope you will put your experience with, and mods to, this bike in print. I want a bigger frame and 36 spoke (minimum!) wheels, and I prefer rim brakes, but even so, with a unicrown fork, big tires an fenders, and ability to haul a load, this is the best bike available for me and my Kansas farm roads. I just built a Soma GR (after re-reading your write-up on it several times), and I like it and will keep and ride it, but the Masi is soo close to being what I really need.

  3. Ronan Bossard says:

    Compass might not do OEM, but be careful, OEMs are starting to do Compass: I switched from Bon Jons EL to the dumbly named Hutchinson Overide and I am never going back to Compass. The Hutch are infinetly easier to live with and the differences in performance and comfort are too close to be measurable. I can buy 5 Hutchinson and some beers for the price of 2 Compass EL.

    Challenge and Maxxis seem to be about to release tires in the same category; Schwalbe’s G-one are not far (but too costly). Compass will still have some place in the uncommon sizes (44-622, 42-584) but the common 38-622 and 47-584 market segments are getting crowded.

    • You are right, OEM tires are getting better. Gone are the days when you wanted to replace the tires on almost any production bike before you even left the shop. Now, most riders use the OEM tires and upgrade to better tires when the OEMs wear out, or if they plan a special event where they want the ultimate in performance and comfort.

      Still, I think you’ll notice a big difference between an OEM tire and a true high-performance tire. This doesn’t just apply to Compass tires – tires like the wonderful FMB tubulars or even the Vittoria Open Corsa CX simply can’t be made to a price that is ‘OEM compatible.’ Even Panaracer’s offerings are being priced out of the OEM market, because they are made in Japan. Take the Cannondale Slate: it used to come with rebranded Gravel Kings, but now switched to less expensive WTB 650B tires.

    • Alex Nosse says:

      Your math confuses me. The Hutchinson Overide in 700 x 35mm retails for $59.99. The Bon Jon Pass in “Standard” casing retails for $62.

  4. Preston R Grant says:

    Regarding tires, my wife and I rode the Mammoth Gran Fondo on September 8th. I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable I was going across the rumble strips with my Bon Jon Pass 35mm tires, but I noticed that when the riders with typical skinny tires crossed the rumble strips, their bikes shook and bounced violently and very uncomfortably.

  5. Ford says:

    OEM tires are always terrible. I love your tires. They are worth saving up for. I can’t wait to get my Babyshoe Pass tires !

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