Scott is one of the big beasts of the European bike market and has been for nearly two decades now. While here on Pinkbike we tend to follow the gravity-fed side of things, on the leg-shaving, lycra-clad side of mountain biking they have been the brand to beat for a long while now. Maybe more than any other brand they tapped into the hunger for light, technically advanced bikes and if you head to any XC race or event in Europe, there have been fleets of Scott bikes. They were, and still are, arguably, the archetypal European mountain bike. While our younger readers may only be familiar with their current Gambler platform and DH program, fronted by Brendan Fairclough, older readers will remember their wild Octane DH race bikes of the late 90s and early 2000s. Through every experiment and innovation, there has been one man guiding their mountain bike division over the last 27 years. That man is Pascal Ducrot. Today he holds the title of Vice President, but for our purposes here, thinking of him as simply their head of bikes might be more accurate. We sat down with him to learn a bit more about Scott's unique history, their innovations over the years and how it feels to have two Olympic champions on the books.
How did you come into mountain biking?
I came from the road, as a road professional. I was already mountain biking, basically from the beginning. My first mountain bike was a Specialized Epic, I remember, back when I was a pro. Then I joined Scott when I was 25 years old.
In what year did you join Scott?
It was in 1990, the end of 1990. I was actually hired as a road product manager. I refused the road bike project they proposed to me, it was kind of too weird, too out there for the time. I said, “No, you cannot do that, it will never work.” We didn’t do road bikes for another two years. I got into mountain bike specs and everything, at the same time I did all the mountain bike, I did even some world cup races. I learned a lot by doing actually and by riding.
So you were behind Scott's first mountain bikes?
When I came into the company, it was around the time of the second collection. At that time, they just ordered bikes out of a big Taiwan catalogue. No specifications. Then I started with specifications. I started going to Asia, visiting the factories. It got more professional. Even if I had no clue either at the beginning, but it got more professional. Then we worked with a professional trader, with some good factories. That’s the way it started actually.
Scott didn't begin with mountain bikes, though?
Scott was founded in 1958, and the first product was an aluminum ski pole in Sun Valley, Idaho. Ed Scott was the inventor of the aluminum ski pole to replace the bamboo ski pole. Then until ‘88, Scott did only winter sport and motorcycle products, mainly ski poles and goggles—goggles for skiing and motorcycles. Then they started with some mountain bikes. Scott USA ordered bikes and Scott Europe ordered bikes, different bikes, different graphics and everything, but both believed that mountain biking was the next thing. That’s why they got into mountain biking. This was about 1988, something like that.
So you joined for the second collection?
Yeah, I came into Scott at the end of 1990. At that time, we just sold mountain bikes like warm bread. No matter what was on it, no matter what colour, everybody wanted a mountain bike. This also creates problems because then you start to deliver stuff which is not really, let’s say, quality wise on a level which it should be. Then we got more professional. We went to Asia where we did quality control, and I was then at that time, I was quite alone. I did everything by myself together with my partner in the U.S. who did the same thing. Very soon we decided, about two years later, “Okay, we have to have one collection, not two.” Then we did all the bikes here. We specced them here in Switzerland, even for the U.S., using the Unishock forks from the U.S. because Scott USA was also into suspension forks. Unishock was one of the first suspension forks together with RockShox. This is basically how it started. As I said, road bikes, we did only about, I would say, three or four years later then.
There seems to have been a lot of the German and Swiss mountain biking companies at this time with cheap, Taiwanese bikes. It almost seems like it was the Wild West, everyone could get into the market, then the competition came later?
At the beginning, as you said, it was really Wild West. We had quality issues and we didn’t know what’s coming, but the market was so hot for mountain bikes, everybody did something. Then, of course, somebody starts to have a better bike, somebody starts to have a better quality, somebody starts to have a better price. Then the competition starts, and that’s the way everybody got more professional. Everybody hired engineers, did more, let’s say, innovative stuff. At the beginning, it was really Wild West. That’s true.
