How to break into the cycling industry – Josh Liberles and Bre Rue of New Brand: HiFi Components

Extended Play 39mm Tubular Road Wheels

Recently, new brand HiFi Sound Cycling Components rolled onto the scene.  Their focus is building performance oriented wheels that won’t break the bank.  To do this, HiFi has a Taiwanese partner that helps them source the best rims and components coming out of Asia.  And while specific parts were not identified, they did let us know that there are some US based rims being sourced as well.

The rims are laced to HiFi’s proprietary, in-house designed, hubs using Pillar brand spokes (1420 X-tra for road and 1422 X-tra for MTB).  Most builds are done overseas where the rims are tested, wheels get pre-stressed, and a rigorous QC process is completed.  Once the product arrives stateside, the wheels are then put through another QC process here in Portland to ensure a quality product is delivered.  In the case of US sourced parts, the wheel builds are done here in Portland, OR.  Spokes on these builds vary per the needs of the wheel, but are typically Sapim Laser or something from the DT Swiss lineup.

Roll past the break for more on the brand, their products, and an interview with Josh and Bre.

MixTape Aluminum Clincher

Those parts are used to assemble a product catalogue that includes a full complement of carbon and aluminum road and mountain wheelsets.  For the road/CX they offer the 60mm deep Long Play carbon tubular, the Extended Play 39mm carbon tubular, the 8-Track 85mm carbon tubular, the Mixmaster X aluminum tubular, and the Mix Tape aluminum clincher.

For the dirt scene, HiFi has the Session carbon MTB wheels that come tubeless ready, are 26mm wide, and have options for 650B and 29er tires.  They also have an aluminum MTB wheel, the Hootenany.  They have the same feature set, but weigh a bit more (and cost a bit less).

HiFi Quick Releases

Full product details can be found on HiFi’s website.  Should you choose to buy, contact them directly for now, as a dealer list is in the works but not published.  If you happen to live in Portland, swing by Sellwood Cycle Repair to check some out in person.

Now, lets get to know the people behind the brand.

Joshua Liberles HiFi Components

Joshua Liberles

Who are you and what are you doing here? (ie. who do you work for, what’s your job title and a short description of your role in the company. In other words, what do you do?)

JOSH: Hey there. I’ve pieced together a variety of freelance jobs for the past dozen years, ever since moving to New Mexico to be a ski bum. I turned into a bike bum soon after that, and combined jobs I could do while traveling the country to race – running the Carectomy environmental blog, creating content for the Cyclo-Club.com cycling fitness training site, writing for a variety of publications and even writing book indexes. I spent the 2008 cyclocross season driving the Clif Bar Development Team’s “Big Green Bus” around the country to support the team, racing once I got there and busting my ass to shoot and then edit video coverage of the Elite Men’s and Women’s events for the now-defunct VeloNews TV.

Since then it’s been pretty much all bikes, all the time. I worked as editor of Cyclocross Magazine for several years, and now I split time between running HiFi – my “official” title is Super Domestique”; editing the Portland, Oregon, About.com website [portlandor.about.com]; coaching a dozen cyclists; and managing and racing for the Hosmer Chiropractic – RPM Mortgage Cycling Team in Portland, Oregon. I keep busy, for sure.

BRE:  I am the engineer and wheelsmith behind the wheels at HiFi.

Bre Rue HiFi Components

Bre Rue: Formerly of Ruegamer Custom Carbon Frames

What was your first job or experience in the cycling industry? How did you “break” in?

JOSH:  If bike messengering counts as “the industry” – which I doubt it does – then I did that back in ’96 in San Francisco. But it was in 2006 when I decided that writing about cycling and bike racing while traveling around to ride and race made sense. I wrote for a bunch of publications back then, but editor/publisher Brian Riepe of Mountain Flyer, based out of Colorado, gave me the opportunity to write my first meaty pieces.

BRE:  I got my start at a neighborhood bike shop back in 1988. I was a sophomore in high school and would hang out at the shop so much that eventually they put me to work.

HiFi Racers at Cyclocross Race 2

Photo Credit: © Catherine Lee Cooper Photography

What’s your educational background?

JOSH:  Public high school in Massachusetts, then a philosophy degree from Pomona College in So Cal. Perfectly pre-professional, right?

BRE:  I graduated high school in 1992 in Salem, Oregon, and then took some college courses. Racing my bike took priority for many years and I just never got back to finishing my engineering degree. I have studied composites as well as aerodynamics, which lend nicely to working with modern bicycle wheels.

Muddy Hifi Wheels

Photo Credit: © Catherine Lee Cooper Photography

After that first experience/job, what was the path to your current position?

