This S’porean Quit Engineering To Sell Custom Bikes

You can’t compare a rental bike to a high-end set of wheels, says Yee Qing Xiang, the founder of bespoke bike start-up Ascent Bikes.

“If you are just riding a short distance from point A to point B, then use a rental vehicle (bicycle),” he says.

“But if you get into cycling for fun, buying a bike you love to ride would do wonders to keep you in the sport.

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

The bike startup provides commuters, food deliverers and athletes with premium bikes and components starting at S $ 1,000.

It started as a way to get in shape

Ascent Bikes was more of an accidental adventure – it started out as nothing more than a side gig.

“(Starting a cycling startup) was a hobby that took me over,” says Qing Xiang.

yee qing xiang ascent bikes founder
Yee Qing Xiang, founder of Ascent Bikes / Image credit: Ascent Bikes

In 2016, Qing Xiang realized that he had put on a “stomach” and that his energy level was declining after working full time for several years.

To get in shape, he turned to sports, but a high impact activity like running “wasn’t his thing”. This is why Qing Xiang resorted to cycling.

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

“I asked myself, how difficult could that be? So I researched, bought the parts, made all the mistakes… Unlike hair, if you cut the bike cables too short, they won’t grow back, ”he laughs.

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

Qing Xiang’s custom bike started to grab the attention of family and friends, and requests for custom bikes started to flow.

The engineer quickly realized that there was a demand for high-quality bikes and began to monetize his craft.

Designed for urban environments

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

“The start-up has been fully initiated – self-funded, with profits reinvested in 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 bikes are made from their own custom molds.

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

Typically, these bikes should be installed in an HDB elevator or a house, transported on air bridges or mixed with pedestrians, so they should be small and light, says Qing Xiang.

mountain bike challenge bike
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 8kg price tag, according to Qing Xiang.

Since their first Bolt Mini Velo, Ascent has also added road bikes and fixed gear components to its suite of products – all of which are built for speed.

“It boils down to this: See what your users are trying to do, identify the gaps in what they use, and find a solution that solves their problems and sets your business apart from the rest.”

Ascent Bikes has even gained ground abroad. The startup ships worldwide to more than 10 countries, including the United States, Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Social media are the main vehicle for their international audience, says Qing Xiang.

“I must salute the willingness (of our customers) to try their luck on a small brand, on the other side of the world.”

Ride with the ‘Fixed Gear’ community

Part of Ascent Bikes’ success can be attributed to its connection to its customers. One of the startup’s additional services is “late-night advice,” jokes Qing Xiang.

“There have been a lot of clients that I have come to know, and some of them are now friends asking me things like: what should I study in the future, how to start a business and more. . “

Currently, Ascent Bikes is partnering with one of Singapore’s bicycle couriers to “test” their bikes. Lutfi Fuadi, a self-proclaimed cycling fanatic, has been cycling for six years.

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

Arif medal-winning climbing bikes
Arif Ibrahim celebrates his victory at the Metasprint Duathlon 2020 / Image credit: Ascent Bikes

In addition to forging partnerships with professional bikers, the startup also sponsors cycling athletes. This includes the silver medalists who competed in the Duathlon Mixed Relay for the SEA Games 2019 on Ascent’s Zenith Elite carbon fiber wheels.

Last year, the startup also hosted a 200-person meeting with international cycling star Zach Gallardo. The YouTuber has more than 74,000 subscribers on its channel, dedicated to the sport of fixed gear riding.

Fixed gear bikes are very important in the cycling community. Essentially, these are stripped-down bikes that offer maximum control without a freewheel, often without brakes.

“My whole team was involved, and that was a rationale for the brand recognition we were trying to achieve within the fixed gear community,” Qing Xiang recalls.

A new cycling trend?

Despite Covid-19, the bicycle industry saw a rapid turnaround at the end of 2020.

Because of the circuit breaker, more and more people are riding bicycles or becoming food deliverers, and the demand for bicycles is increasing.

Singapore’s cycling community is emerging as a force to be reckoned with.

“You just have to go to places like the Tanah Merah Coastal Road and Seletar Airport on weekends to see the bikers in force,” says Qing Xiang.

Ascent Bikes Breakaway Triathlon
Partnership with the triathlon club / Image credit: Ascent Bikes

The latest electric scooter ban has increased bicycle sales, Qing Xiang observes.

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

“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 why so many bikes are left on the empty deck of HDB apartments.

“It’s such a waste, and my goal at Ascent is to avoid that by making the driving experience enjoyable.”

Featured Image Credit: Ascent Bikes

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Jothi Venkat

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