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Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

- Regardless of your political leanings, last week’s midterm election had one significant impact to American cyclists: 18-term MN Democratic Congressman (and House Transportation Committee Chairman) Jim Oberstar was defeated. Bike Portland and others have nicely summed up how Oberstar was arguably the most powerful cycling advocate in America. It’s a truism of politics, it seems: All Americans hate pork except for their pork. Chapeau Congressman Oberstar. You made the lives of American cyclists (Democrats and Republican alike) safer and you’ll always be remembered and appreciated for it.

G4 - Be-Addicted- Maybe I should’ve known the name Geoffroy Lequatre before now. Maybe I should’ve been attentive back in ’08 when he won the Tour of Britain. Maybe I should’ve previously noted the irony of the presence of a Frenchman on the otherwise francophobic Team Radio Shack. But in terms of missing the plot entirely, none of the above is worse than the failure of the vetting process that allowed one of Lance Armstrong’s henchmen to unveil a line of cycling clothing with the tagline ‘Be Addicted.’

- Props to the guys at Franco bikes for announcing that they’re opening their own brick-and-mortar store(s). They’re a small (we suspect very small) company, so even though the location of store #1 is the tony town of Westlake Village, CA, our guess is that it’s probably off the beaten path there -- which makes us love the concept even more in the manner of our love for unexpectedly fabulous Asian restaurants in shabby, inconvenient strip malls.

Franco is a company you should get to know. Given the ever-growing & ever-darker dual shadows of Specialized and Trek, their business model is a logical next step within the bike industry. What Franco is doing has already been successfully done in fashion, in hotels, in restaurants and in other verticals: When the preponderance of product choices are both homogenous and broadly available, even if these choices are of reasonable quality and economic value, a certain segment of customers will make buying decisions based on emotional affinity instead.

I admit ignorance on the specific technical details of Franco bikes, but even if they’re open mold; even if they don’t have engineers on retainer; and even if the details of their material concepts are circa-2007, the genius of the brand (and other brands of the same genre -- I’m thinking Ritte Racing and Cicli Gaulzetti ) is that they’re entirely customer-focused rather than being fixated on ‘growing the dealer base.’ Their bikes and the marketing surrounding them reflect their corporate pleasure at being otherwise regular dudes except for their electrifying, fundamentalist fervor for all things PRO. The purity of their voices and the narrowness of their bike lines provide the foundation for a new type of authenticity in the marketplace: It’s not technology-based, rather it’s based on a shared sense of joy. And that’s why no small number of big spenders are flicking the wind tunnel data and the gram scale, and instead it’s passion they’re embracing with their new bike purchases. We’ll never sell their bikes (since they’re consumer-direct (Gaulzetti technically isn’t, but they kind of are)), but nevertheless we applaud their vision & their effort and officially approve of Franco, Ritte, and Gaulzetti bikes.

- Get thee, get thee, get thee to Girona for your next serious training camp. It’s road riding paradise. And a week there isn’t complete with a day sauntering through the streets of Barcelona. Three cheers for half-open garages with no signage and friendly folks within. Being a gearhead (no matter the gear) is an international language.

- What we love about cyclocross: Unlike road racing, the lifeblood of CX is joy and inclusiveness. And the sport pulls it off without sacrificing the intensity of the racing. A side benefit is how visually compelling the sport is: It’s a magnet for photographers who otherwise would never shoot bike racing. Every week, a new torrent of nice photos, with no shortage of b+w shots that remind me of 7′ covers from back in my college days. I need to pull my flannel shirts out of the mothballs. Here we are now, entertain us.

Cross-Pop

- Rouleur hits the trail. Their new title is called ‘Privateer’ and in flipping through it, it looks quite well-done. Think of it as a more cerebrally-satisfying version of Bike Magazine. We’ll have it in stock soon and if you’re in love with mountain bikes you should check it out.

- Note to emerging bike companies. If your strategic positioning is reliant on luxury goods analogy-mongering, spellcheck said luxury goods.

Titus Isogrid road frameset- Did you see the news about Titus? We once had a close relationship with the brand, but this day has probably been long-coming. The heart and soul of Titus was always inseparable from its founder -- MTB engineering stalwart Chris Cocalis. The rise of the company was thanks to his brainpower and his reputation in the small, tight circle of hardcore MTB cognoscenti.

Some details might be imprecise here (I welcome corrective feedback), but the saga goes roughly like this: In the early/mid-2000′s Titus decided that they needed to shift some of their production out of their AZ facility over to Asia (common story shared by many brands at the time). But the uncommon wrinkle is that they wanted to market two innovative technologies they co-developed with Vyatech (Exogrid and Isogrid carbon/titanium fabrication) into other industries. Most appealing was golf, where Titus (or, really, Vyatech) thought it had a shot to be a player in the shaft business. From golf shafts, they dreamt about baseball/softball bats, lacrosse sticks, and any other sporting application where aluminum (or carbon-alone, or titanium-alone) was being used.

Titus Exogrid cutout w/no carbonIn order to help this happen, Pat Hus was brought on board as CEO. Pat is a well-known, gregarious businessman with a good market sense. He had a noteworthy track record at Cannondale, then at American Bicycle Group (as CEO when Litespeed’s Ti business seemed to peak.) It didn’t hurt that Pat loved golf -- a fact that perhaps symbolized the eventual personality turbulence that reportedly followed. Pat’s background was a corporate one. Cocalis’ background was, basically, more Jesse James-ish: Monkeying around with motorcross bikes. Seeing them next to each other in a conference room told you everything you needed to know. Same room, different planets. Combine that dynamic with the fact that a relatively small company had two guys with sizeable salaries, change seemed inevitable.

Soon enough, Cocalis left the company. He sat on the sidelines during the term of his non-compete, and eventually founded Pivot Cycles and became the importer of BH bikes. Hus attempted to re-program Titus as a Typical Modern Bike Company, i.e. Titus de-emphasized titanium, they de-emphasized custom frames, they de-emphasized in-house fabrication, they threw their hats into the component game (remember Maxm?), they sourced their bikes in Asia, etc etc.

Titus ExogridAs all of this transformation was going on at Titus, the high-end mountain bike marketplace was becoming increasingly saturated with indistinct brands. Worsening the situation was the fact that Titus/Vyatech’s golf shaft project had no apparent traction, causing Vyatech to sell Titus off to an outfit called GAI. (NB: You might not want to Google ‘Titus’ and ‘GAI’). In the chaos and disarray, Hus pulled the ripcord (and ended up with a great job at Easton Bell Sports), and now -- after its fiery crash -- all we’re left with is memories of what was once a great brand. It’s sad to see Titus go. But rest assured that more stories like this are coming from the ramen-eating, line-of-credit-maxing niche players of the American mountain bike markeplacet. What makes their stories so charming is their by-the-bootstraps/garage-built heritage. And no matter the industry, companies like those tend to fail.