JOSH:  Convoluted! But cycling has been a central thread through my life for a long time. And although there are a lot of wheel companies out there and it’s a crowded marketplace, I saw an opportunity to do things a little differently. We hit a very high quality and performance level at a very competitive price. All of the people involved in HiFi are bike racers, and we wanted to produce wheels that we’d be excited to race and would seek out as customers. Actually – we do race them, every week, so we’d better like them.

BRE:  I have worked in both bike shops and in the manufacturing side of the bike industry since 1988. I was also doing a lot of building and painting – I’m also an airbrush artist – with my custom carbon frame brand, Ruegamer bikes, before we put the project on hold during the financial meltdown in 2009.

HiFi Extended Play Rim

What’s a normal day for you?

JOSH:  As you can probably surmise from my crazy mix of jobs, there’s not really a “normal” day. HiFi is taking up progressively more of my time though – which is great – and based on our trajectory, I hope to be close to full-time with that by the end of the year.

BRE:  My typical day sees me leaving the house at 8 a.m. and getting home at 9 p.m. or later from work, with a little training on my bike along the way. In addition to HiFi, I’m currently working full time at Lakeside Bicycles in Lake Oswego, Oregon, as well as racing both mountain bikes and on the road at an elite level.

kesho build using Extended Play HiFi Wheels

What are the highlights of your job?

JOSH:  The cycling community is a very cool one, and I really enjoy producing products that excite cyclists and inspire them to ride. I also obviously really like to ride myself and, although I’m a far cry from a pro cyclist, riding my bike is an integral part of my “work.” That’s OK by me.

It’s not all tailwinds along the way – we’ve certainly hit some snags. While they can be frustrating, both we and our products have evolved through those trials, and we have better wheels as a result.

Comments

WV Cycling - 03/04/14 - 8:45pm

Those hubs look a lot like the hubs on Flit Wheels.

J - 03/04/14 - 8:53pm

They don’t have a 26″ MTB line on their website. Is there a future plan for one?

J - 03/04/14 - 8:54pm

They don’t have a 26″ MTB line on their website. Is there a future plan for one?bb

ghoracheck - 03/04/14 - 9:02pm

I’ve put around 400 miles on my EP wheels and couldn’t be happier. They’re smooth, spin up fast, and they handle a cross wind pretty well. Good job to the guys at HiFi.

Rick Boston - 03/04/14 - 9:26pm

Wanted a solid, dependable clincher at a training wheel set that would accommodate both my 10 speed cassettes AND my new 11 speed 6800 equipped rig. Ended up with an AWESOME set of wheels that I am currently racing for the spring “classics” here in Portland. Thanks HiFi!

Parkcyc - 03/04/14 - 9:40pm

Too bad Ruegamer owes a buttload of money to people. Check out weight weenies. A bunch of people got screwed by them.

Charles Snyder - 03/04/14 - 9:54pm

Hey sponsor me. I will race your wheels and tell everyone they are from portland

A Even - 03/05/14 - 12:37am

raced the cx tubulars and spent a lot of time on the road clinchers. fast, light, reasonable and durable- pick all 4! Just got my road disc wheels for commuting, looking forward to heartily abusing them! HiFi wheels FTW!

Biggie Smalls - 03/05/14 - 12:42am

My big ass rode the Mix Master tubies this past CX season. The wheels were money and stayed true all season long. I never had any sort of issues mowing through the mud or sliding through the slop. This comes from someone who weighs 200+ and has broken close to 10 frames over the years. Highly durable and sexy to boot. Word!

AEven - 03/05/14 - 12:49am

raced the cx tubulars and spent a lot of time on the road clinchers. fast, light, reasonable and durable- pick all 4! Just got my road disc wheels for commuting, looking forward to heartily abusing them! HiFi wheels FTW!

alvis - 03/05/14 - 4:38am

BRE: I am the engineer and wheelsmith behind the wheels at HiFi……..
…….. I just never got back to finishing my engineering degree.

Then you ain’t no engineer.

This s**t does a disservice to real engineers who can actually design stuff and not just source it.

Would you have surgery from a ‘doctor’ who never got around to finishing his degree?

Large D - 03/05/14 - 6:32am

BRE: I am the engineer and wheelsmith behind the wheels at HIFI….I just never got back to finishing my engineering degree.

I’ve had numerous speeding tickest in and around the Daytona area, I’m a race car driver.

