What is a Multilever? What is the 'Stique 'ML123' Multilever?
We've made up the term Multilever, because we don't believe there's anything like our ML123 (project name) out there at the moment. It's not just a multitool and it's not just a set of tyre levers.
The 'Stique ML123 Multilever, as it is currently designated and designed, consists of three levers, joined together by powerful magnets, with the following functions:
- 2x tyre lever in engineering-grade, metal-replacement plastic
- 2x Allen key (4 & 5mm)
- Philips #2 screwdriver
- T25 Torx wrench
- 2x spoke wrench (3.3 & 3.5mm)
- 2x split (chain) link holders (8/9/10/11 gear)
- 2x £1 coin holder (€1 & 25¢ will also be available)
- Bottle opener
- CR2032/2025/2016/1616 battery storage
Currently configured with the features listed below (but future updates might well see these replaced by a chain-breaker, in which case our Kickstarter backers will be the first to receive the updated versions - for free!):
- Puncture pad holder
The idea of the Multilever came to me on a flight from London last summer. During the flight, I read an article called 'Packed to Perfection' in the May-14 issue of 'Cyclist' magazine.
The article made me realise I could bring more than a strong lever to market; I could deliver something new, quirky and differentiated. By the time the flight had arrived at JFK, the mid-Atlantic Multilever had been conceived, albeit in two-lever format at that early stage.
As soon as I returned from holiday, I discussed the idea with Dave from Sketch Evolution and Tim from Goodfish. The product development team had been formed.
Some early sketches were drawn up by Dave, a talented CAD designer and engineer with wide-ranging experience in plastic injection-moulding tool design.
Right at the core of the idea was to use a new, metal-replacement plastic material that I had heard about from my involvement with automotive component manufacture. To see how much could be achieved using this material, we created a small tool consisting of an Allen key and spoke wrench, and used it to mould test samples in the material.
The material turned out to be strong enough to perform the task of a spoke wrench but it was not strong enough to act as an Allen key. So, the design moved on to include a metal insert. This was not easy to find. We ended up having to go to a Chinese supplier to find a 4mm hex bar supplier, which went against the grain, as we wanted our product, everything about it, to be made in England. But, at this point, we had no choice.
So, now we had a good idea of how the multilevers would be made, with a metal insert in the moulding. Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) helped give us a sense for what our CAD renderings would look and feel like in our hands, by printing 3D-printed prototypes for us.
These felt great to handle, were effectively shaped and everything seemed to fit together well, including the 'clunk click' joining design. So we took a big step forward and commissioned our first prototype metal tool.
The tool was built by Goodfish in Cannock and the first test mouldings (Gen I, as they are now known) were made in December, just in time for the first field trials which had been organised for the Christmas/New Year break.
We made 50 prototypes, in 'Giro' pink, 'Tour' yellow and 'Bad Boy' black and delivered them to the field trialists just before the Christmas break.
The select group of field trialists (both mountain- and road cyclists from Mammoth Lifestyle and BRAT) loved the product, but not everyone got on with the 'clunk click' clamping mechanism. Plus the early prototype metal inserts were found to be too soft. So, back to the drawing board.
We could not find anyone in the UK to manufacture a stronger 4mm hex, so we were forced to abandon the idea of two Multilevers with two Allen keys (4mm and 5mm) and go down the well-trodden route of 1/4" hex tool bits inserted into a cast or machined tool holder. It was at this point that we realised we needed to add another, third lever, housing the tool bits. Gen I was dead; Gen II was born.
WMG's SME team helped us, again, with a 3D-printed model of our first design for a third lever, as part of the Gen II design.
Dave, Tim and I took this 3D-printed prototype to a local outlet of a nationwide (multiple) bicycle retailer, and let them have a good look at it. They loved it. "When can you deliver?", they asked us! Well, we didn't know the answer to that, but told them we wouldn't waste any time getting it to market, as we had had a good reception wherever we had shown it.
The following day I took the moulded and 3D-printed levers to the Bike Show at the Excel exhibition centre in London. I showed these same prototypes to bicycle distributors, bicycle component and accessory manufacturers, a national cycling organisation and representatives of other cycling-related businesses. They were all asking the same question - "when would it be made available and what was the price point?". I gave my best guess when answering the first question, and always asked them to guess the price point before telling them what I thought. The range of guesses was comfortingly narrow. That's one of the ways we set our launch price.
