By Andrew Juskaitis, VeloNews technical editor
We’re still settling down from the madness that was this year’s Sea Otter. While you can read the blow-by-blow race coverage in VeloNews No. 8, I thought I’d follow up on one of the more interesting tech stories fluttering about the Laguna Seca raceway: The return of Scott U.S.A to the United States market.
You may or may not remember when Scott – which began life as a ski pole manufacturer – became involved in cycling. The company started producing aero’ handlebars based on Boone Lennon’s design way back in 1986. Of course, the brand really hit the big time when Greg LeMond used a Scott bar in his historic 8-second overall victory at the 1989 Tour De France.
LeMond’s astonishing come-from-behind win helped start the modern aero’ movement in cycling, where riders began measuring – and minimizing – every possible source of drag. From this component success, Scott went on to produce complete bicycles, introducing one of the first full-suspension mountain bikes in 1992. The company enjoyed moderate success, but – despite the “USA” moniker – pulled out of the U.S. market in 1997 to avoid interfering with its newly acquired brand, Schwinn.
After withdrawing from the U.S., Scott continued to develop its European bicycle division with great success. Aside from an otherwise dry history lesson here, what I find interesting is how Scott took a born-in-the-USA product and tailored it to suit the desires of the European road and mountain bike market. Are our cultures so different that we require dramatic variations in the bicycles we ride? Absolutely. Most major bicycle manufacturers have two product lines these days: one for the American market and one for Europe. How different are our tastes? Mountain bikes provide the clearest examples, so I’ll focus on them to help illustrate my point.
Generally speaking – and I do realize that I am speaking in generalities here – Europeans tend to be sticklers for weight. We, on the other hand, prefer our transportation to be a bit more, shall we say, robust, as evidenced by our SUV fixation and the great number of American mountain bikes that never actually see dirt.
For that reason, high-end hardtail sales in Europe are still going strong, while full-suspension bikes dominate the high-end MTB market here in the States. As a result of Europe’s weight consciousness, manufacturers are pushed to produce the lightest hardtail and full suspension bikes they can, even if performance suffers as a result. This is exactly why single-pivot full-suspension bikes have proven so popular in Europe over the more complicated and heavier multi-pivot full-suspension bikes here in North America, despite the superior performance of the U.S.-style bikes.
This also helps explain why the Euros have been slower to embrace disc brakes. Pure and simple, linear pull brakes are lighter, and even though discs outperform rim brakes (especially in mud), the average non-racing Euro will still stick with the older technology to shave a few grams — even if they’re elderly folk touring the Alps on hybrids. These influences (I won’t even begin to get into European color schemes) add up to some very different trends. If you’re ever able to get your hands on a European-spec bike catalog (say from Cannondale or Scott) you’ll notice technology and models not even conceivable here in the good ‘ol U.S. Touring/commuting bikes barely exist in our world (as a percentage of total U.S. bike sales) while in Europe, they can comprise 40 percent of a manufacturer’s volume. That’s a healthy bike category that isn’t even a blip our U.S. radar screens (please, no angry mail about how it’s my “role” in the cycling world to help promote commuting; I’m not editorializing here).
So what’s the point to all of this rambling? Scott has a very European product line that it will bring to a shop near you in 2005. In fact, for the next two or three years, the U.S. Scott bike line will be identical to the Euro’ spec (in order to simplify inventory issues). If you’re interested in looking at a decidedly different take on bicycle design, pick up a catalog or check out Scott U.S.A.’s website. While it’s way too early to judge whether Scott’s bikes will be successful here, I can tell you this: in a cluttered, often copy-cat U.S. market, Scott’s differences definitely stand out. I’m as curious as you to see whether they will work.