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Merckx revitalized with growing dealer base, new models

Published September 21, 2016

LAS VEGAS (BRAIN) — The brand named for the winningest road racer of all time is on a winning streak of its own. Eddy Merckx Cycles, after a few years of transition, is now slowly rebuilding its U.S. dealer base and is showing a greatly expanded and modernized bike product line here at Interbike.

While the brand almost disappeared from the U.S. market for a year or two, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes. In 2011, Jan Toye, the CEO of Belgium's Palm Breweries, took a controlling interest in the company. Two years later, Merckx and its longtime U.S. distributor, Gita, parted ways.

The brand was reborn in the U.S., in part thanks to a grant from a Belgium government program designed to help companies set up U.S. operations. 

For about a season under the new ownership, the brand focused on a consumer-direct strategy in the U.S., delivering bikes to consumers via bike shops that were paid an assembly and fitting fee.

But starting in 2013, Merckx refocused on building an IBD dealer base and its product line. R&D director Rolf Singenberger — a former chief engineer at BMC — spearheaded an effort to modernize the product line and use new suppliers. While Eddy Merckx sold his last share in the company in 2013, he continues to license his name and images to it, and remains involved, attending product development meetings and visiting the headquarters frequently.

Merckx offered just one bike model in the U.S. in 2014. Last year, it added about three more. Now it has 16 models, including a new carbon gravel bike and an aluminum-framed youth drop-bar bike, which comes with both road and cyclocross tires. For 2017, Merckx now offers disc brake options across all its road bikes, and its most iconic road bike, the EM525, is now available with endurance or performance geometry, in seven sizes for each configuration.

Merckx now has a U.S. office in Mount Kisco, New York. About a year ago it had just 40 U.S. dealers, but has slowly rebuilt that base to nearly 200, said Heather Rizzi, U.S. sales director. Rizzi has a long background in bike retailing, and still owns a small shop in Schenectady, New York.

Rizzi has rebuilt the dealer base by reaching out to longtime Merckx dealers and dealers in regions that generate a lot of hits on the Merckx website. Merckx bikes also are sold through some Performance Bicycle locations, which Rizzi concedes has been a point of concern with some existing and potential dealers. However, Rizzi said Performance has helped market the brand and that Performance locations stocking Merckx (currently about six) were chosen to avoid conflicts with existing Merckx dealers. Performance promotes Merckx bikes on its website, but all sales are done at brick-and-mortar stores, she said.

Gravel test

Merckx developed its new carbon gravel bike, the Strasbourg 71 Carbon, with an eye toward the U.S. market. The design builds on the Strasbourg 71 Alloy, introduced last year.

"We launched the gravel bike last year with the alloy model and it got a good response, but a lot of people were really looking for carbon, so that was the obvious place to go," Rizzi said.

The Strasbourg 71 Carbon is available with Ultegra, 105 or SRAM Rival builds, priced at $4,999, $4,499 and $2,999, respectively. Merckx emphasizes its designers' attention to sizing, which includes varying chainstay length and fork steerer tapering to maintain the desired handling for various size frames.

Merckx launched the Strasbourg 71 Carbon to the U.S. media by participating in a multi-brand media ride from Colorado toward Las Vegas, starting last Friday. The group rode 200 miles over three days, about half on gravel and dirt roads and trails, and half on pavement.

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