Scott has always been one of the more innovative companies in mountain biking, always open to experimenting with ideas and materials. Where did this ethos come from?
I think it has to do with the Unishock fork, because we have been pioneering those. We have been pioneering with handlebars. Then I in 1996, or 1995 I saw a Kestrel carbon road bike, and I said, “Okay, this must be possible for mountain bikes.” Everybody said, “You are totally crazy.” It was a full carbon frame out of the mold, kind of a monocoque. I found this very interesting, but it was very expensive and nobody really believed in it. I had a design in mind where you can integrate some kind of a shock absorption. Then I met a guy from the tennis racket industry in China, and I was talking to him and I said, “Hey, I have an idea. I want to do a mountain bike.” We did then the first carbon mountain bike monocoque.
That was the first carbon mountain bike?
It was the first one, yeah. It was the first one. It’s the Endorphin and it had an integrated swingarm, the suspension characteristic that was quite amazing. Actually, one or two years later, Gary Foord won the first mountain bike world cup on such a bike. I think it comes from there because we had very early products, very innovative products. Sometimes we had failures of course, but we have been always very innovative.
Which other bikes stand out for you from over the years?
We had several. I think we were the first one with the long travel bike. With the Scale and with the Spark the lightest mountain bikes at that time. We always came up with the lightest mountain bike in the category. Now we just came out again with the lightest road bike frame with the Addict a couple of years ago. Lightweight was always an issue, and we put a lot of focus on that from the earlier years.
The German and Swiss market seems to be very focused on technology. Do you think this was a by-product of that market because there always seems to be quite heavy features focus?
It was for sure not a German thing or a Swiss thing. We did something we believed in here as a group. Specifications have been adapted to certain markets, yes, but the concepts, no, we never looked at some specific countries. We did whatever we believed in because we have been an international team here from the beginning.
I don't think many people will realize that Scott was originally a U.S. company because a lot of the companies in the market in northern Europe haven’t made a step across the Atlantic yet. You were one of the first European companies to span both markets.
We are a totally different case to anyone else. We have been Scott USA and (were) a U.S. company until 1998. Then in 1998, the management here in Switzerland did a management buyout. We basically bought the company. The U.S. market was always very difficult for us and we couldn’t really concentrate on one market, on one direction because there was a split. The USA had specs, we had specs. We couldn’t focus on one thing. I said, “Okay, we have to do quality. We have to be very innovative.” This can only come from one group, not from two groups. We bought the company and then we really took charge, we decided the direction. I can say from there, when we started to focus from there, it really went up for us.
Is mountain biking now the biggest business for Scott?
Bicycles represent about close to 80% of our turnover of the total group. In of the bicycle division, mountain bike takes about, I would say, 60%.
For a lot of companies those proportions are reversed, road tends to be a stronger market for them.
No, no, 60% of our sales are mountain bikes. E-bikes are coming strongly up of course if you want or not. It doesn’t matter. So with e-bikes, road bikes, trekking bikes, that makes up the other 40%.
How are ebikes changing the sales you’re seeing?
For us, it starts internally. Today, when we do a new Spark, for example ... 10 years ago we did a Spark. One wheel size, one consumer group that was the focus. Today you have to do a Spark a one by, you have to do a Spark two by. Eventually, two wheel sizes and you have to do the same thing with eBikes. Basically, you cannot design one bike. Today you design four or five bikes. In regard to manpower and to cost, that’s huge. That’s why our development cycle has gone from two years almost to three or four years for a project because it’s so massive now. It has changed internally quite a bit. We have to have more manpower engineering-wise. E-bikes the behavior of the dealer too, because e-bikes represents quite some value. Today if a dealer buys an e-bike, this represents already the value of maybe three or four mountain bikes. Suddenly the purchasing behavior of a dealer changes also completely because he has not unlimited financing and not unlimited budget either. Let’s say the dealer concentrates or some dealer concentrating on eBikes, they don’t preorder normal bikes anymore because they don’t have the financing. We have to take the risk there.
