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Innovate Or ?

One of the things I always loved about Specialized Bicycles was the founder, Mike Sinyard’s, internal motto: Innovate or Die. While that sounds a bit harsh, it couldn’t be more relevant in today’s endurance sports industry. So many brands are well….dying. Maybe it’s a slow death but it’s not difficult to see from the outside.

A perfect example is Racermate, the company behind Computrainer. At one point in time, everyone of our top-flight athletes had (or wanted) a Computrainer. It was the leader in the ‘high tech’ bike trainer category. It came with ‘software’ and features such as spinscan (a pedaling stroke analysis tool). The brand was on top and it remained there for quite a few years. And my guess is they got quite comfortable as the champion. Perhaps too comfortable.

As I hopped out the door for a quick ‘hour or power’ on the mountain bike this morning, I pulled on my old Retul kit. On the back of the bibs we had a saying, “Comfort is Performance”. While that might be true for a rider’s position on the bike, it got me thinking. It’s really the opposite when you're leading a company or a leading company for that matter. When you’re on top, you should be in fact, uncomfortable! And when I say uncomfortable, I mean uncomfortable with your lead. The chase group is coming and they are hungry, motivated, and inspired by the lead dog.

Wahoo, Tacx, Lemond, Zwift, TrainerRoad and several other new-age bike trainer and tech all out innovated Computrainer and left the brand to die. And while perhaps the R&D lacked at Racermate, the powers-at-be clearly chose not to simply copy their competition’s engineering. Maybe that’s not great business practice, but I sort of respect it in a strange sort of way.

On the other hand, I fall short in respecting another approach. The approach of a brand like BikeFit, a former leader in the bike fit services and dealer education sector. They appear to practice the Innovate or Copy mentality. Take for example their latest adjustable fit stem released in late 2016. Sort of looks familiar eh?

Innovated in 2013 Copied in 2016 temp-post-image

Is the bike industry really lacking innovation or are certain brands simply trying not to die? It’s tough to reach the top of the podium as a brand. It’s even tougher to stay there. As the manager for 5x Ironman & 70.3 World Champion Craig Alexander for the past decade, it was never his World Championship wins that were the most impressive part of his resume. It was the fact that he stayed on top for so many years. He never became comfortable as champion. My favorite college football team has always been Notre Dame. ND fans know that when the players leave the locker room to run onto the home field, there is an exit sign that says, “Be a Champion today”. In today’s crazy, digital, online, chaotic wild world of brands swimming in the active lifestyle space, I say one thing: Be an uncomfortable champion today.