Five Questions: Max Commencal

Sep 22, 2014
by Richard Cunningham  

Max Commencal 2014

bigquotesI don't want to follow, only to follow.

Max Commencal joined Canyon and YT just over two years ago, when he made the decision to sell directly to his customers, rather than using traditional retail bike shops. Launching a new internet-based bike brand is a risky endeavor for sure, but converting a dealer-based brand into an on-line business is an entirely different proposition - one that was considered by many industry insiders to be financial suicide. Max is no stranger to danger. He built up Commencal from scratch after being ejected from his position as CEO of Sunn bikes by a hostile takeover - a business that he co-founded. Against all odds, Commencal's on-line direct sales in Europe have now eclipsed its best numbers as a dealer-based wholesaler. Sales were strong enough, in fact, to encourage Max to open an operation in the coastal town of Carlsbad, California, to better serve its customers in the US. We caught up with Max while he was sealing the deal on the warehouse and office space that will soon become Commencal USA.



Tell us about the aftermath of Commencal's decision to go consumer direct with an on-line store.

For a small bicycle brand like us, it was very dangerous a few years ago. Bigger brands like Trek, Giant and Specialized were pushing us out of the stores and the larger store chains were getting too strong. Chain stores were asking for discounts and charging us for their advertising. All of us purchase our bicycles from the same suppliers in Asia, but when we buy ten, Trek is buying one thousand, so Commencal's prices are naturally higher. Eventually, our margins were almost gone. Because we are small, we had to do something to compete - and this is what we did. By removing the intermediary, we can recapture some of that margin. Not all, of course, because we must have people in place who can speak to every customer, and we also must advertise, and these things take away some of that margin, but we are competitive again. When we started with our on-line store, we immediately lost 99-percent of our dealers - gone - but today we have more sales than we had two years ago. This is how we are able to start Commencal here in the US.


Service is everything when it comes to on-line retailing. Now that you will be on two continents, will Commencal be able to handle customer questions 24 hours, every day?.

Actually, we do. With the time difference, there is always someone at Commencal to take care of our American customers. I have told everyone, even the engineers, that they must be able to answer questions, and do you know what? They love it. If you think of it this way, bike shops are filters. They do not always translate our message the way we would wish, because they have each, their own likes and dislikes and, of course, there is always pressure to sell the major brand that the shop has most of its money tied up with. We don't have filters anymore. We speak with our customers directly and we can give them exactly what they need. We now have an "a-la-carte" program where you can order any parts and special colors. We assemble these bikes in France. Of course, this is not something new, but what is new that nobody else offers, is that you can leave off any parts that you want, so if you have something from your other bike, you don't have to buy it again.


You have at least ten different kid's models. Why is Commencal so dedicated to the youth market?

We always did kids' bikes. I have five children. Many of us at Commencal in sales and administration have children - and we want good bikes. There are not many good kids' bikes made, and if you go to a ski resort, you see all the kids there on anything they can ride. At Les Gets, all of the bike schools are filled, every day. It is a virgin market. Same in the USA. We have three national youth champions on Commencal bikes.

You can't make small frames to make money, because the numbers are less, so a child's frame costs 30-percent more than a Meta. And parts are hard to get. To find forks, and a good variety of tires - normal things - is difficult, but it is the future. We like to believe that if they knew Commencal when they were kids, they will always be on Commencal.


You have taken a stand against Carbon frames. A few bike makers have succeeded in making reliable aluminum frames that can compete with carbon - Liteville comes to mind. Do you have a plan in place to produce an aluminum Commencal chassis with similar strength and weight as your carbon competitors?

Carbon has improved. Aluminum has also improved. Aluminum is stable. If the thicknesses are the same and the alloy is the same, the frames will be all the same. Carbon is made by hand, and there are so many levels of construction. We can now buy a carbon frame for less than we can make an aluminum frame, so the question is: which carbon frame are we talking about?