Where are we now?
Well, a lot of iterative changes have been made to improve the workings of the Multilevers, but the design of Gen IV remains broadly similar to Gen II. We now have a rubberised over-moulding to hold the tools in the blue tool bank (rather than using more magnets) and we have a single-armed spoke hook rather than the twin-armed design we started with.
The biggest difference, which required a complete re-engineering of each lever, is that the levers are now curved, like the inside of the palm of a folded hand, making for a much more ergonomic feel. And it looks so much better than the straight levers of Gen I-III. Nice one Dave!
So, it looks good, is stronger than anything out there (other than heavy steel!) and is lightweight. The whole package (including pound coins, tool bits, chain links and a CR-standard battery - not included in the pledges, by the way!) in prototype form, weighs 144g. Without all the bits and pieces, it (the prototype) weighs just 95g.
Budget and Timeline
We've already invested at least £15,000 to get to where we are, so there's been no lack of commitment so far on our part. But we want to take this product all the way, and we need help with the remaining £57,000 of investment needed to tool up and produce our first 1,000 Multilevers.
To show exactly what we're planning to spend the money we raise on, we've set out a combined timeline and budget below:
The £15,000 we've invested so far has served us well. We now feel confident enough to take this project to market. What did we spend it on? Well, apart from the initial IPR protection (patent application submitted Dec-13; design copyright in Jan-14), we commissioned the metal prototype tooling for Gen I, plus changes to that tooling following the first moulding trials, SLS (selective laser sintering) prototypes for Gen IV, trial samples of components, materials for moulding trials in the rubberised material and colour trials with Goodfish. Plus, days and weeks of engineering and CAD design.
We're confident the £57,000 of remaining costs will enable us to deliver to our Kickstarter backers and also achieve the formal product launch at the NEC Cycle Show in Birmingham on 25-Sep-14.
About £35,000 of the £57,000 is for tooling up for the first volume production run. After that, we would expect the launch costs to reduce dramatically, leaving us to focus on improving the manufacturing process to raise our margins to sensible levels so that we can continue to invest in the design of the next lever(s) and the other seven new product ideas we have in the R&D pipeline.
We haven't flooded our pledge rewards with tee-shirts, stickers or anything like that. We've just been too busy focusing on the essentials. So, the two items on offer are the 'Stique cycling jersey and the 'Stique cycling cap, both from Milltag. Here are some images of what to expect if you go for those rewards:
Reward No. 8 - includes cycling cap
Reward No. 10 - includes cycling jersey
If you're wondering what these will really look like, Greg will be wearing one at the Rapha Tempest site at Broughton Hall during the Grand Depart (4-6 Jul-14).
We might come up with some more ideas, if the demand is there but, otherwise, that's all for now, folks!
So, for bringing this Kickstarter project to fruition, our warm thanks go to:
Dave Bebbington - CAD design genius
Tim Martin - Goodfish's Product Development Manager, par excellence
Si Cox (Glass Jar) - brand marketing guru and link between...
Andrew Bowyer (Fluid Design) - fab website producer
Ben Williams (Bar Productions) - brilliant video production
Laura Lewis (Laura Lewis Photography) - beautiful photographs
Ivo McDonald (IGM Photography) - edgy graphics, marketing collateral, social media management and branding
Risks and challenges
Within our team rests a lot of experience in a number of different fields. Greg's experience is more commercial- than engineering-led, but he knows enough about manufacturing in metal and plastic to make decisions about who, where and when. Before Gen I prototypes were sent out on field trials, Greg wanted to be sure that the IPR (intellectual property rights) were secured, so he worked his way through the most cost-effective options to register patents and copyright the design.
Tim's an engineering graduate, working for Goodfish, who will manufacture the tooling and injection-mould the levers. Tim's wealth of experience in manufacturing, especially in plastics, means he knows what works and what doesn't. He liaises with suppliers, plans the project and makes sure that any issues raised are quickly sorted out.
Dave is our CAD designer. Well, he's not ours. He's his own boss but he used to work with Greg years ago, when Greg was turning around a point-of-sale design, manufacturing and assembly company in Loughborough. Dave sketches, designs and engineers whatever we ask him to. He's brilliant.
Between us, we therefore feel we know what we're doing and don't believe, given the amount of development time and work that has gone into this project already, that we'll ever fail to ship.
