GOING, GOING… GONE?
Is the hardtail mountain bike a thing of the past?
Ask a product manager or slae-guy from any of the major manufacturers about the state of high-end hardtail sales, and one word continually crops up: dead. Hardtail sales are being gobbled up by the increasing number of full-suspension bike sales each year. Specialized’s Ben Capron estimates that the big red S is sellling one-third the number of hardtails that it was in 1996. Trek’s Director of Product Development, Joe Vadeboncouer, reports seeing a 20% to 30% decline in sales of $1,000+ hardtails in roughly the same time period, but says hardtail sales between $500 and $1,000 are down 40% to 50%. Giant forecasts a 40% decline in high-end hardtail sales this year, after a 20% decline in 2001.
With a sales climate like that, it isn’t hard to find employees at big companies saying that the hardtail is dead. But we were able to put together a list of 44 smaller builders who whould like to think otherwise-because their livelihoods depend on the survival of the hardtail. Are they hopelessly off the back? We figured no one would know better than the small guys themselves, so we rounded up a few and asked them.
MOUNTAIN BIKE: Is the high-end mountain bike hardtail dead?
CARL STRONG (Strong Cycles): It’s not dead, but it’s losing market share. It’s not going to die at the volume we work with (100 to 150 frames per year), but if I’d previously been selling 20,000 to 30,000 per year, I might see it as dying. As bigger companies abandon hardtails, they might only be available in the future from the small guys-and we’ll be the ones who will reap the rewards.
MB: It’s obvious that the hardtail is still a good choice for XC, so why are FS/XC bikes so dominant in sales?
STRONG: The average consumer these days is more interested in comfort or what’s considered “cool,” and most were introduced to tile sport around the time when FS was becoming more readily available. So to them, it’s the norm. They don’t really know any better.
MB: So, who is the remaining hardtail customer, and what do you deliver that the big guys can’t?
STRONG: We offer custom tubing, geometry, sizing, color and braze- Most customers don’t know what they want, so we help them through it and develop relationships by offering the kind of customer service that no big manufacturer can.
The people who appreciate custom bikes also appreciate hardtails. They’re usaully more educated about bikes, and typically come from a racing background.
Manufacturing just about every type of hardtail you can imagine short of BMX or recumbent (not that recumbents are really bikes), Strong Cycles offers mountain, road, cyclocross and track bikes in steel, Ti and aluminum. All frames are custom built to meet the rider’s needs-allowing variations in tubing spec, geometry, braze-ons, color and anything else you might ask for. Not sure what you want? Owner Carl Strong can help with that, too. our test bike-11 designed with generous standover and a sturdy tubing spec-sells for $1,200.