Weight, of course, is important, and we are not the lightest. We never have been the lightest. I want our frames to be strong first, because we have to be sure that a big person can ride our bikes as hard as a small person. We cannot control who will be riding them. Nevertheless, our Meta V4 has all its tubes triple butted and its weight is quite competitive, while being extremely reliable for agressive riders. There is something about strength versus weight that most overlook. When you know that you are riding a bike that is strong enough, you never think about the bike. You only have to think about riding. When you are riding a light bike, you always must be thinking about how you will ride it through this and that, because always, there is the possibility that some component or the frame may not be strong enough. Our DH frame is three years old and the team has not broken one. Each year, they can sell them after the season.


Enduro has both shaken up and reshaped the landscape of the mountain bike market. Where do you envision that enduro racing is headed?

Did you know that next year is 20 years of the Megavalanche? I am not a strong supporter of the EWS. I prefer the Megavalanche, where 2000 people start at the top of a mountain. There is one winner and 20 pros are competing for the win, and everyone else is having an adventure. It's real mountain biking. The EWS has eight races around the globe, and to race it, you can't have a job. It costs a minimum of 40 thousand US dollars for a racer to compete in all eight races, and if you are not in the top five places, nobody will speak of you. And, you can't film it. I think that soon the EWS will be pro only.

There are more opportunities for downhillers to be sponsored. There is more exposure and if you can break into the top 20, you are almost assured to be picked up by a team. Now, you need at least two good riders to win DH - to follow each other down and to compare different lines. You can see this happening in all the good teams and it means even more spots will be available.


102 Comments

  • + 121
 "The EWS has eight races around the globe, and to race it, you can't have a job. It costs a minimum of 40 thousand US dollars for a racer to compete in all eight races, and if you are not in the top five places, nobody will speak of you. And, you can't film it. I think that soon the EWS will be pro only."

There, the truth has been said.
  • + 61
 So much truth and honesty in so many of his statements... Mad respect.
  • + 21
 I love Enduro racing. I also have a career and a family, where I can't train every day. When the Whistler Enduro came in, I thought that it would be awesome to be a part of, but quickly realized that I was working and couldn't take time off. Then I saw the course. 67kms of insanity. Sure, there was an amature class, but most people couldn't do it. Enduro for the common person, like myself, shouldn't be crazy ass rides like that. The BC Enduro series is a great example for the weekend warrior, 50kms, spread over 2'days.. Fun, not something that almost kills Pros
  • + 15
 I raced the EWS in Scotland this year, and it was one of the best weekends of racing I have ever had. From riding loads of gnarly stages, to mingling with the pros, it was unreal. Yes some people will do the whole series, but the primary point of the EWS is to allow the average local joe to race against the best in the world. Don't get me wrong I love world cup DH, but I'll never get to race one.
  • + 6
 And the Enduro hating keeps on going... Now don't be so naïve, if one day Quéré starts winning everything he'll tell you the EWS are the best stuffs on earth, that it IS real mountain biking and blablabla.
  • + 9
 The EWS is awesome for locals.... is a dream come truth. Imagine riding WITH the people you admire. In Chile we had different categories, and the race was not the same for all the riders, leaving the less experienced or prepared riders with the opportunity to run...that was awesome.. Downhill is great to, but way too much elitist
  • + 2
 If I understand correctly, DH world cup riders are only racing at one place and everyone participating have a full time job in parallel.
I don't even comment the fact that only the 5 top EWS riders are well known.
I wonder as well why I watched so many cool videos of EWS. THat should have been Holywood movies I guess...
TO be more serious : why to oppose these disciplines ? No more good Commencal riders within Enduro ? Bad investment to justify ?
As a side note : if you really want to make kid's bikes, stop designing bikes which have the same weight as the rider or silly full suspension bikes with one gear. You might have little bit more success here than just in newspapers...
  • + 4
 "The EWS has eight races around the globe, and to race it, you can't have a job."
So it's just like UCI DH and all the other sports. I don't see anything wrong with it.
  • + 2
 I may be wrong but I think the issue is with the way enduro is (was?) marketed. Enduro racing was meant to be the evolution of casually racing your mates on the downhill trails during rides. There were so many interviews with the pros talking about how it was great to talk with their mates during the climbs and talk after each stage about the difficult sections or close encounters etc. Now, more and more, it's looking like the industry has taken the format by storm to try and sell their bikes via race wins and the athletes are expected to perform, so it's just another official super serious race series. We as the consumer lap it up though...
  • + 76
 EWS, carbon, bike shop standpoints; wish I could buy this guy a beer.
  • + 3
 I'll pay the second round for his all around honesty and the balls it takes to say some of these things.
  • + 0
 Interesting viewpoints for sure. Def appreciate the honesty and perspective. I totally agree regarding the EWS.
  • + 36
 This man could never work for Specialized.... Way to real and honest!
  • + 1
 No, he actually could in the way he's very good at telling people what they wanna hear.
  • - 2
 I think you're right EnduroManiac.
It's the classic message "Oh look at me!, we are a small company and we have to fight against those big, bad guys. Please buy my bikes and help me to survive"
But on the other hand, you have to admit this is a good strategy.
  • + 11
 hes not waving a banner for attention....he was asked and he answered, notice how he says his company and virtually all others buy their frames they don't make their frames? You hear other companies saying that? If what he wants to say is what people want to hear and its true more power to him...
  • + 4
 I have the feeling Max Commençal is not yet well known on the other side of the pond.
100% agree with you guataisi. It reminds me of Intense keeping saying they are small and poor and thew invest massively in carbon frames, pay themselves 2 legends (Lopes and Palmer) and are trying to get a top 5 WC rider for next year's season.
  • + 0
 Honest? Especially about aluminum being so eco friendly...
  • + 3
 Intense was very small compared to a Trek Or Specialized microscopic really, they had a big investment recently, if they want to survive probably have to they're out of CA guess the $ of doing business their isn't well known across the pond, they were making their frames there. The cost of doing that vs a frame from an Asian factory is considerably higher. You think that carbon and all its epoxy is any more eco friendly than aluminum?
  • + 1
 @pako313, he didn't mention anything about AL being eco-friendly, yes it takes a lot of energy to smelt AL from its oxide, but you can also recycle it.

