by Marc Basiliere
December 12, 2013
Ever wondered where bikes come from?
Thanks to the power of the Internet, it’s never been easier for consumers to purchase bicycles, parts, and accessories directly from their Asian manufacturers, or very nearly so. It seems that nary a product can be introduced without a forum wag pointing out from which Chinese catalogue it came, on which model it was based, or how it might be procured directly. In some ways, this transparency is a good thing: consumers are in some ways better informed and prices (especially for those willing to go directly to the source) are often quite low. In terms of after-sales warranty or technical support, the Asia-direct model can be a bit dicier; but that’s a risk more and more seem willing to takes.
Knowing that modern customers are well aware of all of this, Scott Robertson of Switchback Bikes (along with Granary Cycles in the UK) and is making an interesting proposition: not unlike others’ Kickstarter campaigns, he is asking customers to help him fund the brand’s initial order of 50 full-suspension mountain bikes. In exchange, customers will get their choice of four models (27.5 and 29er models in carbon or aluminium) with or without a high-end build kit, all at impressively low launch prices. In addition, pre-orders come with a Switchback jersey and an entry for a chance to win a bonus full-carbon trail frame.
In addition to attractive pricing, Switchback is offering a no-questions-asked return policy and a 3-year warranty (transferable to the second owner). The company is promising a look at the process behind bringing the bikes to market, already having listed their manufacturers, described the process of working with a broker, and shared their bikes’ EIN test results on the Switchback blog.
As for the bikes? Stright outta the Carbotec catalogue come the Reveal 7 – a 150mm 650b frame – and the Reveal 9 – a 120mm 29er. Both retail for $1,800 at the “Prototype” (pre-order) stage and $2,200 once minimums are met. The frames are available with RockShox Pike and Revelation forks for $2,600 and $2,500 respectively (all UK prices on Granary Cycles’ website shortly). The sweetest deal comes in the form of quite nice XX1/Reynolds alloy wheel/Reverb Stealth (650b only)/Race Face build kits for $4,200 and $4,000 respectively at launch.
On the metal side of the house, the Unveil 7 and 9 are Caribou catalogue frames with 150mm travel / 650b wheels and 130mm travel / 29er wheels respectively. Prices start at $1,100; frame/fork and complete X01 builds are also available. As with the Reveal models, RockShox handles front and rear suspension for both wheel sizes, with a Monarch RC3 Plus piggyback shock on all but the Reveal 7. While it’s increasingly difficult to find a bad full-suspension design and the Switchback models use tried-and true faux-bar (Reveal) and four-bar (Unveil) designs, ride style and quality will remain unknown unless reviews of the same frames under different logos can be found (anyone?). To give Internet detectives a head start, the Unveil 9 was previously sold under the Hammerhead Thumper name in the ‘States.
With Switchback, Robinson is making an interesting proposal. While the insight and ability to have been there at the beginning may be valuable to some, the “Prototype” pricing is undoubtedly the draw here. After that point, Robertson and company will have the very real challenge of building and maintaining the Switchback brand. But the frankness and transparency with which the company promises to approach what so many of us suspected already is intriguing, and will keep us watching.