Gear

Tech Report: Paid to play

Poke around our sport a bit and you’re sure to find a handful of ex-pro’s still making a healthy living as shills… er… spokespersons for a particular product. Sometimes, like George Foreman pitching his line of “Double Knockout” grills, many of the cycling spokespeople know (or care) little about the product they’ve associated themselves with (no offense George). Still, even if you throw out the long list of “big time” names connected to product solely to make a quick buck, you’ll get a healthy list of riders who are seriously committed to improving the sport and bettering a particular

Product endorsements go both ways

By Andrew Juskaitis, VeloNews Technical Editor

 Herbold can not only handle a bike better than most, he can also tell the guys in engineering how to improve  ...

Herbold can not only handle a bike better than most, he can also tell the guys in engineering how to improve …

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Poke around our sport a bit and you’re sure to find a handful of ex-pro’s still making a healthy living as shills… er… spokespersons for a particular product. Sometimes, like George Foreman pitching his line of “Double Knockout” grills, many of the cycling spokespeople know (or care) little about the product they’ve associated themselves with (no offense George).

Still, even if you throw out the long list of “big time” names connected to product solely to make a quick buck, you’ll get a healthy list of riders who are seriously committed to improving the sport and bettering a particular brand. In the mountain-bike world, two names come to mind first and foremost: Greg Herbold and John Tomac.

Both have been around the sport since its early years, both are accomplished racers (in Tomac’s case, probably the most accomplished MTB racer of all time) and both understand the product development process. Sure, they’re both back in the business to make a buck, but considering the amount of input they provide to their respective manufacturers (not to mention flat-out promotion) both are worth every penny they earn.

While many question the long-run accomplishments of the inaugural world downhill champ Herbold (he’s also a six-time national champion), it’s hard to argue he’s one of the most in-tune testers and friendliest characters in the business.

To Herbold, the nuts-and-bolts of suspension can be the most fun

To Herbold, the nuts-and-bolts of suspension can be the most fun

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This is the guy who was first to win using full suspension and clipless pedal technology, so you know he appreciates the benefits of an outside-of-the-box approach to design. Herbold has worked with so many manufacturers; he’s practically written the book on how to extend a successful racing career years after you’ve crossed your last finish line.

These days, Herbold works with RockShox, SRAM, Giro, Continental tire, Scott bikes, Ritchey components and even a bit with Oakley (what pro doesn’t these days?). The key to his success is that he chooses to align himself, “with companies that value my feedback and don’t just use my name as a marketing tool. When I offer suggestions to a manufacturer, I would hope they would go ahead and use them. You can’t expect a company to listen to every suggestion you’ve got, but in the end, you hope your comments will make a better tire, suspension fork or helmet. That’s important to me.”

While not as ubiquitous as Herbold in the after-racing product development world, Tomac certainly has his hands full providing feedback on a few manufacturers’ products. His namesake bicycle line keeps him particularly busy these days, but he also divides his time helping to develop Kenda’s “John Tomac” signature tire line as well as providing some input into Manitou’s suspension developments.

As a result, Kenda’s tire line has, in my opinion, gone from being marginal, just two seasons ago, to top performers in their respective categories. A lot of that is directly due to Tomac’s input. It takes a company ready to listen to a rider’s input and a rider who knows of what he speaks. In this case, who knows cornering, acceleration and braking better than John “The Eagle” Tomac?

A successful combination like that is a benefit to everyone: The athletes pocket a bit of cash, the manufacturers produce a better product and we end up with an improved, more comfortable and/or safer riding experience. Sure, looking back there are a few examples of mediocre product being sold with a famous rider’s name on it. There was the Manitou/ Shaun Palmer effort that produced the X-Vert “Palmer Stroker” edition and Paola Pezzo’s foray into saddle design that gave us the Selle San Marco “Pezzo Edition” saddle. Nonetheless, for the most part, cycling related products with honest-to-goodness pro-rider development and endorsement can be a winning proposition.

Now, if I could only get back the hundred bucks I blew on that George Foreman grill….

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