NO LONGER IN THE FLO
The FLO30 wheelset sold by FLO Cycling is one I’ve recommended in two different reviews. I rated it as the Best Value in my review of road wheels for climbing and descending and recommended it in a review of under $1000, £700, €900 alloy upgrade wheelsets as a good option for the non-competitive rider focused on using cycling to get and stay in shape and enjoy riding with friends.
The wheelset has a lot to offer. It has a more modern design than most alloy wheels under $1000, notably a full toroid profile on its 30mm deep rim which makes it more aerodynamic than most wheels in the 20-30mm depth range. It’s also wider than many in this price range, good for sure handling. And it’s price… well at $498 it really makes a good wheelset great.
It’s not without its faults. The FLO 30 is on the heavier side of the alloy upgrade and climbing wheel class, has a black anodized coating on its brake track which rubs off with a little bit of moisture, and has an unremarkable set of hubs. But remember, it’s only $498.
I rode a demo set last year and really enjoyed them. I wrote them up in the reviews noted above and provided links to the FLO web store – the only place you can buy them – for those who wanted to buy a pair. The links have been some of the most frequently clicked of any on the site, which either speaks to their popularity or is a sad statement of what else I’ve been reviewing.
I received a very positive reaction from one of the FLO owners when I recommended their wheels the first time and a very negative one when I recommended it the second time. Apparently, I didn’t recommend it to the racers he thought it best suited for and he didn’t like that I judged its acceleration based on how it felt to me on-the-road rather than by running a detailed lab test. No matter. That comes with the territory.
As I do with all products sent to me to test, I returned the demo set to FLO when I was done with my thanks. As I do with only a few that I test, I made a note to buy a set of FLO 30s, specifically to have as a back-up wheelset when I wasn’t testing other wheels.
Well, it’s time to retire the FLO from both my personal wheelset plans and the list of wheels I recommend to you. It’s not that I’ve changed my opinion about them – I still think they are a good value to have for the purposes I recommended them – but I have concluded I will never be able to get a pair for myself and shouldn’t recommend that you try either.
FLO Cycling has a distinct business model. They designed four wheelsets (a 30mm, 60mm, 90mm and disc), have them made by an Asian contractor, and have them shipped to a US distribution center to be sorted and sent to customers who buy through a direct order model.
That part of their model is not terribly different than others.
What is unique however is FLO’s uncanny ability to get customers to do the online version of lining up at an Apple store the day a new iPhone or iPad or Apple Watch starts selling. But in a feat that even Apple can’t pull off, FLO does this once every 4 to 6 weeks, selling its entire stock of the same models of wheels it has been selling for several years now. And only about a third of the customers who have signed up to be notified well ahead of FLO’s next sale actually are able to buy a set of wheels.
The most popular wheels, from my experience trying to buy a pair of FLO 30s on two occasions, sell out within minutes. Something like 2-5 minutes to be exact. To their credit, FLO warns you of this and tells you how to prepare to be one of the lucky ones in a couple of e-mails they send you in the days ahead of the sale. They even provide a countdown clock on their web site for the 20 minutes leading up to the commencement of the sale. (Apple, are you taking notes?)
The idea of scheduling one’s life weeks in advance to queue up for a 2-5 minute window for the chance to buy a set of relatively inexpensive and good (but not great) pair of bicycle wheels is ludicrous on its face. The fact that this company has been doing this time and time again – they held their 20th sale this week – suggests something’s not right.
I’ve been a business consultant to senior executives in Fortune 100 companies, advised privately funded tech start-up companies and started up a few services businesses on my own and never seen a company mishandle such a simple growth opportunity as badly as FLO. Maybe they are happy to not meet the demand of their customers and not realize the potential they have as a company. That’s their choice.
Anyway, I can’t in good conscience continue to recommend you try to buy these wheels. No one should have to go through what FLOs customers and those that never quite become customers must do to buy a product, any product.
Near the time I first recommended these wheels, FLO was trying to build inventory so that you could simply go online and order them. Since then, the number of people signed up for each sale has steadily increased while the number of wheelsets they bring in for each sale and the time between sales has stayed about the same. So, it looks like that hope for inventory has faded to black.
I try hard to recommend products that are distinctly better or provide more value than others in their product category and recommend stores that sell those products at a good price, with inventory and great customer service. Unfortunately, while the FLO 30 product delivers, the FLO store misses the mark.
I have edited the FLO wheelsets out of my reviews. I will look for other climbing and alloy upgrade wheels, and stores where you can actually get them, to recommend in their place. I apologize to all of you who I encouraged to get a pair of these wheels but have been frustrated in trying to do so.
Update: I sent a copy of this post to Jon Thornham, one of the owners of FLO. His response appears below.