TCI Friday

A brand is an idea, an extension of a company’s ideals, that gets projected out into the market/world, tested for truth over time, and in positive cases, can serve as a sort of bank of good will or silent salesperson for the company. Cycling has many iconic brands. Schwinn, Campagnolo, and Raleigh spring to mind. But some brands are like zombies, stalking through market, eating the brains of consumers and producing nothing like the stuff they made their names on.

Even in the three examples I gave above you have three very different cases. Only Campagnolo is still run by a member of the family who founded it. The other two have swapped hands and/or gone out of business, only to be resurrected by parties interested in exploiting the brand equity built by someone else.

Brands, if they can, love to invoke the heritage of the products their reputation was built on.

I have to tell you that this sort of thing makes me really angry. I’m a bit of purist, if I’m honest, and I hate when people take credit for the hard work (and honesty) of other people. I understand that, in many cases, the original owners made some fatal error that forced them to sell. Few of the storylines are so neat and tidy that my judgments make much sense.

Maybe it’s not purity I want (with all its false tests and dangerous tribalism), it’s romance. I want people with good ideas who work hard to prosper, the ones who back up their work honestly, who do the right things. But it’s not like that. All sorts of corners can be cut, especially when consumers are flooded with information and don’t have the time to dig deeper. The cost for passing someone else’s work off as your own is usually negligible.

I don’t mean to sound sanctimonious. It’s actually more like willful naivete.

I’m curious how you feel, though. This week’s TCIF asks, who are the iconic cycling brands you most respect and why? Do you care if an investor group swoops in and acquires a brand and then hires a crack team to cash in on the founder’s vision? I reckon that building the reputation that becomes a brand is one of the hardest things to do in business, but maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?

Join the conversation
  1. TominAlbany says

    Shimano: Works every time! Reasonably easy to maintain. Parts always available -outside of pandemic times. Always pushing to make things better. And fishing gear too! (Clearly, they get little, moving, gear-driven parts!) They’re easily my number one. And, they work across all price points.

    I dislike it when an investor group swoops in. It killed my favorite bike brand, Serotta. My road bike is a ’98 CTi. It’s still glorious. Oh, and that titanium quill stem is the bee’s knees. I know Ben’s at it again, and that’s great. But, he should be able to use his name because, it’s HIS name. (And maybe he can. I dunno…) Note: About 2.5 years ago, an investor firm bought the family owned company I worked at for over 25 years and I watched as many friends, and then me, got walked out because we didn’t fit the culture they wanted. That culture they dislike, made the company something they wanted to buy! Dummies. Sayonara!

    Building a brand is extremely hard but it happens over and over. It’s about consistency. And, as humans, we’re woefully inconsistent. That’s why it is admirable. Think about it:
    Heck, Christianity’s brand has withstood over 2000 years of internal and societal change by (mostly) staying on message.

    Happy Friday! (Is there a better brand out there than WEEKENDS?

  2. Jeff vdD says

    TominAlbany is spot-on with Shimano. That said, I’m relatively new to cycling (I started to get serious in 2007), so don’t have brand affinity going back before that (other than Schwinn).

    I probably have a bit more SRAM than Shimano on my bikes, mostly because it was easier that way (11-speed eTap being the one choice I made actively). I’ve been pleased with both, associate a bit more personality with SRAM.

    I’d rather once-strong brands be picked up than die … but only if the picker-upper does it right. Josh Poertner and Silca seems to be a great example of this.

  3. khal spencer says

    Well, small bicycle designers/builders like Spectrum, Seven, Litespeed, and Co-Motion for bikes. I kick myself for letting Tom Kellogg retire before my planned retirement as that put a kink in my retirement gift for myself but I realize that Tom, like me, is getting up there and wants to do something besides work. We were college classmates (U of Rochester, ’76) a long, long time ago. Tom shut his operation down when he retired rather than pass it on. We need more craftspeople in the bike biz, i.e., SOPWAMTOS (Society of People Who Actually Make Their Own Shit), not more nameless, faceless shops over in the Far East.

    Shimano always works and for me, Campy has always worked and felt more solid than Shimano but I rate them equally good. My latest Shimano components, GRX, are awesome. Best stuff I have ever used. If I want the best tires on a road bike, I look for Vittoria. If I want tires I could ride through hot lava fields, I’d go with Schwalbe. My ass settles for nothing less than Selle Italia.

    Not every small operation is a good one but when the good ones put their hearts and minds into it, you can tell. When a company is taken over by the vulture capitalists, it usually means that the buyer better beware.

  4. scottg says

    To paraphrase Korzybski, “The Brand is not the Bike”
    Bikes are a place where you can buy the object from the craftsman,
    without the abstraction of a brand.

    SOPWAMTOS , amen brother Khal.

  5. rich says

    Campagnolo May they ever remain

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