We are not perfect, nor will we ever be. The same goes for our products. But we are committed to learning and being the best we can be, and developing the best bicycle products that we can. As for best, we mean that beyond quality and reliability, we strive to provide true Rider Benefit in our products — To learn more about our Rider Benefit perspective, please see the August 2022 edition of Being Frank. However, in my three decades in the bicycle business, I have encountered cases where the business impetus is something different than what is best for the rider.
I recall clearly the time I was in the office of a Director of Product Development at a major bike company, a person I liked and who had had a very respectable career. When the discussion turned to the business at hand, he made it clear that his team would quickly find a substitute for our product if we were unable to deliver. When he said “here it’s boxes in, boxes out” it signaled to me that despite marketing messages, riders were secondary to commercial considerations. I understood that a business needs to be successful to survive or no rider will be served, and I appreciated that his stark statement was also intended to put my company on notice. Nonetheless, from that point on I viewed that company differently.
Earlier in my career at the height of the mountain bike boom in the nineties, everything was new and brands were trying to solidify their identities. During that time our bike brand was one of the Big Four in America, we had a rich history in BMX, our name was memorable, and we had one of the best racing teams (which was really important at the time). However, in those fast times, our sales team was keen on having the absolute best bike line available – certainly not a bad aspiration. But the suggestions and requests were many times short-sighted. I was implored to do color and graphics like Marin because they had a very unique look, incorporate aluminum frames like Mongoose, use blackwall tires as GT did, and spec Rock Shox forks because everyone else was. It was tough to navigate between what was best for the brand in the long run and what was best for sales in the short run, and I made more mistakes (Oh, the 1995 currency devaluation spec conundrum I got way wrong!) than I care to admit. Regardless, it was my mission to maintain a certain integrity in the bikes.
Recently I have had a good friend and industry associate ask me for my opinion on a controversial new bike feature. He and his team have been debating jumping on board the trend of incorporating the feature into an important bike family. The commercially safe path is to go along with the trend, regardless of its merits, and then change course later if the market later dismisses the feature. Despite him seriously questioning the merit, it seems he is facing pressure to go along with the trend. More interestingly, the bike family proved to be a major success when launched a few years ago by rejecting numerous trendy features. Now he must decide if adopting the new feature undermines the original strategy that made the bike a success to begin with.
Cane Creek has held numerous patents over the years, however not all of our ideas are patentable. We see an opportunity to do something unique or better, and we do it accepting that it is not protected. Nonetheless, I am continuously disappointed to see competitors, even friendly competitors, introduce a product that brings nothing new to riders. A good argument can be made that excess in the world is a growing problem, and do we really need fifty aluminum MTB pedal options. This area is not always black and white though. For example, a competitor of ours introduced a “suspension” stem, and we had yet to enter that market. When we tested their stem and collected market feedback, it was clear to us that the competitor’s stem was lacking in some areas, and we could do a much better job. So while we “stood on the shoulders of those before us” we pushed ourselves to make our stem significantly and noticeably better.
I can cite numerous other examples, but I think the above illuminates the issue enough. The thread running through each of these examples is that Product Integrity is under pressure in the bicycle industry – as I’m sure it is elsewhere – and this pressure is intensifying as everyone fights to survive. And trust me, it is a fight to survive for the long term in a manner that serves riders, owners, employees, and communities in the best possible manner. I challenge ourselves and others to question what our true underlying aim (the Why) is, and how it can be better manifested in terms of product integrity.