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Sixty years later, Norco still innovating, with e-MTBs a key growth segment

Published April 21, 2024

MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) — Norco Bicycles celebrates 60 years in 2024, and its attendance at the Sea Otter Classic last week was a chance to reacquaint the U.S. market with its newest innovations, including five new bikes and an improved version of its Ride Aligned bike setup app, about which Norco will held a clinic Saturday at its booth to explain its benefits.

"We have a long history in Canada, but in many areas of the U.S., riders aren't as familiar with what we are doing," said CEO Sean Sullivan, who answered BRAIN's questions via email before Sea Otter began on Thursday. "We want to use Sea Otter to share a number of exciting new things that we've been working on."

Two of the newest model lines are e-MTBs, the Range VLT and Sight VLT, both on display at Sea Otter (along with the new Sight and Optic pedal mountain bike lineup). Both e-MTB lineups feature the Bosch Flow App customized for Norco to connect the drive unit, battery, display, and control unit to determine the rider's optimum level of assist and range.

"We think e-MTB is the key driver for growth in mountain bikes overall," Sullivan said. "So, we are investing heavily in this part of our product line — innovation will be rapid. So we are staying flexible, and counting on shorter product life cycles as new technology is introduced."

Sullivan said growing e-bike regulation in the U.S., particularly in New York City because of the number of lithium-ion battery fires, can be expected when a new category enters the market.

"Government regulation always trails new products. We view this as a normal process. In our opinion, it will all sort itself out. More regulation will benefit the brands doing things the right way, and the IBDs who carry those brands — the good dealers understand the selling and service of these complex bikes."

Setting up those bikes has been made easier with an improved version of Ride Aligned, which now has various features including the ability to save multiple set-ups for dialing in suspension feel for different terrain, cockpit set-up, and optimal tire pressure taking into account rider size.

Norco plans to add dealers this year "where it makes sense and who align with our strategy."

"This year was about ensuring we are in the right shops — the dealers that align with our MTB priorities and understand what we are trying to do on both the pedal and the e-MTB side. We have a great group of dealers. Our focus is to invest in those partners and grow with them first."

Another focus is on inventory, with Sullivan saying the brand is working to get it to optimal levels without hurting retailers. "I give our team a lot of credit because they realized very early on the scale of the issue and moved very quickly to discount bikes. We cut pricing deep and very early. We didn't want to have to make further reductions with a lot of bikes already on dealer floors, where we'd be in a situation of devaluing inventory at retail. We are still working on moving a few specific 2023-and-prior models but feel like we'll be through them by this fall."

About a year ago, HLC became Norco's outside sales agency for the U.S. market, with Norco continuing to manage its own inside sales and credit teams for the U.S. from its Canadian headquarters. U.S. Brand Manager Alex Legum works directly with the HLC team.

"The relationship has been great, and we are seeing immediate positive results," Sullivan said. "The HLC team has exceptional experience and has helped us realign our dealer base in most markets. Their historical territory knowledge has been essential for a non-U.S. native brand like Norco. Pat McGinnis (CEO) and the whole team at HLC are great people and have been a pleasure to work with."

Norco made two noteworthy hires in November. Gwen van Lingen, whose background in the global sports industry includes work with brands like Oakley and most recently 100%, was hired as head of brand. Nik Hobbs, previously global head of operational excellence at Specialized Bicycles, was brought in as supply chain vice president. Sullivan said both have already made their mark on Norco.

"There isn't enough time to cover all they have added to the organization," Sullivan said. "But we have identified two key areas that are critical for success. First, we need to create a culture of operational excellence, meaning on-time deliveries, accurate forecasting, and ease of doing business with. Nik is responsible for this part of the company.

"The other is to drive more consumer awareness and to get our story out there — 60 years in business, a heritage of innovation, and deep roots in British Columbia. Gwen is responsible for that. And she has assembled a formidable UCI World Cup downhill team for 2024 with the signing of Greg Minnaar. We are exceptionally excited for the season to start next month. We may have a few more surprises to share."

Norco Sight VLT.
Topics associated with this article: Electric bike, Sea Otter Classic

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