Hilarious, she’s a wrench at a shop and these are open mold wheels with HIFI stickers on them. Amazing the bs people will try to pass off.

bikermark - 03/05/14 - 8:59am

Not impressed. Spend some time on their website. It’s remarkable for what it lacks. How about a cross section of the rim? What kind of carbon fiber is used? Are the nipples brass or aluminum? Are the spokes straight, double butted, what gauge? What treatment is used for the brake track? How many points of engagement does the hub have? What size bearings are used? What are the diameters of the front and rear axle? And why do they offer a “stallion build” of 24/28 with the rear NDS in radial configuration? That’s a lot of stress on the hub body, and even the open mold S#!t from China is strong enough–especially in 85mm depth–that those extra spokes aren’t necessary.

goridebikes - 03/05/14 - 9:00am

When did it become acceptable to basically assemble China carbon wheels here (or in China), then “QC” them in America and sell it marked up as an actual brand…

I know the cycling industry has a thing for allowing 3 factories to make all the products and then insisting there are quality differences, but really now… How many brands of re-branded China carbon stuff are we going to support?

Not that china carbon stuff is bad, it represents a good value and is usually decently durable… But why is this a thing to claim that there’s “engineering” going on??? No, you just sourced some parts and put them together.

I generally dislike being a hater, but this is not really an innovation – and it’s sad to see how many people don’t get that there’s stuff like this, and then stuff like ENVE/Zipp that’s actually made in the US and is engineered and wins races… These china carbon stuff are great training or CX wheels, please don’t go around talking about how great your carbon wheels are if you’ve never ridden a set of nice ones.

/HATE

Bill Tresm - 03/05/14 - 9:17am

HiFi, are you guys hiring soon? I have a overnight stay booked in San Fran this coming weekend at a Holiday Inn Express. After that I can do some FEA stateside for you!

Mike - 03/05/14 - 10:29am

1) Come up with a stupid name.
2) Print stickers.
3) Adhere stickers to cheap Chinese wheels.
4) You’ve broken into the cycling industry!

Birdman - 03/05/14 - 10:51am

If you absolutely love bikes and cycling, my advice on breaking into the cycling industry is, DO NOT BREAK INTO THE CYCLING INDUSTRY. I had three different jobs for three different cycling related companies in my 20′s. Meager pay and longer hours compared to similar positions in other industries. I was so excited to get my first position as I thought this was going to be my dream job. That first job was especially a nightmare. I rarely got to ride because of the long hours. The 2nd and 3rd job weren’t much better. I know there are some good companies out there as far as allowing for more off time, but the pay is almost always going to be lower than what you could make in a different industry. If you are really set on getting into the industry I would advice to look at companies that overlap into other areas like Oakley, Clif Bar, Smith, etc. I’ve heard the pay is much better at these types of companies that aren’t solely reliant on selling bikes/bike parts.

Greg - 03/05/14 - 11:12am

Its interesting, b/c several years ago when the carbon rims/wheels were just really starting to come on the scene, I had the idea to source them and rebrand them. My original thinking was that I would take the “risk” out of dealing with the companies in China for buyers.
But very quickly I realized, most people were just going to take the risk to save the markup I’d charge. Also, I’d have to clearly let people know that I was simply rebranding the generic stuff b/c riders would see right through the rebranding.

…so obviously I didn’t pursue this idea… apparently others didn’t have the same realization.

Mike - 03/05/14 - 11:44am

Just what we needed…another Boutique wheel brand…
I totally support their right & desire to start a company.
But…
The business model they are using is a tired one…
dozens of boutique wheel companies have worn that script out long ago…

Stop claiming proprietary engineering, rim shapes, and layups…That shit costs real $$$…The kinda cash 99% of these startups don`t have…and probaly never will. The best you can ask for is the brand lives long enough and the ROI allows for real development to happen. An upgraded bearing spec (or similar) on a generic asian sourced hub does not constitute proprietary engineering…

So here we go again…
Brand: Our wheels are different…We use proprietary engineering…layups…blah, blah, blah…
Consumer: Show us the proprietary engineering or design differences from the Asian subcontractor`s catalogues (or from the dozens of boutiques brands claiming the same)
Brand… Our wheels are different…better
Consumer: Just show me something…anything to back up your claim…
Brand: crickets

best of luck to them…but…

mike - 03/05/14 - 12:40pm

great that you are back rue! still have the zen uberlight and it is going strong. have it at 8 pounds 10 ounces, as a single speed with full brakes.

nightfend - 03/05/14 - 1:02pm

If you are going to go generic, I’d choose November or Boyd any day over these wheels.

thesteve4761 - 03/05/14 - 1:12pm

They “broke” into the industry and now have to work 13hr days, for multiple employers? Sounds like “broke” is the right word.

1Pro - 03/05/14 - 2:06pm

Boyd!!!

Henry - 03/05/14 - 2:11pm

I can agree with the others…..

From the outside the cycling industry must look so glorious….

Its not….

Its ALOT of hardwork and you will come to realize that not everyone in the industry is all about riding bikes.

