Brilliant Bicycles Launches in NYC

Brilliang Bicycle Company Founders

On a recent visit to the new Brilliant Bicycle Co. in Manhattan, I wondered if I might be glimpsing the future of designing and marketing bikes for the growing trend toward casual urban cycling.

Inside a Flatiron District office building, the light-filled room that serves as company headquarters resembles a tech start-up. It is sparsely appointed with modern furniture. Laptops and smartphones are where business gets done.

But the Brilliant Bicycles Hudson, in striking Laguna Blue, suspended on one white wall as if in a gallery, anchors this business venture in a decidedly more analog realm: That most humble (and romantic) of conveyances, the classic steel, diamond-frame bicycle.

Brilliant Bicycle Company Office

Antidote to Overwhelming Options

In the cockpit of this trim enterprise are co-founders Adam Kalamchi (top photo, left) and Kane Hsieh, Harvard graduates who worked together in finance before they quit their day jobs to build a vertically integrated bicycle company.  Kalamchi is a runner. Hsieh is the bicycle guy, counting ‘cross, road cycling and daily commuting among his past times.

They conceived Brilliant two years ago, with one aim: Making it simple to select, buy, assemble and maintain a bicycle for growing numbers of urbanites who choose this mode of transportation. They recognized from their own experiences as bike shop customers that a retail environment focused on sport and performance can feel intimidating to people who just want a great-looking and uncomplicated way to pedal around town.

“The bicycle industry is option-driven,” Hsieh says. “Imagine you want to buy a car and you have to pick a piston ring.”

The antidote to too many options? A line of elegant, reliable and affordable bikes that are easy to assemble and maintain and are backed by solid customer care. Brilliant’s e-commerce model calls for keeping prices, which start at $399 for a single-speed, down and parts value up by working directly with factories (vetted by Hsieh and Kalamchi for fair wages, good working conditions and sustainable practices), bypassing middlemen, and marketing and selling direct through the Brilliant website.

“Big companies can’t sell a bike for $400 because there are too many people along the supply chain,” Kalamchi says.

‘Design Objects’ with Ride-Ready Features

It all begins with design and engineering of Brilliant’s flagship bike, the Hudson, which aims to combine beauty with ease. It comes in six eye-catching, matte colors, in three frame sizes and with single-, three- and seven-speeds options.

“We treated these as design objects,” says Hsieh, who also studied design at Harvard and the MIT Media Lab. “We called on a lot of people in the fashion industry for the colors.”

Brilliant Bicycle Co Frames
The Hudson frame comes in six colors with signature accents.

The company partnered with a local hand-builder in the design of the diamond frame. City-ready features include internal hub gearing on the three- and seven-speed models; 32 mm tires for a smooth urban ride; generous frame and fork clearances to accommodate wider tires, racks and fenders; leather-look, vinyl grips and saddle; and thoughtful minutia like white cable housings. Accessories, including helmets, lights, bells, pumps and a basket, from a variety of brands, are sold separately on the site.

Even the mint-colored shipping boxes were subjected to design scrutiny. They are constructed of nine layers of recyclable cardboard for the steamship trip from the factory where the bikes are hand-assembled to the customer’s door. “The box creates a sense of excitement when it arrives,” Kalamchi says, hauling one out for inspection and standing on it to demonstrate its strength.

What Happens After the Box Arrives

In Brilliant’s reasoning, there’s little point in seeking to build a better bike if people remain intimidated by assembling or taking care of it. While the doorstep may prove the limit of the relationship between some online sellers and their customers, Brilliant is committed to helping get new owners out on the road quickly and safely. Instructions on the website, accompanied by photos and video, break down each step of unpacking, assembling and fitting the bike. Tools are included in the box, and there’s live chat via the website in case of a roadblock.

