What makes a new brand come to life? Where does the spark initiate? And what are the real reasons behind taking the jump to bring a new bike to a market that currently has so many bikes to offer?
Often, it’s so easy to drink the Kool-Aid offered by a brand (don’t get me started on frame size recommendations). As such it’s with a slight air of caution that I approach new products or brands, keen to get to the bottom of what’s really going on, underneath the visible brand on the surface.
Brands will often really put on a show to wow and woo you. And while it’s understandable, it’s all too often over the top and not real. So, arriving at a lovely little rustic farm chalet, way up in the Jura hills of Switzerland, it was already clear that this was going to be a little more informal.
The Jura region in the North of Switzerland is a predominantly forested area that covers several cantons and forms the border with France. It’s home to a few key players in the bike industry, like DT Swiss and, our focus for this story, BMC. Bicycle Manufacturing Company might be as to the point and as Swiss as you can get. But it was within the company some three years ago that two guys started to scratch their chins.After Hours Projects
Projects done outside the regimented and controlled work hours frequently lead to some of the most exciting products. They sit outside the work that needs to be done and encompass more the projects that want
to be done. BMW’s 1M came out of some after work hours tinkering from the Bavarian motor geeks and is arguably one of the most desirable baby M cars. Well, I’d give my right arm for one. It’s with these after-hours projects that, eventually and surprisingly, the SCOR bike brand came to life.
Mariano Schoefer and Christof Bigler, an engineer and designer respectively at BMC, were becoming a little frustrated with not quite having a bike available from BMC that was really what they wanted to ride at the weekends.
While the Jura region is famous for the lakes in its foothills, it’s those hills that make it famous amongst riders. Properly challenging trails dart around all corners of the forests that really demand a bike to be pulled, pushed and piloted. There’s no point and shoot trails here. And when the rain falls it’s a frightening place, with dirt that offers nine tenths of naff all grip, littered with anti-grip white rocks that can give anyone who’s ridden there the heebie-jeebies at just a single mention.
It’s also home to a trail that should be world famous – the Chaumont jump trail. This masterpiece wiggles its way from the top of the funicular to the bottom via over 100 jumps, ranging in size from a bike’s length to well over 15m. It’s no highway either, with single trail connectors between each of the jumps that need to ridden with precision and confidence to grant access to the next feature. So, generally not a place for the faint hearted. And if this is your back yard then you certainly command respect as a rider in my book.
BMC is also famous for its Grenchen based research and development facility that offers the bridge to go from an idea to something to take out into the woods for testing. Mariano and Christof decided to take advantage of this and set about cutting and shutting a BMC Trailfox frame to slacken the head angle, lengthen the reach and shorten the chainstays.
Unsurprisingly the results were positive. The longer front centre being a flavour we’re all now familiar with. The short chainstays, on the other hand, are a bit against the trend, but something that the duo saw as necessary to make a bike agile enough to pilot down the Jura trails at speed.
At this point, the after hours project was starting to be noticed by their colleagues at BMC, even attracting attention from BMC CEO David Zurcher, who despite the brand’s general direction, has always had a passion for motocross, big machines and long travel bikes. So much attention that the OK was given to set aside some official work time on developing the bike ideas that the duo had. And so, they wasted no time in diving right into the deep end.V2 Prototype
The V2 prototype took the same geometry ideas as the V1, but this time also adjusted the seat tube angle to steepen it to match the lengthened front end, a concept that we’re all now familiar with. While it used the same short dual link layout as the other BMC bikes, it packaged it all much tighter and lower, dropping the center of gravity. Mariano recalls the day that Santa Cruz released the V4 Nomad with the shock piercing the lower seat tube. A quick “dammit” was shouted, but then the team quickly realised that maybe it would play to their favour, as the layout would already be more accepted when the prototype was presented.
That suspension layout sought to bring suppleness to help in the search for traction on the loose trails, while having buckets of support for the hard G-forces on the jump take offs, corners and rider inputs that are required to muscle the bike around. It also played with the idea of a low instant centre. Again, something going against current trends, or fashions. But the idea was to reduce the chain’s influence in the suspension action.
Ideas are great, but getting your hands dirty in turning them into something physical sure is one step better. The team jumped back into the prototyping facility, transforming another Trailfox front triangle with the same slacker and longer treatment as the V1, but also nipping and tucking the seat tube to change the angle and give space for the large CNC part that created all the pick-up points for the suspension and shock.
A rear triangle from one of the XC models also went under the knife, getting shortened in length and having huge sections replaced with intricately CNC’d aluminium sections to make the design come to life.
Mariano admits to taking quite a bit more care in the aesthetic appearance of the V2. Knowing that there would be many more sets of powerful eyes looking over and judging this bike, the joints and modified areas were much smoother and some of them are quite tricky to see unless they’re pointed out. That care and attention paid off, as the prototype was well received when it was presented. But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
The V2 prototype underwent months of testing, not only in the Jura forests, but throughout the different terrains that Switzerland has to offer. The team also called in friend and BMC ambassador, Ludo May, to see how the ideas and bike worked outside of the core initiators. The resulting feedback not only lined up so well with what they had intended, but was so positive that the ongoing joke, that this bike was so outside of BMC that it warranted a new brand, suddenly became a serious question.
So, the now slightly larger team started to flesh out the ideas of marketing, brand and product message, sales and support. The resulting full brand presentation, still quite to their surprise, was given the thumbs up, and a new brand was born - SCOR.
