From Impact Sun Valley in Idaho, Hannah brings us a look at Viathon, a new brand with some big hitting financial backers.
You could launch a new bike brand in a blaze of publicity and radical geometry, or you could fairly quietly develop just three bikes and focus on delivering really good customer service. That’s what Viathon bikes is seeking to do, firmly setting its sights on the online retail market.
For now, the bikes are only available directly from viathonbicycles.com. If you place an order, you’ll get a call back to check your measurements, sizing, and requirements, in an effort to ensure you get the right bike from the get-go. Just in case it’s not right, there’s a 60-day money back return policy.
The line up includes just three bikes: a road bike called R.1, a gravel bike called G.1 and a hardtail mountain bike with 120mm fork called… M.1. Did you see that coming? Bikes come equipped with well-recognized components such as SRAM, Zipp, and Stans’ No Tubes, on a good/better/best three-point pricing structure, with all models starting below $2500. The pricing goes right up to top spec stuff, with the SRAM AXS and Rock Shock SID Ultimate equipped M.1 due to come in somewhere between $6500-$7000.
The frames themselves are designed by former Competitive Cyclist and Back Country employee Zack Spinhirne-Martin with Kevin Quan, whose CV includes Knight Composites and Cervelo. They’re not ‘out there’ or especially mold-breaking, but they are functional and good looking pieces of kit. I really like the new copper and black finish – it’s different enough to be eye-catching without being shouty. However, it really doesn’t go with those blue SID ultimates – though they’re certainly a tough colour to work with.
So what’s the thinking with these bikes? They’re not exactly bringing anything technically new to the market. They’re not budget bikes, they’re not super bikes. They’re just… bikes. I got to ride out on a G.1, the gravel bike. It’s at the ‘roadier’ end of gravel bikes, with a reasonably aggressive ride position and stiff frame. That said, it comes tubeless ready and you can fit it with 27.5×2.1in tyres for a more comfortable and confident ride should you wish. Plus, pleasingly, it comes with a threaded bottom bracket (as does the M.1 – the R.1 has a press fit). It works, it looks pretty good, but who is it for? Technology wise, it’s not doing anything especially new – it’s a well thought out but non boundary pushing gravel bike. And that’s the point. These bikes are designed to appeal to customers looking for quality, style and branded components. Viathon is looking to sell to people it believes are not currently served well by the bike industry – likely new or casual riders looking for quality and convenience, rather than enthusiasts looking for niche cachet. These are people who want to buy a quality product with good customer service at the convenience of an online click, to get out there and ride with the minimum of fuss, and the knowledge that there’s a customer service office waiting to help them out with any issues.
What’s really interesting here is that Walmart is behind this new brand. While the Walton brothers are well known as bike enthusiasts (they bought Rapha a couple of years back and have been investing in their local trails around Bentonville, Arkansas), this venture is a fully commercial ‘Walmart’ one, separate from the brothers’ own projects. If Walmart is investing, it must see a market – and profit.
The initial plan is to establish the brand and gain a reputation for quality and customer service. With that as the aim, it’s surely a good time to add them to your list of potentials when bike shopping – it seems likely they’ll be going the extra mile to prove their credentials. Having demonstrated that there is a market for top spec equipped bikes through an online shop, we’d expect to see Viathon becoming available through Walmart’s online shopping platforms. While in the UK we’re more accustomed to Amazon, in the USA there are sites moossejaw.com and jet.com that are owned by Walmart. People in the USA are accustomed to buying branded items and high-end goods through these sites, and we expect to see Viathon being made available through these in due course – once the customer support is in place and the brand is established.
If the concept is proven – that people will buy top specced bikes from non specialist online platforms – then it’s conceivable this will tickle the interest of existing bike brands with small or no online distribution presence. Of course, this opens up the question of what this might mean for local bike shops, but there seems little point in fighting the times. Perhaps it’s better to go with them, use the power of big brands like Walmart to normalise bicycle riding, and bring bikes to the masses? Local bike shops are already up against existing cyclists making online purchases – maybe broadening the market will help generate enough new enthusiasts to make smaller brands survive.
It’s clear that Zack is already sizing up his next project. Should it be an e-MTB, an urban commuter, or a utility bike for the city and school run? I can’t help but feel that when a company as big as Walmart sets its sights on bikes as a commercial proposition, there’s hope that the pedal-powered world might just be about to grow – and that’s got to be good for all of us.
Hannah’s travel and accommodation was provided by CrankTank/Impact Sun Valley.