If there's a risk, therefore, it's got to be around timing. Once we raise the funds to support the tooling costs, there's a lot of work to be still to be done. There will inevitably be more modifications, albeit very minor ones, when trialling the tooling, and possibly also in modifying them after further field trials.
We have yet to make the die-cast tool holder, having used machined parts to-date. The tolerance stack of casting, coating, tool bit and magnet could work against us, but we will engineer our way through it, as we have all the hurdles to-date. If the worst comes to the worst, we can always machine the inserts, as we have done to-date, and get high quality product shipped. But we're trying to engineer cost out of this product, so will persevere anyway with finding a high-volume, quality engineered way forward.
All of this is difficult to predict, in terms of timing, but we're a small, resourceful team and react quickly to results, be they encouraging or disappointing. Please see our timeline above for our current best estimates of timing.
Other risks are that the supplier of neoprene cases let's us down - we've gone to a Chinese supplier that was recommended to us by a firm in Hong Kong we know well and with whom Greg has worked in the past, so that doesn't feel like a big risk. But to reduce the risk, we're starting to engage with other potential suppliers in the UK.
We might also find that thermometer isn't up to scratch. It's a risk and one we'll have to put some effort it to make sure we minimize that risk.
We're used to dealing with these hiccups. It's our job to overcome them and work out a way of delivering a quality product, on time.
Margin improvement comes second to quality: always.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The tooling has been designed in such a way that the coin slot can be changed to suit pound coins or euros, or even US 25 cent coins. That means we can ship Euro or US versions from September, just like the British pound coin versions. If you want a Euro or US 25 cent version, please bid for the pound coin version and select the overseas shipping option. We'll check with all those wanting them shipped overseas, which version they want - US 25 cent or Euro.
Because the tools are standard 1/4" (6.35mm) hex drive tool bits, you can put whatever you like into the ML123. You can even buy them on Amazon; where they're 'cheap as chips'.
The ones we will sell with out Multilever will be a more upmarket version, from a specialist trade supplier, as we prefer a special coating to be applied to ours. We'll be selling these on our website when we get up & running.
A lot of people have been asking me where the Multilever will be made, expecting the answer to be Taiwan, China or even USA. No; wrong. It'll be made in England - Cannock Chase to be precise, a centre for mountain biking (good testing ground!) and road cycling, being in the Staffordshire hills and close to the Peak District. That's why we've marked the levers with 'Made in Blighty', an endearing term for England.
We originally designed the top lever with a compass but, when we add the magnets to replace the 'clunk-click' joining system, we were forced to abandon it. We also thought that, since most people ride out with their smartphones anyway, most of which have a compass built into them, we wouldn't be taking away anything that wasn't already there. A thermometer struck us as being the next best thing to have, although you might say smartphones can also tell you what the local weather is doing anyway, so you have a good idea of the temperature anyway.
We should have made this clearer. Not only will it store an HRM battery, but it will also store popular batteries such as the CR2032, CR2016 and CR2025. Basically any (most) small flat batteries!
Our Multilever system is totally modular. It is designed in such a way that you can take out any one-/two- or three-lever combination. Lever 3 fits straight onto lever 1 (but then you wouldn't have the tool-bit driver) or you can leave lever 3 (the top lever) behind, if you don't think you're going to need the other three tool-bits on your journey.
There are two developments we're currently looking at and working at:
1. A fourth lever with a chain-breaker and tyre pressure gauge. This lever will fit under what is currently the top lever, i.e. under the lever with the blue over-moulded tool bank.
2. An alternative top lever, replacing the compass and patch clip with electronics that deliver completely new functionality, taking the Multilever into safety and security in a way no one else has managed to do, or even attempted to do. We'll be offering this first to our current Multilever Kickstarter supporters, as a way of thanking them for getting us off to a good start.
3. A special, slimmed-down, two-lever version of the Multilever for weight obsessives and triathletes.
We have seven new products in the pipeline for the cycling market, other than the Multilever and its future derivaitves (see above). Each of these new products will offer a new take on an existing solution.
These new products are in the following broad category areas:
2. Pedals - urban and MTB
3. Kit storage (off-bike)
4. Kit storage (on-bike)
5. Turbo-training aid
6. MTB handlebars
7. Urban bike parking & bike transportation aid
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