fwiw, looks like some companies are also recycling carbon now: www.specialized.com/us/en/news/latest-news/12700
  • + 1
 I'm talking about the red mud, and yeah you're right he was talking about the workers, not the environment. (In the last interview)
  • + 35
 This man has gained my respect. Choice words.
  • + 16
 I like this guy and what he stands for, %99 of us couldn't even utilize a carbon frame to its potential. I love it when I destroy people on the trails riding there carbon Nomads with Enve wheels with my aluminum 2014 Heckler. And I never worry about my bikes reliability and even maintaince with it being a dead simple single pivot. If I could afford a Commencal (or a new set of tires) they would be my brand. Keep doing what you believe in.
  • + 54
 Right, because you're such a poor man's underdog on a model 2014 bike. That shit's not even 26"!
  • + 18
 Haha I was just thinking the exact same thing. As a 26 inch steel hard tail rider I must refuse to acknowledge your claim of poverty.
  • + 3
 * a Rigid singlespeed, 26 inch steel hard tail Wink
  • + 24
 If you "love destroying people on the trails" then you're doing it wrong
  • + 18
 Just because you cant afford a carbon wonder bike doesn't they dont like riding as well. People like you piss me off more then anything. You think your some martyr? What are you trying to prove? There is going to be a day, if it hasnt already happened where a dude or chick is going to blast right past you on their carbon super bikes. Let people ride what they want and not be a dick about it
  • - 15
flag CGalbreath (Sep 22, 2014 at 8:01) (Below Threshold)
 Yo jerkfishes, the only reason I could afford that bike is because I sold my DH bike that I worked for three summers to save up enough and buy a used 2012 Kona operator, then all of that money went towards the bike. AAANNDD I worked at a Santa Cruz dealer so I got the cheapest model at an employee price. I literally cannot afford new tires, the new school term just started and being a totally self supported college student with over $30,000 of debt in loans is no picnic. So back off. Ya'll just jealous of my skills and tweener wheels. And if i could afford carbon I would totally buy it, I'm just saying its lame when people bash on Commencal for not having carbon bikes when they could not even utilize it.
  • + 16
 Pick a frame material and be a dick about it. Smile
  • + 2
 Slower riders are going to be slower on heavier bikes. Plain and simple. You don't need a > $30k "education" to know that.