Brilliant Bicycles Hudson
The single-speed Hudson in Marsala, $399.
Brilliant Bicycles Mayfair
The 3-speed Mayfair, which offers a more upright ride, is available in two sizes and six colors, including Frosted Mint, $499

Hsieh and Kalamchi say they find that people not only experience a sense of accomplishment but also a closer connection to their bicycles when they assemble them with their own hands. Still, those who would rather skip the mechanical part or who need assistance with maintenance can pay for in-home, Geek-Squad-like service, which is available in New York City and Los Angeles, for now.

Building a Company and a Community

In advance of the the website’s opening for business on Monday, the company began building a customer base with a refer-a-friend promotion of the kind that’s more commonly seen in the world of tech launches. It enabled participants to earn free bikes for every 100 referrals. The partners say they gave away 200 bikes in 2 weeks.

Community-building continues with a Bike Month sponsorship in May in partnership with the advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives and in events to include bike building parties and group casual rides in New York City.

Could this customer-focused approach that more closely resembles the way people shop for everyday goods and services represent a new model for bicycle retailing? The market will decide. In the mean time, a friendlier and more accessible proposition for acquiring a bicycle for casual urban riding sounds pretty, well, brilliant.

Brilliant Bicycle Co., brilliant.co 

Photos: Top two: velojoy. Others: Brilliant Bicycle Co.

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7 Comments

  • Admire these boys for going their own way but their story is stale and disappointingly unoriginal for two chaps from Harvard. Dozens of companies have gone this route, told the exact same story AND sell similar if not better bikes for less than $399 through bike shops. 1020 steel frame is clever marketing code for cheapest steel available – this is essentially a bike on par with what you can buy at Walmart for $129 with some poorly crafted marketing wrapped around it in the hopes that ignorant consumers won’t know he difference.

    • Erin, thanks for reading. I’m personally excited about the conversation — and growth — that are happening around everyday bicycling, whether that means commuting, running errands or just riding around for recreation. Everybody wins when bicycling seems simple, accessible and fun to the widest possible audience. More choices of quality, affordable bicycles by a variety of makers (we feature many different companies on these pages) is part of that picture. So, my editorial comment would be “the more the merrier,” especially when it comes to providing a good customer experience.

  • Hi @Erin and @Michael, thanks for your comments.

    We’ve thought very long and hard about how to bring a great bike with great service to the casual rider. We’re aware of the points you make, but we’ve made conscious and deliberate decisions as to where to focus and how to invest.

    While there have been many other companies who have tried the direct-to-consumer model, they generally are traditional brick and mortar brands with a dash of e-commerce thrown in via. Typically, their online presence is a hard-to-use website coupled with expensive shipping and product family that casual riders do not understand. We’re the opposite — we’re a digital brand that sells bicycles the way that consumers prefer to shop these days: online, with free shipping, a simplified product offering, supply chain transparency, and great non-technical customer service.

    Additionally, our bicycles are decided not Walmart quality. We are by far the best bicycle on the market under $500 in terms of investment in quality of materials. Additionally, our bikes are built in working conditions that we are proud of. Almost all other similarly priced bikes come directly from China in conditions you would not be excited to support if you had the transparency.

    We also focus our investment in the things the casual rider cares most about – paint, seat, grips, and reduced maintenance. We do not invest in the type of steel because simply put, no one buying a sub $500 bicycle knows the difference or would care. We always try to think like our customers instead of like bike aficionados who geek out over specs. Our price also includes shipping whereas many other sub-$500 brands do not, so the total cost to the customer of the bikes is not as easily comparable.

    Currently bikes are sold very much like Dell computers were sold 15 years ago – a focus on technical specs and bottom line cost. Another company realized that people care less about technical specs and more about design, user experience, and customer service. We aspire to take the second approach.

    Thanks!

  • How does the quality compare to other $400 bikes? I’ve been looking around for urban fixie bicycles, brilliant hudson seems like an attractive purchase.

    • Hi Alan, thanks for reading. I have not yet test-ridden the Brilliant, but I look forward to having that opportunity and to posting about it. In the mean time, please keep us in the loop regarding what you decide!

  • is there any place in NYC where I could test ride a brilliant bicycle? I’m interested in the product, but I would like to test it out before I throw down $500

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