What’s in a brand name? Well, in the case of high-end accessory manufacturer Lezyne there’s a whole cocktail behind it, or rather a whole slew of cocktails - as head honcho Micki Kozuscheck explains; “We were sat drinking Martini’s and things got slurred. We were looking at design (as a basis for the brand name), and it became Lezyne.” And, naturally it stuck, and a brand name was born just weeks before their first product showing.
Mostly based in California, the charismatic German-born Kozuscheck is and old stager in the bike industry, and has been trading since well before creating the once prolific Truvativ component company, which he later sold to SRAM; “I started cycling in Germany when I was 12 years old. I was a road and track rider in the early days, but turned to triathlon when I was a 16, which is how I first came to visit America when I was 18.”
Fast-forward a short time; “Two years later I was in the German military (which was mandatory at the time). I was in the sports corps, but I really wasn’t there in spirit. I got to travel the world a lot, and when I came out I did 2 weeks at business school, which I didn’t like – so aged 21 I started to import triathlon goods out of the US, along with a friend; a classical import business selling to German retailers.”
As with many other brands he moved into the hard goods market soon after; “I was 23/24 years old when I first went to Taiwan, and back then it was like China is now to the bike industry. It had a reputation for things being cheap and not very well made, and Japan was the place where the high-end bikes were made. But that was beginning to change and we found a company to start producing bikes for us under the Etto name (under license from the helmet brand).”
Mixing and matching OEM components is now the norm in the bike industry, but back then it was full groupsets that dominated; “Other bike brands were starting to break up components, but not as much as we were at the time. About a year into doing this I sat down and started to draw our own product in 3D; cranks, brakes and so on, and we also started to produce the bikes with our own components. I was doing most of this myself, and it got bigger and bigger, and eventually it got to a point that we did not need to rely on Shimano.”
Being a strong-minded character, and recognising that partnerships and ideas don’t always work as smoothly as chains and sprockets should do he decided to split his business links; “At the age of 30, I decided to separate from my business partners as we had different visions. That was when I started Truvativ, and I also started doing my own 3D CAD designs, which was outrageously expensive and difficult to do back then.”
Even from the outset, he commuted between the manufacturing arena of the Far East and the marketplace of the west; “My wife is American and our 5 children were there. I was living in the US and making trips to Taiwan. Then SRAM came along and I sold to them, and I came out very wealthy for it. I tried working with them, but it was impossible – I’m an entrepreneur and am used to being in charge. In retrospect, they were right; I was too young and too unorganized, and so the team I have with Lezyne now is much, much better organised than it was at Truvativ.”
Restless, bored, and somewhat hindered by contractual after sales obligations he decided that he had to change things; “I was extending my house at the time, and dealing with contractors – and they are the same the world over. I’d gone from being the absolute boss to this, and so started looking for business opportunities but without using contractors. I was under a non-compete agreement for 3 years not to produce components. I met with my attorney to see what I could and could not do – and basically, I could not do anything SRAM did, but anything they didn’t was OK, so accessories were fine.”
Market research at its most basic level kicked things off; “I went to a bike shop and looked at every accessory available, and then bought $2,000 worth of them and went home. We looked at them, and it was really refreshing – it was all plastic crap that didn’t really work; pumps that didn’t work, tyre levers that broke, patches that didn’t stick. All basic and simple things that just weren’t working right. This made me see the opportunity.”
Making quality products that worked may seem simplistic enough, but it would mean changing both consumer and retailer mentality; “We went out and made stainless steel tools, which nobody was doing, We did really basic but important stuff that made them work and last longer. I was a component maker coming into the accessory industry, which made really easy for me to look and analyse things.”
Logic and engineering experience combined well from the outset; “Look at a pump for example, it’s pretty simple; air is air – but the designs were pretty terrible. It’s logical that the travel in the chambers is the amount of air you can pump, and it was always a struggle holding the pump straight on the valve so we went with hose connections to give that freedom.”
Quality is one thing – but how do you persuade people to pay for it after a lifetime of buying cheaper goods? “When you pick up a Lezyne product and look at we hope that you see the value for money and its worth. Pumps were typically US$25 when we started; we made $40 pumps, but when you look at them they’re more like $100 pumps, and you can see the value in them, and the same goes right through.”
In 2016 the company took a sharp left turn into the GPS market, which has been Garmin dominated since, well, since always; “The decision to get deeper into electronics and GPS was based around sales figures we saw 2-3 years earlier. We knew that Garmin dominated the market, and in 2016 (our first with GPS) we hit our targets, and in the next 2 years we’ll have a lot of new products, and hope to give Garmin a good run for their money.”
The entire GPS project was built in-house, and from the ground up; “GPS has been a very challenging project for us. We had to build everything from scratch; hardware, PCD, software, phone apps, website etc. I’m proud that we can offer a legit alternative to Garmin.”
The Lezyne factory (which is close to Taichung in Taiwan) is a pristine and well-ordered place. Whereas most branded accessories, bikes, and other related parts are produced by OEM manufacturers and then rebranded, Lezyne has pretty well taken hold of its own reins, and employs some 150 people at their facility. They produce craft their own goods as much as is feasible – and they do not make for other brands (despite requests). There are 4 CNC machines on site, which run 24/6, and they contract to a further 50 outside, and their products ooze with quality.
Next time you’re looking for an accessory, pump, tool or GPS take a closer look, you may well be surprised at the differences in quality and functionality that have come around in the past few years.