Besides, it's a hell of a lot more fun blasting past youngsters who think they're hot shit.
  • + 2
 ^ I love the irony in comments like that Wink
  • + 3
 And it's super bloody lame bashing on people out having fun on their bikes because they were in a position to be able to buy a better spec'd bike.
  • + 1
 I have a carbon bike. Let's go riding and we will see who's faster.
  • + 3
 The dick measuring contest has really exploded into life here.
  • + 1
 we're not the ones jealous of other people's bikes and then hiding it with a false sense of confidence
  • + 1
 I don't have any false sense of confidence nor do I have any jealousy towards someone with a better bike. I chose to not only ride a hardtail this but also to race one at some pretty gnarly races. I sold a top of the range 2013 160mm bike to do so. Any sense of confidence I have has been earned.
  • + 1
 Good for u
  • + 17
 F*ck yes. It's so refreshing to hear someone who has a common-sense approach to business, bikes and the industry.
  • + 7
 Commen-sense...eh?! Anybody? Ok that was dumb...
  • + 13
 i always thought of the Commencal bikes as being overpriced.... Lets hope that the on line availability will bring the prices to a more affordable level because they do seem like good bikes. Also, thumbs up for the stance of the man in relation to kids bikes, carbon and Enduro. You need to be pretty confident to have such solid opinion
  • + 8
 compare the prices for frames 2015 with 2014 and you'll see they already got much cheaper.
  • + 1
 You're right imo, they are a bit overpriced,
However, you should pay attention to their "sales" on-line: a month ago I bought my dad a Meta SL LTD for 1800€ instead of 4000€! Yes it is a 2012 bike but wow!
www.commencal-store.com/PBSCProduct.asp?ItmID=12488604
  • + 11
 I bought a Meta AM direct from the Commencal website earlier this year. Very happy with speed of delivery to NZ and the bike itself. However, two improvements I can think of:

- Firstly, the internal cable routing through the chainstay is a nightmare. There needs to be some sort of plastic guide to pass the cable through to make it easier.

- Secondly, the bike had a brake that was locked on and play in the shock bushing. You don't expect this when buying direct from the manufacturer. The brake was easily fixed, but for the bushing I was promised a new one would be sent after several e-mails. This has never showed up and my e-mails are now ignored by Commencal.
  • + 3
 Update - just got emailed by Commencal and they are posting me a new bushing.
  • + 8
 More truth in this: "... bike shops are filters. They do not always translate our message the way we would wish, because they have each, their own likes and dislikes and, of course, there is always pressure to sell the major brand that the shop has most of its money tied up with..."

That's definitely the way it was where I worked from 1999 through the mid-2000s. New hires were informally instructed to hate on [insert brand name here] from the get-go. There was no room for new thinking. It was "Marzocchi is best, Cannondale is rubbish, SRAM is plastic crap" etc etc. It's really too bad that we weren't more open-minded.

I also have to applaud Max' program that allows customers to delete unneeded parts. That's really smart. I'll very seriously consider Commencal when they get up and running.
  • + 6
 Exactly. At some point, if you stick to the sport long enough, you'll eventually be building, not buying bikes anymore.

Can't really get much more pro-rider oriented than him and still have a viable business model.

So long as the quality is there (he mentions his team frames being salable after 3 years of comps.) wouldn't mind paying a little more for a frame or partial build considering how much time and hassle is involved in selling off unwanted parts from a new bike.