OscarG - 03/05/14 - 2:16pm

so i assume the US sourced materials are the velocity Major Tom rims on their AL CX wheel? It’s too bad, Ruegamer made the coolest bikes, It seems like now they’re just joining williams, boyd, etc blowing out cheap, low-effort product for anyone who will pay. Isn’t there something they can do to become cool again, aside from this?

Mike - 03/05/14 - 2:17pm

Another Boutique Wheel brand…using the same worn out script…
More power to them for going down this (now) crowded road…

(here we go again) claiming Proprietary design & engineering is certainly staying on script…but, spec’ing an upgraded bearings on a catalogue hub is not engineering…

Real design & engineering costs $$$…So I would be amazed that they have the resources (financial or engineering) to do this as a startup, maybe down the road (if they last that long)

I will guarantee exponentially more time was spent dreaming up cool names & designing the webpage than anything that went into the “engineering” of wheels…
just another boutique wheel assembly company…nothing wrong with that…just don’t play us for nimrods with the marketing BS

don't be a hater - 03/05/14 - 2:26pm

It sounds like these guys are where Ritte was with bikes a few years back. Mostly of the shelf, affordable, smart builds. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with this.

cw - 03/05/14 - 3:01pm

BIKERUMOR: You say the wheels use pillar spokes, but then say they use sapim or dt spokes? Lets just write that the wheels use pillar/dt/sapim/wheelsmith/hoshi/marwi spokes based on needs. LOLZ

Psi Squared - 03/05/14 - 4:07pm

@cw: Try reading the relevant paragraph again. Wheels built with US sourced parts use DT spokes. Otherwise the wheels come with Pillar spokes:

“The rims are laced to HiFi’s proprietary, in-house designed, hubs using Pillar brand spokes (1420 X-tra for road and 1422 X-tra for MTB). Most builds are done overseas where the rims are tested, wheels get pre-stressed, and a rigorous QC process is completed. Once the product arrives stateside, the wheels are then put through another QC process here in Portland to ensure a quality product is delivered. In the case of US sourced parts, the wheel builds are done here in Portland, OR. Spokes on these builds vary per the needs of the wheel, but are typically Sapim Laser or something from the DT Swiss lineup.”

Zeb - 03/06/14 - 4:51pm

There is no lack of companies building chinese wheels and putting their stickers on them. As far as this company is concerned, the only thing they’ve done is raised the price…

you can use words like Quality control and proprietary as much as you want, i still wouldn’t say they’re worth the price. Id rather buy a used set of brand-name wheels that are designed and built in house.

JT Fountain - 03/06/14 - 5:05pm

Ok, I race ‘cross for HiFi, so you might call me biased… but I ride HiFi wheels because they’re a good product. I’m super picky about what goes on my bike, and won’t endorse anything that isn’t up to my high standards. So far, I’ve only been on HiFi’s aluminum tubulars… and they’re dang awesome on the ‘cross course. A lot of bang for the buck. My two cents.

The Goats - 03/06/14 - 6:04pm

Its’s great to see these wheels on Bikerumor at last!

We watched these wheels get pounded race after race last season by so many good riders here in Portland including some of our team riders (who also took the wheels to Nationals) and they have completely proven themselves. There is also a irreplaceable confidence that comes from knowing your wheels are designed by someone who does not just sit at a computer and rely on rider feedback but also beats the hell out of her gear year round and races every race to win (and wins plenty of them too!).

Like so many already – Love them!

XOXO

Goats

Adam - 03/08/14 - 11:32am

I’ve been riding the HiFi wheels for cross now for 5 months with no issues. I’ve only riden the aluminum MixMaster for frame of referance. They are nicely built with care and attention to details, have stayed true, and been maintenance free. They are simple, reliable, light and ride really well, which is not what I can say of every wheel I’ve ever ridden.

I see some comments bashing them as just sourced wheel builders, and well some of this may be true they do not own a manufacturing plant, what they do have going for them is being real cyclist who really care, and whom do allot for the sport where they are. Josh and Bre love bikes, getting people stoked on bikes, bike racing and quality products. Thats what they do, thats what HiFi does in a sense too. A good company making a good product helping the sport. Thats nothing terrible in my opinion.

K11 - 03/10/14 - 3:39pm

@alvis. well said. that’s what i was thinking.

the engineer- lady with a GED that never finished her degree. Is it just me or does this seem wrong on so many levels. best wishes finding educated customers.

emcmrtry - 03/16/14 - 2:59am

disclaimer-i have NOT ridden these wheels (and do not plan to). but….more than one of the people singing the praises of this wheel are on a team sponsered by them. okay, that’s fair. and one of them went for their first ride with these wheels and they (from how it was explained) “completely fell apart. spokes, hubs, rims seperating. normally would just laugh this off as a goofy, ironic cycling antidote but to see praises being sung by the people involved in this incident, i feel i have to ay something. they are what they are. take your chances

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