Now, SCOR, where does the name come from? Finding a name for a product, bike or brand is damn hard, more so than the average consumer might think. The marketplace is heavily guarded with trademarks left, right and centre and despite much deliberation, and a list of possible names as long as your arm, the team looked internally. SCOR actually used to be the name for BMC’s own component range. And given that they already had a hold in it legally, and that the team liked the sound of it, it was chosen.
Building The Brand
Taking the prototype into a production bike, while still a long and hard task, was a lot easier than normal with so many of the prototype's features and traits needing only the faintest of modifications to move forward.
Christof worked his magic on the product design, creating clean surfaces with only a few choice design lines that opened up the possibility of personalisation to the customer with an array of customisable frame protection. And with the team’s expertise in composite development and manufacture, carbon fiber composite was the material of choice.
While the foundation of the brand was formed, and a select few of BMC colleagues came on board to handle the PR, sales and marketing, the team realised that if it could come to market with more than just one bike, then it would be of benefit to the brand's impact.
Mariano saw that with some choice and specific adjustments built in, the same frame could offer two travel options. And with the boom in assisted bikes resonating around the office, the question of an e-bike that could embody the same ideals as the regular bike came about. That e-bike development was somewhat easier, given that the vast majority of the work was already done on the regular bikes, and now it just had to be adapted to a powered platform. Incidentally, that suspension layout lent itself well to an e-bike as it could place the IC inside the area taken up by the motor.
The first rideable samples gave time for the team to test the production bike with all its additional features and details. Despite being spotted on the local funicular
, it wasn’t such a big deal, as the brand was a new venture, and the spy shot of a new bike wouldn’t hamper any current models or sales.
And with all factory testing passed, the bike was actually ready to go. However, a crash on the Chaumont jump trail not only injured Mariano, but also the bike. And that didn’t sit well with him. He knew the bike would be ridden hard and he wanted a bike that could stand up to it. So he went back into the layup schedule, reinforcing the offending area so that the production bikes could easily shrug off a crash and give him peace of mind.
Details like this help paint a clearer picture of SCOR. While there is always a consideration of weight, the team didn’t put it higher than the bike’s function. A durable bike that could be ridden damn hard was higher up the priority list. Other details like sharing hardware with some of the BMC bikes, that incidentally Mariano also developed, made sure they were using tried and tested hardware and could make it easier to have available to them and the customers.
For me, the highlight of all the little details shoehorned into the bikes, that show the passion and attention to detail, is the chainstay protector. Many of you will never notice it, but it follows the silhouette of a portion of the Chaumont jump trail with its monstrous doubles. It’s only a small thing, but it’s a wonderful nod to the bike and brand’s inception. Where it all started.
While a bike brand will always be a business, it’s clear that SCOR wasn’t formed for that sole reason of money making. While the marketing term of by riders for riders may have lost its sheen with the constant overuse from brands who may have lost touch with why they started in the first place, it’s certainly true with SCOR. The brand evolved from the clear and simple desire to create a bike that the development team wanted to ride. And every decision after that seems to have related back to that initial desire.
For the team presenting the bikes it was an easy task, there was no need for them to consult notes nor recite from a corporately created script. Each person was just communicating their part in the process and communicating it with passion. Some product launches are all show, sprinkled with bribes, I’m not going to lie. But SCOR was presented in a very down to earth manner, sat around a BBQ up on the Jura hillside while drinking a beer. Something that every biker can relate to and showing that SCOR really is made from a bunch of riders. And following the guys down the trails it was clear to see that they are riders indeed and why the bikes are exactly the way they are.
So, while SCOR came from BMC, it’s very much a separate brand that resides under the BMC Group umbrella. And the team certainly used that to their advantage developing the bikes and also when it comes to selling the bikes.
Sales, Distribution & Support
The team knew that they needed to walk before they ran, so have chosen to initially make the bikes available in the Alpine arch of Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy along with the US. A carefully selected network of dealers was chosen to make sure that everyone was on the same page about the brand and bikes. Many of those dealers were current BMC dealers, but a lot also not. There’s also a triad of sales channels for the customer to buy through – retail, click and collect and direct to consumer.
Brick and mortar retail shops will sell the complete bikes, framesets, accessories, spare parts and merchandising, while always providing a personal point of contact for customers who decide to purchase through the other channels.
Click and collect enables the customer to choose and buy online, but pick up the bike in store and still have that personal connection to the brand. It also offers the same array of products as the retail option.
Finally, direct to consumer allows the geeks amongst us that know exactly what we want to purchase everything that the other sales channels offer except for full bikes. But even here, the dealer network and retail shops can still be a personal point of contact for SCOR customers. Direct to consumer will focus on framesets, accessories, spare parts and merchandising.
And while it might sound like a familiar family, at least this one has all the vowels. The SCOR Collective is a small group of riders, comprised of Ludo May, Fannie Burkhardt, Kasi Schmidt and Thomas del Gatto, that SCOR feels fits their brand and showcases their bikes and brand ideals Lots of them being local to SCOR’s headquarters or not far away in Switzerland, France and Germany. Many of them being present at the launch and blowing everyone’s back doors off.
Well, Where Are The Bikes?
We had the chance to spend some time with the guys behind SCOR, learning about the story over a BBQ and beers and riding the bikes in and around the wonderful Jura forests that spawned the brand’s inception. Hold tight and in a couple of weeks we’ll have a full First Ride on the pair of non-assisted bikes along with all the details about them. And rest assured, there are a lot of well though out and well executed details in there.