Hope he succeeds and will be very interested in seeing how "the industry" responds.
  • + 9
 Damn!!! In 5 questions he advertised his brand way more effieciently than million dollar worth advertising campaigns.... I'll sure be looking for Commencal bikes seriously after that.
  • - 8
flag EnduroManiac (Sep 22, 2014 at 5:17) (Below Threshold)
 I have a DH frame for sale if you're interested....
  • + 8
 Now I just plain feel bad about riding a Trek.... I'm sorry little guys! Please forgive me! Keep smaller businesses alive and pedaling, avoid the Walmarts of the world! Looking up Commencal frames...now!
  • + 0
 Walmart might offer big money to sell his stuff, some of it anyway in their stores. Just sayn, Walmart is a sneeky b.i.t.c.h.
  • + 1
 Yeah, I could definitely see that happening with the kids bikes. Big corporations are fine as long as their goals are similar to the Gates Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative, but places like Walmart need to be boycotted out of business before they monopolize the local economy.
  • + 6
 I have a Commencal. I needed a replacement part so I contacted the US Customer Service (they are in Vegas I think). Spoke several times with the same guy, emailed him (jm@commencal-america.com) as requested from him. Result? I never got the part. I sent an email to Commencal to report about it and never had a response. You'd better step up your customer service standards if you want to have a chance here...
  • + 4
 Same thing happened to my friend. Had the mini dh and cracked the rear, took him months to get them to ship one, ended up with the wrong part. Gave up to say the least... Maxs view on bike shops is obviously from someone who has never been to a quality shop. You can't judge all American food by mcdonalds. And you can't judge all bike shops by the greedy shitholes. Buy from a physical place if you want any customer service.
  • + 1
 Same bad experience here guys...was waiting for a replacement part for 6 months. I was practically begging for it and it came with the wrong color. Now i haven't received any reply for 11 days now to my 60ish complain email. I think this is the worst customer support ever.
  • + 4
 I have a Commencal Meta SX 2013. I bought it online in Commencal America, it should take like 2 weeks to Chile, and it takes almost two month. Just bad answers from them. Then they said that will ship one jersey and short for the terrible delay, never happend. My bike is awesome, but i hope online service improve, because its not so good.
  • + 3
 We have been a big fan of Commencal and have been a UK dealer but the go direct decision has taken that away from us. Such a shame. No more Commencal for UK dealers. Going direct is ok if you hav spares available quickly but from our experience with Canyon its a real headache.
  • + 1
 @slamman

Did you guys go through the warranty nightmare with the meta's a few seasons back. Had some buddies waiting months for warranty and replacement frames quickly failing in same place, then waiting again,,.
  • + 7
 So fucking proud of riding a commencal!
  • + 3
 me too!
  • + 7
 Good read thanks !
  • + 2
 His argument about the EWS made no sense. It would cost the same to go to 8 different Megavalanche type races spread all over the world too. The EWS reaches more amateurs because it gets to so many locations that locals can race too. The other answers were easy to follow though
  • + 1
 It's funny all the hype about the geometry of the Kona Process when Commencal has led the way on this for years now starting with the Meta 66. The Konas are obviously great bikes, but Commencal should get more credit for been at the forefront of MTB geometry for at least the last 6 or 7 years.
  • + 2
 Funny. It seems the only people talking shit about carbon fiber are either those who can't afford to buy it, or those who can't afford to make it. Still, I love Commencal's products.
  • + 1
 Or those that have seen frame after frame failing
  • + 1
 Well I'm currently on my 5th commencal going from an 08 meta55 thru 2010 meta 5 2012 meta 5 and now have 2014 meta sx and 2014 meta am650b and I can't see myself having anything else. I love the story behind the brand I love the honesty in all of his interviews and I love the fact that my kids can ride the "same" bike as me and the mrs and it isn't just a pretty painted turd it actually works. Big respect for commencal
  • + 1
 Great man! Deserves respect, Commencal bikes are extremely reliable, made ​​with a material of the highest quality!
Who does not remember cedric gracia riding the Supreme DH v.2?
Was my inspiration to be a Downhill ride!

