Bend in the Road: Mergers I’d like to see

Shimano + SRAM = SRAMano. How about Amazon + the local bike shop?

Trek’s recent acquisition of Electra got me thinking about past mergers, and what they meant for us bike riders. Sometimes, mergers mean a greater realization of an idea; Garmin’s purchase of MetriGear means Vector power-meter pedals are now widely available. Sometimes it means brands go away, as with Trek swallowing Klein.

With tongue in cheek, let me propose some future mergers for the benefit of riders everywhere.

SRAM + Shimano

Shimano makes solid gear. Solid, often-boring gear, with names that sound like Star Wars robots. SRAM has found success pushing the envelope, often with an aggressive design. I would love to see a single company take the best of both, so all our parts would look great, work well and be perfectly compatible across the board.

Garmin + Strava

It’s natural for companies that find success in one area, to try to capture an adjacent product space. Sometimes this works, whether it’s Trek’s Bontrager wheels or Specialized’s helmets. Sometimes it doesn’t; anybody remember Nike’s cycling shoes?

While some Garmin executives may insist that their company's post-ride software Garmin Connect should never give an inch to the likes of Map My Ride, Strava and others, we the riders get to make the final call as to what succeeds. How many of your friends use Garmin Connect versus Strava? Shoot, even Garmin employees use Strava. Let’s just put the two together, and get an “upload to Strava” button right there on the screen of every Garmin Edge cycling computer.

Amazon + your local bike shop

Every rider I know needs a local shop, even the maestro mechanic himself, James Huang. And every rider I know also likes shopping online. Why must online retailers and brick-and-mortar retailers be locked in a death battle?

Apple’s model seems to work pretty well for computer and phone users. Want to buy online? Great. Want to come into our shop to have someone explain how to better use your laptop or phone? No problem. Apple is happy to take your money either way. In the bike biz, especially in North America, it’s usually one way or the other. Let’s smash Amazon and the local shops into one seamless unit, so we can get our bikes and parts when and where we like.

Seriously, now — competition is a great thing

Honestly, I don’t want to see these mergers happen; I just want better bikes. And competition between companies has historically proven to bring us just that. Just as Shimano helped propel Campagnolo to further development, SRAM has now lit a fire under Shimano. For the most part, this is A Good Thing for bike riders.

SRAM president Stan Day — whose company in recent years has acquired Zipp, Avid, Quarq, Truvativ and RockShox — takes the long view on the constant churn of older companies merging while new ones spring up.

“I don’t look at it as big fish gobbling little fish so much as convection in the industry that also creates the opportunity for smaller, differentiated companies to come together,” Day said. “When you get bigger, you do lose some flexibility, and that creates the opportunity for smaller, more nimble companies to come in.”

In that way, the bike world still has a healthy mix of small innovators like Tate Labs, creators of the Bar Fly computer mount, or up-and-coming suspension manufacturer X-Fusion, alongisde larger companies like Trek or Specialized that can invest in scores of engineers to refine great bikes and components.

However, I would welcome some mergers, or at least some cooperation, on standards for component design, as one company’s “integrated” design typically means “incompatible” for us riders. I’m looking at you, makers of bottom brackets…

Do you have any mergers you’d like to see? Or past mergers that have been train wrecks? Sound off below.

Bend in the Road is a column by Ben Delaney, who has been writing about bikes for 15 years. A former Cat 1 roadie, Delaney now has a garage full of kids bikes. Follow him on Twitter at @ben_delaney or Strava at ben-delaney.

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