In terms of numbers, in terms of percentage of your sales, in what year did you start with e-bikes and what has the growth been for you guys?
We started with e-bikes in 2013, if I remember right, and then it represented maybe 5% of the total turnover. Today, e-bikes represents roughly 10% of our sales, but it represents more turnover because an e-bike has a higher value. I will say in regards to turnover, it represents maybe 15 to 20%.
Scott is one of the companies who has stayed very much with the traditional dealer model. Do you see that as your future going forwards or do you think you’re going to have to adapt your sales model?
Imagine today if all the bike brands would sell and go direct. Who would service and who would maintain all those bikes? Would you think everybody does it in the garage? I don’t think so. The market needs service points. It needs repair points. It needs selling points. I have a strong belief that brands will, of course, go to B2B, B2C. That means the dealer or the consumer, he can choose his bike. He can maybe reserve his bike. He can pay his bike. He needs a contact point. I think the dealers today are heavily focused on sales and servicing. In the future, it’s going to be more, let’s say, a showcase, but also servicing rather than maybe a sales place because more and more consumers, go to check what they want on the internet and then they go in to do the purchase either on the Internet or go to the dealer. The dealer shows what’s possible. The customer can test the bike there, the customer needs a strong service point. That’s why we strongly believe also in the future in having dealers.
Does that imply a change in the current dealer relation that I think you have? It sounds like the dealers will have to be much closer to the brand and much more focused than they are today?
Yes, it could likely be that the dealer goes from two, three, four brands maybe to two brands, but they have more focus on those brands. At least this is what we say. We don’t believe in the mono brands or in the mono stores. We don’t believe in this model because the consumer has to have a certain choice of course, and there is always the possibility that one company cannot deliver as good as the dealer would like to. The same is true for the consumer. When you go into a shop, you want to have a certain choice. I believe a good model is two brands and maybe with some niche products from other brands too. Then really focusing on those two brands and working closely with the brands, they do the job of selling the bikes to the consumer. That means telling them what the bike can do, what is the advantage? They can do comparisons. I really believe the consumer takes the information from the web, but he realizes the purchase and the service at the dealer point.
In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of proliferation in mountain bikes. There are now the wheel sizes, there’s travel, etc. The variables multiply year-on-year it seems. Do you think this is an ongoing trend or do you think mountain biking will come back more towards a more settled state again?
It has to. The way the industry is going now is totally crazy. No dealer, no consumer has the overview anymore. The dealers would have to stock so many bikes just to help the consumer understand what they want to purchase. As an industry, we have to concentrate in the future because at the moment, we have gone too far. The dealers are overwhelmed by products, and so are we, we have to do so much development right now. We have to concentrate. That’s true.
How is a consumer supposed to know what they should be riding? Is there an element that brands such as maybe need some education component in their marketing?
Totally. That’s what I say. We have to focus. We have to concentrate. We have to guide the consumer and give them some direction, telling them what’s the disadvantage of this, what’s the advantage of that. The internet is one of the things where you can do this. It’s only possible when we reduce the lines because so far ... We would have to explain him why should you ride 29? Why should you ride 27? Why should you ride one by? Why should two by? You should have 150 millimeters or 120 millimeters or even more. It’s going to be very hard. We have to come back to, let’s say, a normal range and tell them what’s the best for them. The internet is the best way to do it, and then the dealer has to realize that. Like when you buy an Apple computer, you see exactly what it can do, what it can't do. We have to get to a similar point. We are doing that already and the companies are doing that already, but then the education has to go to the dealer. The dealer has to be able to explain exactly the same thing, but then they have to be able to let them ride what they choose. Because you can choose everything on the web, it cannot replace riding.
Scott has always had a very strong racing program. Is that something you’ve had a big influence in, pushing the company in that direction?