Success for Commencal, Bicycles d'opinion '
  • + 1
 I don't understand his beef with EWS. He has got a point about the difficulties of filming it (though I thought media coverage was great this year), but his other objections apply equally well to WC DH and pretty much any international sports series. EWS gets full amateur participation at loads of races, and I doubt many of them are harbouring aspirations of competing for the series overall.

I'm sure that sponsorship opportunities will increase as the sport grows. Let's not forget that we're only coming to the end of its second season and it seems to be going from strength to strength.
  • + 4
 Why is there a picture of Richard Madeley at the top of this article?
  • + 2
 David Spade?
  • + 2
 I've said tons of times that carbon is cheaper to make than aluminium but everyone told me I was talking shit.

Do you believe me now?
  • + 1
 Possible that some carbon frames are cheaper to make than some aluminium frame. Now have you seen a Commençal frame from close? They are certainly not on the expensive side of the spectrum for manufacturing costs. They are not top, not overly rough neither, but rather below average. Still they look good and are fun to ride.
  • + 2
 It is the investment into the carbon mold that costs so much. If a bike company is going to pump out 3 years worth of bikes, then the mold will pay off with lots of cheap frames. If a company doesn't think they can commit to a design for very long, it's cheaper to weld a bunch of aluminum frames. Just because the cost of a carbon bike is low, you still have to pay off the mold investment. That is why the value doesn't translate directly to the customer.
  • + 2
 Thanks for building frames so strong the chainstay snaps while riding on flat. Thanks even more for the great customer service I received. FAIL!
  • + 1
 Same bad experience here guys...was waiting for a replacement part for 6 months. I was practically begging for it and it came with the wrong color. Now i haven't received any reply for 11 days now to my 60ish complain email. I think this is the worst customer support ever.
  • + 0
 Couldn't agree more with the point about a strong bike! Riding an aluminium Giant Trance and A carbon Zesty on the Sam's terrain was amazing. The Zesty is way more expensive, but I was really aware of how light and almost fragile it felt. Where the Giant I didn't give a second thought to hitting anything full gas. Both great bikes, but Alu for the win!!!
  • - 1
 He is always complaining about how unfair is the industry with "small" companies as Commençal is supposed to be. He don't want to make carbon frames because profit margins are narrower but he keeps ignoring the fact that almost eveybody that looks for a new frame/bike is looking for a decent weighted one. The reality is that his bikes are terribly heavy and a horrible pain to be pedalled uphill. I own a Meta am v3, no matter how many carbon parts I put on it, it's still heavy as hell. It is a blast on the downhills but I would surely not compare it as a versatile modern all mountain bike.
  • + 2
 Always loved Commecal. This has just cemented the view that they are by riders for riders.
  • + 1
 Sensible talk!!! I like he thinks of kids and that he wants his bikes to last rather than be super light for season then throw away. I'm not into carbon anyway.
  • + 1
 Been looking at a Commencal for my next bike... reading this just makes me want to buy from them even more! Very honest and to the point.
  • + 3
 Best Q&A ever!!!
DH FOR THE WIN!
  • + 2
 Pinkbike should've asked more questions!
  • + 1
 I would ask about sealed drives, but do not get any response so maybe I will not?
  • + 1
 Well said Max one San Mig Light for you, hope you can saturate the Asian Market too.
  • + 2
 great bikes an' that but he loses points by looking like Richard Madeley
  • + 1
 Just ordered my 2015 El Camino! Cannot wait to take it out and see what it can do
  • + 1
 Nice for someone to finally tell it like it is. Much respect to Max.
  • + 0
 I knew carbon was a gold mine for manufacturers!!
  • - 1
 Truth be told. To hell with enduro. Mountainbiking for the working masses, FTW!
  • + 1
 haha. ^^^pure gold. turn off tha strava, put away tha goggles, and just ride the shit out yer trails.
  • + 0
 Is he na-tur-al or is he a ginger in a bottle ?
  • - 3
 Wait is that the guy who invented Commencal bicycles
  • + 22
 no it is just a coincidence that commencal is in is name
  • + 12
 Google is great. You should try it sometime.
  • - 2
 Wankers
  • + 2
 hoser
  • + 3
 To the Max
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