There is a joke amongst some of the Lake Garda locals about German mountain bikers. It goes, "If you want to find a good trail there, take the map, then ride everything backwards because it was drawn up for Germans who want to ride up the technical terrain and down the fireroads...
" Like a lot of jokes, there is a kernel of truth at the heart of it, or, at least, there used to be. More than maybe any other nation Germany has embraced mountain biking, and it was always going to be a natural fit for a country that has a long heritage of outdoor exercise and healthy living. In typical German fashion, many of those who took up the sport did it in their own, inimitable way, and at the major European riding destinations there was a time when you could spot the Germans amongst the crowds, with their questionable fashion choices and uber-complicated bikes. Who do you think Shimano developed SPD sandals for? When SRAM first launched XX1, one of the first calls their marketing department received was from a German consumer who wanted to know if he could run it with a triple chainset so he could have thirty-three gears on his bike.
Anybody who went mountain biking in Germany during the 90s or 00s will remember the bikes you would see; they were nothing if not unique. While we can look at those bikes now and laugh, indeed most German riders would probably join you these days, the salient point is that you saw so many of those bikes because they sold a lot of them. At that time, the cost of entry to the market was pretty low. You could order a catalogue frame from the Far East, set your geometry, choose your spec and have it branded how you wanted. This made for a crowded marketplace, and it became a case of survival of the fittest. The companies that emerged from this era had to be strong; they had to fight for their customers in an environment where quality, performance, and value trumped brand or image. Once you reach a level playing field for value, then the areas for growth became quality, innovation, and service.
In recent years, these brands have started to emerge far more prominently on the world stage. Five years ago, few would have expected a mountain biker in the U.S. to know who Cube, Canyon, YT or Rose were. Today, those brands are major players on the international scene. If you're left asking yourself, "How the hell did they get so big?
" The answer lies in the way Germans do business. It is because they don't rush, and the emphasis is firmly on doing things correctly. These companies have been around longer than most people realize - Canyon are more than thirty years old, Cube twenty, and Rose are well over one hundred years old. That time has been spent building up solid foundations, so when they set their sights outside Germany they have experience, resources and, of course, the money to do it well. The bikes coming out of Germany are no longer jokes; they are serious, capable, and quite often sold for a fair margin less than their American counterparts. If you need further evidence of this, look no further than how high the Canyon and Cube teams are placed in the Enduro World Series standings.
Throughout the history of mountain biking, there has been a definite U.S.-centric leaning to the sport. It is where the sport emerged from, it is where the first major technical innovations developed, and it is home to the first great brands mountain biking has ever seen. As the sport has become more and more of a global phenomenon, that was inevitably going to change, and the future will surely be far more global. The German understanding of how to provide bikes that their consumers want at a price they can afford is unchanged. In a market where price is becoming an ever more important factor, their ethic of value over image is undoubtedly becoming more appealing to many.
In November 2015, we toured four of the most important players in Germany: Cube, Canyon, Rose and YT. We visited their headquarters to try to learn more about these companies that look set to change the landscape of the mountain bike industry in the coming years. For each company, we toured their facility, then sat down with their owners to find out where they came from and where they see themselves going in the future. Stay tuned for an inside look at each of those companies.