BY Matt Wiebe
DELTA, Canada—The Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team recently showed up for training camp—their bikes sporting new Race Face cockpits and components—only to learn that Race Face had gone out of business. The Canadian component brand was one of the team’s main sponsors.
“You can imagine the surprise to the team and to us. I immediately called Alex in Taiwan and told him we needed new spec now,” said Charles Russell, director of marketing and sales for Rocky Mountain. Alex Cogger is Rocky Mountain’s product manager.
“But our partners Shimano and Easton saved us. We will have no delays on any 2011 or 2012 bikes, and Easton stepped up to take over Race Face’s sponsorship role with the Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team. How great is that?” Russell said.
A quick air shipment of Shimano cranksets and Easton cockpit components to team camp allowed Maxxis-Rocky Mountain racers to start training on the new equipment with little fuss.
Race Face started as Rocky Mountain’s in-house component brand in 1992. Its factory is two miles down the road from Rocky Mountain. Still, Russell said the first time he heard of any problems at the company was on March 10, when Race Face president Craig Pollack called to let him know the copmany was bankrupt.
A receiver took over Race Face March 12, shutting down operations and letting go of 70 employees in Canada and Taiwan.
“Even though Rocky Mountain sold Race Face years ago, it is still an integral part of the company. We deliberately spec’d their components because they shared our passion for the type of riding we like and built the right product,” Russell said.
“There is not a component company out there that is so completely focused on mountain biking,” Russell added. “They had an uncanny ability to hire really good people. A lot of them are our friends.”
Another Canadian brand that found itself out on a limb following Race Face’s demise was Norco.
“We really went heavy with Race Face for 2012 so we are scrambling now,” said Dave Overgaard, product manager for Norco. “It’s not so much getting the bikes built in time, but finding the right spec. Race Face focused on the same categories of mountain riding that we do and knew what was needed. There is no single component solution from a competing brand to fill in.”
Overgaard said while other brands have product that could fill in, most of the time it falls a bit short of what is desired, such as bars that are 30 to 50 millimeters too narrow or drive-train bash guards that just miss what is needed.
Still, other companies like Giant that selectively spec’d Race Face components on specific models were minimally impacted.
“We have very few bicycles specified with Race Face-branded components. They’re limited to isolated cranksets on select gravity models,” said John Munhall, product manager for Giant USA. Munhall said he expected Giant’s delivery of bikes to be unaffected by the switch to alternative spec.
“We still have product on hand, but since the bankruptcy, it has been selling fast as people stock up,” said Preston Martin, vice president of BTI, which sells the brand’s components, softgoods and body armor to dealers as well as Commencal bikes spec’d with Race Face. “Their aftermarket sales are going to be hard to replace. They were a unique company with very loyal customers.”
Martin said most of Commencal’s 2011 product has already shipped to its warehouse so there was no impact there, but that Commencal product managers were scrambling in Taipei to re-spec 2012 bikes.
Tyler Denniston, QBP’s off-road product manager, said he’s seen an uptick in sales. “That could be spring breaking or those wanting it before it’s gone,” he said.
Denniston said QBP has plenty of product to fill in the void left by Race Face, however, the brand’s unique position in the market with a long brand legacy and emotional ties with its fans makes it hard for them to accept a substitute.
“Race Face is light and strong even though it targeted hard riders. And it was different from what others had on their bike. We can still source green handlebars and cranksets, but for some riders, there is no substitute,” he said.
Given the company’s unique place in the market and consumer loyalty to the brand, OE partners and distributors hope Race Face will resurrect soon under new owners. Former employees are not as optimistic.
“From what I’ve been hearing, I highly doubt it’s going to be turned around quickly,” said Chris Tutton, director of OEM sales for Easton. Tutton served as vice president of Race Face from 1994 to 2008.
Derek Wills, a former North American sales and business development manager at the company, has the same read, noting that the Taiwan branch kicked up unexpected business complications.
“It’s impossible to say when or if the company will come back. Only the receiver would understand the asset sale timeline and the challenges that faces,” Wills said. “Race Face had the strongest amount of retail orders in years and had a bunch of talented employees working their butts off. It’s been a terrible experience for everyone,” he added.
Grant Thornton, the company appointed to manage Race Face’s bankruptcy, could not be reached for comment.