Gary Fisher on the road: A conversation with the mountain bike pioneer
By Robbie Stout
Gary Fisher is best known for producing innovative, race winning and fun-to-ride mountain bikes. That’s all about to change.
With the introduction of the Gary Fisher road bike line in 2010, you can expect to associate the Fisher brand with both the dirt and the tarmac. Already, the Kelly Benefit Strategies pro team has ridden the Gary Fisher Cronus to major wins with the Tour de Beauce, by Scott Zwizanksi and most recently the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium by David Veilleux.
With this major shift from a single to a dual focus at Gary Fisher, we wanted to find out what the Fisher King himself had to say about the big changes. VeloNews writer Robbie Stout had the chance to sit down with Gary Fisher at the foot of an ancient glacial valley in the St. Mary Lodge in St. Mary, Montana.
VeloNews: How long has the road bike been a realistic goal for Gary Fisher?
Gary Fisher: We had the parting of the ways with LeMond and immediately after that there was talk of working with Klein within the building during the spring of 2008. I remember talking asking how do you do Klein? How do you promote it? I had my ideas on how to promote Klein. Quite honestly I don’t think we did as good of a job as we could have with Klein, as a company. There are marks of Klein on all of our bikes — like that tapered steerer column, that was Gary Klein — he is a genius. He is building telescopes now so he didn’t want to revive the Klein brand. We asked a lot of our dealers about what we should do and many of them said, “do Fisher road bikes.” From a marketing standpoint, somebody who rides a Fisher mountain bike will be much more likely to buy a Fisher road bike than any other brand.
VN: From the outside it would appear that the Gary Fisher brand is on its way up in the world.
GF: We have a tremendous asset and that’s the factory in Waterloo and fabulous distribution. They are totally class A. I’m married into this group and it’s a wonderful thing. We’re able to put a lot more energy into Fisher overall and that’s the result of the efforts by John Burke building an incredible new office and hiring a lot of good people.
VN: That’s the way to do it really — all or nothing.
GF: Ever since Lance (Armstrong), the whole thing has been intoxicating because the company put a lot of money on the line with Lance. He was the world’s most picky bike racer on the world’s most picky bike team when it came to equipment. They are real hard taskmasters but we like that. That’s the whole thing behind bike people. We don’t mind working really hard and so-called “suffering.” Man this is tasting life and we’re getting to take a big bite.
It’s been fantastic to see the competition grow. There has been more innovation this year than there has been last year and the year before and the year before. The rate of innovation just keeps getting faster and better.
VN: Right now you have the Kelly Benefits Strategies team on the new Gary Fisher road bikes. Do you see the company reaching out to bigger cycling teams in the near future?
GF: You gain a lot of credibility when you get a good pro team riding your bikes. There’s always the possibility of us acquiring an even bigger pro team. I love racing. I love the scene. I love all of it but there are other things we can do. I really like what Kelly Benefits has done. They have really stepped it up this year. They are getting a lot of exposure and I’m really glad to be involved with those guys. You can expect to see a greater participatory role from Fisher as we continue to grow the brand, such as sponsoring teams — I just love racing.
VN: How would you hope for the cycling world not to perceive the new Gary Fisher road bikes?
GF: What I don’t want is for people to think that we’re not going to bring something to the table. I hope to make a contribution to the road bike scene. I’m in competition with some mighty competitors. There is a lot of great passion out there and a lot of understanding of what a person needs to be happy with their road bike and I just want to contribute to that. I hope to be recognized as a contributor.
VN: It’s really impressive what you’ve been able to build in your first year in the road bike scene.
GF: You’ve got to realize, it hasn’t been just a year for me it’s been my whole life. I started racing on the bike when I was 12 years old and the rest of my design group love the road and know what they are doing. We’re all a big family. There are bits and pieces of me that are on Lance’s bike and have been for years. I’ve been working on the road bike for a lot longer than most people realize — it just hasn’t been my brand. I love my road bike and I always have. You’d have to pry it out of my cold dead hands.
VN: What would you say is your vision for the new Gary Fisher road bike?
GF: I’m trying to come at it from the practical side. This is going to be the bike that works for me and makes me happy. I’ve always felt that way. The bike has to serve you. A lot of bikes are too finicky. Not everybody has their own personal mechanic that they hand over their bike to. Most people are more concerned with taking care of themselves and their own body. I want a bike that is really practical but at the same time is no disadvantage speed-wise.
VN: There is a time trial bike absent in your 2010 line. Is that something you foresee for Gary Fisher?
GF: I was just talking with our engineers about trying some new things, even some non-UCI legal stuff. When you go non-UCI legal there are more possibilities of making a faster bike. Conversely you want to be UCI legal so that it can be raced and won on to generate more popularity. These two forces work against each other. Maybe it’s Trek’s place to be the legal producer and my place to be the illegal one. Who buys time trial bikes? Triathletes. And they don’t have the same restrictions. There is a tremendous opportunity there.
VN: What are some criticisms that you have of other road bikes on the market?
GF: They are too concerned with being UCI legal. But the reality is that less than one percent of the riders out there really have to be concerned, but of course that is a very important one percent.
VN: Wouldn’t that complicate sponsoring a pro team?
GF: We will have to have some legal bikes obviously but not all of them.