Chalk and cheese: Canadians and Germans are generally very different folk indeed! But what these two gentlemen, Pete Stace-Smith from Norco (right, above) and Jurgen Falke (on the left, above) from Merida, have in common, is a tremendous amount of experience in the cycling industry. Jurgen Falke is Merida's head of design, Pete Stace-Smith has been with Norco for almost 40 years!
The pair were on hand in Brisbane at the Advance Traders 2017 show recently, so we cornered them to ask them five quick questions about the industry.
What is the difference between innovation and marketing?
PS-S: I think you can market anything, even though it may not have innovation. Whereas innovation will standout if it’s marketed or not. I believe we can do a really good job at innovating, we just don’t have the clout other brands might have it to market it, whereas other brands might do a huge job of marketing but don’t have innovation to back it up. Those are two separate things but they are kind of linked.
JF: It’s quite a good question! I would say marketing is a tool to underline the innovation. Innovations are not always self explaining. We are not a marketing driven company, we look more for technical innovation and try to convince that the product works as we intended it. We are not the guys making the biggest story around it.
What is the most influential product or development for mountain biking in the past five years, and in the last 12 months?
PS-S: I’d like to say wheel size. It was almost like a light switch in many ways when we started developing super cool trail-worthy 650 bikes, and we’re starting to see the first generation of super cool trail-worthy 29ers now too.
In the last 12 months, it’s hard to put it down to one thing, because there’s such innovation with materials, designs and everything else. If I had to, I’d say something like a carbon 29er trail bike. Trail, I’m going to put the emphasis on trail there, like the Optic.
JF: For the last five years, actually the biggest changes and the biggest effect on riding is the change in wheel sizes. Having different wheel sizes for different applications is the most important development, far more important than say drivetrain things.
More recently, 1×12 by SRAM is really interesting, it’s the first time in my personal conviction that a 1x system gets rid of the limitations of a too narrow bandwidth. It’s just a question if they will be able to bring this technology down to a commercial price point which is reasonable for normal consumers.
Your most profound mountain biking moment?
PS-S: Ah, fun! Going back many many years, I’m going to say the thing that changed my mountain biking overnight and sent me down a path that’s probably a little steeper and deeper was learning how to wheelie drop. I remember distinctly the day I wheelie dropped off the end of the log and got it dialled. And then I went back and did three feet, then four feet and five and six, and once you start doing that, you know what it’s like – off you go!
JF: For me it is an experience linked to a place. It was in 2011 I spent three days riding in Moab, together with the SRAM guys, Greg Herbold, we had a great time – it’s a fantastic place to ride, in a completely different way to what is possible in Europe. I think it was the absolute highlight in my mountain bike life.
Who has been the most influential person in mountain biking for you personally, and also the most influential person for the broader industry as a whole?
PS-S: Those are good questions. Personally, for me, a cool cat, a guy like Jay Hoots, who has taught me a lot about riding, and to follow down tracks all over the worlds and has opened my eyes to what is possible on a bike as a whole and therefore wanting to try it.
For the industry, I’d say Keith Bontrager. Keith was a bit of a behind the scenes guy who did a lot to make mountain biking safe. I remember him saying, “weight, price, strength: choose two.” And that’s still really, even today, relevant to everything we do.
JF: It’s not really people that are influencing me that much. It’s more or less always the best product of the leading brands, setting the level high and encouraging me to develop products that compete with them at an eye-to-eye level.
And for the industry, visionaries like Mike Sinyard are definitely the motors behind certain developments. But again I don’t see individual people as game changers.
What is one thing you would like to change about the mountain bike industry, and what is one thing you would you never change?
PS-S: What wouldn’t I change? I wouldn’t change the fact that there’s such exciting changes still happening now. I’ve been in mountain bikes since like 1980, and yet every year I’m still excited about new stuff coming down the pipe, and every year there are still real technology changes which is making my riding better, and making riding better for everyone. And you know what, I see what’s coming down the pipe for 2017 and beyond and there’s even more cool stuff coming.
And what would I change? I think that’s there’s a lot of me-too’ers and copycats, and stuff that is marketed as the latest and best which isn’t really the latest and best. So a little less ‘murketing’ and a little more delivery.
JF: I would never change trying everything that’s possible, even if it turns out later to not make any sense. All this kind of being a bit crazy and trying new things is something I’d definitely never like to see change.
And I would like to change the over segmentation and over specialisation of the industry. There are too many specialised products for every possible, specific application. I still think it’s quite cool to have a bike with a broader range of use, that’s possible to have lots of fun in different conditions, that’s not necessary to have five different bikes for five different types of riding.