Singaporean

Riding On The Cycling Demand: This S'porean Quit Engineering To Sell Custom Bikes

You can’t compare a rental bike to premium bike, says Yee Qing Xiang, the founder of custom-designed bike startup, Ascent Bikes.

“If you are simply riding a short distance from point A to B, then by all means, use a rental (bike),” he elaborates.

“But if you are getting into cycling for enjoyment, getting a bike you enjoy riding would do wonders for keeping you in the sport.”

Over the past four years, Ascent Bikes has built a name for itself among the local community, even attracting overseas customers.

The bike startup supplies commuters, food delivery riders and athletes with premium bikes and components that start from S$1,000.

It Started As A Way To Get Fit

Ascent Bikes was more of an accidental venture — it started off as nothing more than a side gig.

“(Launching a bike startup) was a hobby that I got carried away with,” Qing Xiang recounts.

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Yee Qing Xiang, founder of Ascent Bikes / Image Credit: Ascent Bikes

In 2016, Qing Xiang realised that he had put on a “belly”, and his energy levels were dipping after working full-time for several years.

To get fit, he turned to sports but a high-impact activity like running “wasn’t his thing”. That was why Qing Xiang resorted to cycling.

Perhaps as a side effect of his career, the ex-engineer ended up building his own bike.

“I asked myself, how hard could it be? So I did the research, bought the parts, made all the mistakes… Unlike hair, if you cut bike cables too short, they won’t grow again,” he says, laughing.

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Qing Xiang’s first custom bike / Image Credit: Ascent Bikes

Qing Xiang’s custom-made bike began catching the attention of his family and friends, and requests for custom bikes of their own started to pour in.

The engineer quickly realised that there was a demand for high-quality bicycles and started monetising his craft.

Built For Urban Environments

Ascent Bikes didn’t start off with millions in the bank.

“The startup was completely bootstrapped — self-funded, with earnings rolled back into tools, parts, and manufacturing,” says Qing Xiang.

One of Ascent Bikes’ first major investments was a batch of custom-designed bikes. Named Bolt Mini Velos, these bicycles are manufactured from their own custom moulds.

It was costly, but worthwhile. The team needed to build compact, manoeuvrable and nimble bikes for an urban environment like Singapore.

Typically, such bikes would need to fit inside an HDB lift or a house, be carried up overhead bridges or mix with pedestrians, so they need to be small and lightweight, Qing Xiang explains.

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Defiant Carbon Fixed Gear Wheels / Image Credit: Ascent Bikes

Currently, the price of a Bolt Mini Velo starts at S$1,099. It’s designed to be one of the lightest bikes for its price at 8kg, according to Qing Xiang.

Since their first Bolt Mini Velo, Ascent has also added Road Bikes and Fixed Gear components to their product suite — all are built for speed.

“It boils down to this: See what your users are trying to do, identify gaps in what they are using, and come up with a solution that solves their problems and differentiates your company from the others.”

Ascent Bikes has even gained traction overseas. The startup ships worldwide to over 10 countries, including the United States, Germany, Norway and United Kingdom.

Social media is the key conduit for their international audience, Qing Xiang clarifies.

“I have to salute (our customers’) willingness to take a chance on a small brand, half a world away.”

Riding With The ‘Fixed Gear’ Community

Part of Ascent Bikes’ success is attributable to its bonds with its customers. One of the startup’s additional services is “late-night advice,” Qing Xiang jokes.

“There have been many clients that I’ve gotten to know, and some of them are now friends who ask me things like — what should I study in the future, how do I start a business and more.”

Currently, Ascent Bikes partners with one of Singapore’s bike messengers to “test ride” their bikes. Lutfi Fuadi, a self-professed cycling fanatic, has been biking professionally for six years.

Lutfi typically covers the distance from Bugis to Tanjong Pagar at speeds of up to 40 km/h per day. His work puts him in a unique position to assess the hardiness of bikes.

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Arif Ibrahim celebrating his win at Metasprint Duathlon 2020 / Image Credit: Ascent Bikes

On top of partnering with professional bikers, the startup also sponsors cycling athletes. That includes silver medallists who participated in the Duathlon Mixed Relay for the 2019 SEA Games on Ascent’s Zenith Elite carbon fiber wheels.

Last year, the startup also organised a 200-strong meetup with international cycling star Zach Gallardo. The YouTuber has over 74,000 subscribers on his channel, dedicated to the sport of fixed-gear riding.

Fixed-gear bicycles are a big deal among the cycling community. Essentially, they’re stripped-down bikes that offer maximum control with no coasting, relying on back-pressure on pedals to brake.

“My whole team was involved, and it was a vindication of the brand recognition we had been trying to achieve among the fixed gear community,” Qing Xiang recalls.

A New Biking Trend?

Despite Covid-19, the bicycle industry has experienced a quick turnaround in the later part of 2020.

Due to the circuit breaker, more people are riding recreationally or becoming food delivery riders, and demand for bikes are growing.

Singapore’s bike hobbyist community is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

“You only need to go to places like Tanah Merah Coast Road and Seletar Airport on weekends to see road bikers out in force,” says Qing Xiang.

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Partnership With Triathlon Club / Image Credit: Ascent Bikes

The latest ban on e-scooters has escalated bike sales, Qing Xiang observes.

“It’s gotten to the point where there’s a shortage of parts due to demand, (but) we are working hard to deliver our bikes in a timely manner.”

“In general, you get what you pay for. Entry-level components work well at first, but degrade over time. I personally suspect this is the reason so many bikes get abandoned at the void deck of HDB flats.”

“It’s such a waste, and my goal at Ascent is to prevent this by making the riding experience delightful.”

Featured Image Credit: Ascent Bikes

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