Yeah, I think so. I think so. I came from racing and ... It started already earlier. Scott in the winter sports was always racing. In motorsports, Scott was always racing. We have been really well-known on the motocross circuit because of our goggles. We had many racers here always in the office. This kind of reflects also then towards other sports. I came into the company from racing. I had many contacts, for example, with Thomas Frischknecht. This is why then I got into contact with him in the year 2000 when he was a Ritchey ambassador. I told him, “Frischi, I think you have to make a step, in regards to technology, what do you think?” So he started racing for us, then took over organising our team. He had a good eye for young talent, and then in the past year, we were lucky with certain things. Racing was always in our blood. That’s why unlike other companies shifting completely to e-bikes because it’s trending now, we have our strong belief in racing, we need those pillars because Scott was always racing. We do racing here in the office, and not everybody wants an e-bike. There will be a big percentage of the population who wants to train, who wants to be without an engine. That’s why we didn’t lose any focus on the regular bikes. Versus other companies, they really shifted focus only on e-bikes, and we will never do that.
Your racing focus seems to lean heavily towards XCO. Your DH program is relatively small, as is your enduro program.
It was not a strategy to go this way. Sometimes it has to do with luck, relationships. For me, if I would have known somebody who could really show us the way to develop a DH program earlier than today, I would have done it, but maybe we didn’t have the opportunity at the time. You cannot buy everything. You have to have the good people doing that for you. You have seen DH programs with a lot of money. They disappeared after three years. We always went quite small with a decent budget. We always tried to work with the opportunities we had but even without having World Champions riding DH we are fortunate to have strong guys such as Brendan Fairclough who help us to get over our image in the way we want to be seen out there. With regards to enduro, we wanted to make sure that we were present. It was important to be involved, but without much information going into it, we weren’t sure to what extent that would be involved. We went in with a good budget to see how the series would develop, and because we felt the need to have a guy like Rémy riding our bikes, winning enduro races, and giving us feedback not only on our bikes but also on helmets, protection, goggles, etc.
So has Claudio Caluori taken on a similar role to Frischi in XCO?
Absolutely. It’s clear that budget wise the teams differ, but the intention is the same. The XC team is a direct result of lots of things lining up at the right place and the right time, had that happened to DH earlier, things could be inverse today. However, we feel that we are firmly planted in the DH world with the set up we have now.
How big a deal for you as a company to have a double gold medal in XCO?
It’s massive. It’s something we never dreamed of. It’s something you cannot plan. When I saw after that what’s going on, what impact this had, it was just unbelievable for us. You cannot measure that. For a brand, it happens once in your life. That’s what we say... It was nice for us. Everybody appreciates, but we have been almost shocked what’s happening to us. But, if you have a guy or girl in the company or an athlete in a company that’s Olympic champion, only the fact that they're an Olympic champion doesn't change a lot. It depends a lot on what you do prior to that with them. It depends a lot on what the athlete is doing to promote themselves. The surrounding and the promotion around the athlete before, after and during... If there was an athlete Olympic champion, suddenly, it would never have the same impact. Because Nino had a long history before, and everybody expected something. The hype ramped up until this event, but this is due to the fact that we have been working heavily with him and he was working by himself. Then he reached the goal. That’s why the impact was massive. Again, if we didn’t do this groundwork before that, the impact would not be the same. Jenny was a bit of a surprise. We knew that she was on a roll, winning her first elite World Cup, then the U23 World Champs, but we couldn't have expected what she would do in Rio. But, that being said, only the Olympic title alone, I wouldn’t say it’s everything because the Olympic Committee really restricts the communication around the event heavily. Today, we still cannot communicate the Olympic champion. We have to go around that, which is stupid.
Certainly, in Switzerland, Nino is now a national figure.
He was just second sportsman of the year now and he was the cyclist of the year, and people on the street, when you talk now, they know him, yes. They know him. This was not the case five years before, but that’s all about marketing and success because of the media, they got after him. He was in TV shows, and then he’s known to the public in Switzerland, but maybe not so much known in other countries. Of course, that’s normal. Still the cycling community, they know now him. They know him now. That’s for sure and that’s why it has an impact on sales.