Cannondale produced a downhill racing bike that you could actually buy at a bike shop once–but it fell out of production over five years ago. GT has made a couple of weak attempts–I believe the rickety Lobos was available as a complete bike for a couple of hours during the 1998 season.

Specialized never sold a ready-to-race downhiller and Mongoose, while Brian Lopes and Leigh Donovan were tearing up every racer course in the world, failed to produce anything worth racing for their adoring fans.

“We offer a frame only,” is the lame response that most big brands
dole out when you ask them about their downhill line. You can’t ride a
frame–and if you were going to build up a custom bike, why would you buy a generic item when small-time chassis magicians could match the exorbitent prices that the big brands charge–and deliver a better chassis more promptly?
If you wanted to go downhill racing this weekend, where could you slap
down your credit card and buy a bike? You can buy a water-cooled, 125CC
shifter Kart on Friday and be racing it on the track on Saturday. You can buy a Honda CR-250 tonight and be clearing doubles tomorrow morning. Why can’t you buy a reasonably priced downhill bike at your local dealer from a reputable mountain bike company that has fielded a pro gravity team for half a decade?

Am I the only one who thinks that a bunch of marketeers in high places
have their heads screwed on wrong when it comes to downhill racing? It’s not like downhill racing is dead. At NORBA national events, downhill entrants are swelling to the point of matching the cross country ranks. Downhill is fun, it’s accessible to people of all fitness levels, and downhill racers break more parts than army ants at war. Why wouldn’t the larger bike companies take advantage of this growing market segment?

Laziness on the part of marketing managers and the unwillingness to
commit to a small segment of the sport is probably the answer. Small time mountain bike makers invented the bikes, marketed the concept to the press and developed the sport. Finally, when mountain biking grew large enough, the big brands finally, almost grudgingly, took it over and reaped in the bucks. I believe that they are all waiting for someone else to make the investment, and turn a profit before they cash in.

Am I wrong? Intense, Foes, Santa Cruz, Race Face, MRP, Stratos,Karpiel, Nokian, Maxxis, and Azonic are all no-name companies that blossomed in the vacuum that Cannondale,Specialized, Trek, Fisher, GT, Mongoose, and Schwinn created when they spent millions of dollars on factory downhill teams in the vain hopes of winning a national or world title. All the while they were failing to market a viable product for their customers. There really isn’t an excuse for that level of waste.

This year, as U.S. cross country racers (except for three talented
women) get pounded into dust on the World Cup circuit, our downhillers are tearing it up–as usual. If we took stock in all the rainbow jerseys that this country’s cyclists have won on the road, track, and the dirt, we would realize that it is our NORBA downhillers who have consistently brought home the gold at the world championships and returned victorious from the World Cup circuit. Why are we ignoring them?

The news that Specialized will not have a pro downhill team next year reflects the industry’s mistaken view of gravity sports; that there is no market because we aren’t selling any downhill products.

I say, get off your butt and make decent-performing, turn-key downhill
machines for reasonable prices. Do that, and everyone who has been waiting in the wings to try their hand at gravity racing will finally have access to the sport. This country seems to be wasting a second chance to dominate the bicycle world. Maybe there’s still time to step up to the plate.


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