Is The GT Golden Bike Dumb?

This past weekend's Landmine Classic was the finale of the GT Golden Bike series, as I'm sure you've heard. The series has been widely ridiculed for rewarding sandbaggers with an ugly bike and cheerleaders. While this is an accurate summary of what it's all about, does that make it dumb?

My initial reaction was that this was totally stupid. How much does it cost to fly and accommodate four cheerleaders, a couple GT reps, and a golden bike winner and friend to six different events? How much does it cost to give every golden bike winner a bike?

Oh, and your USA-centric perspective probably assumed this promotion was limited to the States. It's not. So take the cost of the US series and (more than) double it for the international series.

Yeah. GT threw down a lot of money to do this. Pretty dumb, because "we" all know GT bikes are crappy and "we" buy Trek/Fisher/Specialized/Giant, whatever the shop gets us deals on, and some over-the-top series (did I mention cheerleaders? yeah. cheerleaders) ain't gonna change "our" opinion.

Here's the catch. "We" are not the target audience for this thing, and "we" probably don't know much about marketing. Back in the day, GT mountain bikes were the sheeeeeeit. Remember the "triple triangle design"? I still have a poster of Rishi Grewal rocking his. If you were buying a high-end mountain bike in the 90's, GT was a solid choice.

Somewhere along the line, that all changed. GT merged with Schwinn, went bankrupt, got acquired by Dorel Industries, and looked to be following Mongoose on the path to department-store-bike status. Could you even buy a proper GT mountain bike in 2005? I sure didn't see any.

But now, at the end of the decade, GT decided it wanted to make real bikes again. I don't know why, it might be because someone up high loves cycling or it might be because some suit ran the numbers and thinks it'll make Dorel's stock go up. It doesn't matter why, they're going for it.

So how would you get your brand's name back out there when it's been sullied by bankruptcy and cheap-bike production? Sponsor a pro team? Oh, that's creative. Because pro mountain biking is so big right now, all those sport riders (a.k.a. "your market") pay so much attention to it.

Like they care what Marko Lalonde rides.

The Golden Bike promotion is miles above sponsoring pro riders. Look at me, I'm writing a blog post about it. Look at James, he's writing a race preview about it. Sure, we think the bike is dumb, the cheerleaders are dumb, but we know about it.

12 months ago I didn't even know GT still made race bikes. Now I do. Sure, I get my bike through the shop, but you think that sentence doesn't hold true for every one else who showed up at Landmine, many of whom may actually by a bike at retail price in the next few years?

Just like the web, it's all about user impressions. There were 404 racers at Landmine, 489 at Ore To Shore, those a big number for mountain biking. Racers have families and friends, races lead to press releases (and we all read the web), that's a lot of people who are all aware now that GT makes race bikes AND does over-the-top promotions.

Plus, they did it in a down economy. Remember the dot-com boom, when every pile of venture capital was trying to make the most insane Super Bowl ad? Do you remember any of them, or did they all just blur together?

But in 2009, most companies are dialing back and being conservative with money, so GT's crazy promotion dollar goes a lot further, because there's no competition. GT dumped a ton of money on the mountain bike scene (don't forget the Dirt Coalition they started this year) while Specialized/Trek/Giant/Kona/etc were doing nothing.

Or were they doing nothing? I don't really know. They probably sponsored some dudes, some shop teams, whatever, same old same old. Nothing worth raising an eyebrow over -- nothing like this Golden Bike shit. And that's the point.

It's hard to put a price on brand recognition. Ok, so flying ~10 people all over the country six times is expensive, giving away bikes is expensive, buying print ads and online ads and building a website is expensive. But Dorel grossed 2.2 billion dollars in 2008, with a profit of $113 million dollars. With a balance sheet like that, you can probably find a couple hundred thousand bucks to run the biggest promotion in mountain biking history, right?

I'm not buying a GT bike anytime soon. I think cheerleaders at a bike race are the silliest thing I've ever seen. I think GT is crazy to throw away money on this. Crazy like a fox.


RMM said…
Good Analysis.
Brian said…
GT seems to relish pouring money into dubious projects. I seem to recall they had some SuperBike developed for the track prior to Atlanta '96.

All I know is the handlebar tape that came with my triple-triangulated GT Pulse was proclaiming said project and it was ugly as sin.
Cary said…
I just ordered a new GT. Wanna be like Kevin Hines.
Mike said…
At least the french sandbagger with the unibrow lost it a while back... he didnt have the true swagger if you will to rock a gold bike.

The best solution for GT would have been never go the route of the wallmart bike. Pacific/Dorel already had that end of the spectrum covered, leave GT as a higher end brand to supplement their portfolio. Easier said than done considering their dire economic situation the branch out to low end was most likely a last ditch effort to turn a profit. Somebody at GT didnt understand the move to low end would demolish the brand's image. The department store image was cast and will always be with the brand, no matter how many carbon xtr clad xc bikes they push out. Would you buy a $45,000 Hyundai? I wouldn't, and I certainly wouldnt buy a $4,500 GT to considering what else is out there.
Colin R said…
Well Mike, you have a pro license and you don't pay retail for your bikes, anyway. It's not your business GT is going after. Guys like you (and me) will always have an anti-GT bias because of the department store bikes. But the sport's participation is pretty fluid -- plenty of new riders each year buying bikes at retail. Convincing new riders that GT is a high-end brand is really what matters to them, I think.
Mike said…
"Convincing new riders that GT is a high-end brand is really what matters to them, I think."

Thats a good perspective I admittedly missed. MTB had a heyday in the 90's that GT was a large part of. Growth slumped a bit in the early 2000's and now seems to be back on a rise (using NE race participation as a gauge).
On a whole I think the Golden Bike program is a hit for GT, I mean as you stated look at the press it's grabbing. Buzz like that is priceless, far better than tossing some third teir pro like me a frame :(
scottyucsb said… and, or was it, or Hmmm, now I don't know if I'm making or refuting your point. I'm pretty sure there weren't any superbowl ads for cycling related web companies though.
SHopengarten said…
Question: Did Todd Wells make people go out and buy GT Cylcocross bikes, or does Jelly Belly make people go out and buy GT Time Trial bikes?

Answer: Hell no. No one buys those bikes, not to mention the fact that nobody even knows where to get one.
trackrich said…
On the contrary, Todd Wells made me remember that GT made bikes and made me think that maybe they made good ones. The fact though that it was easiest to buy them blindly through a mail-order catalog was a big turnoff...

We are still talking about them though aren't we?
Cary said…
Except Todd Wells was racing CX on a chris herting welded 3D with GT stickers.
Wheels said…
Was Julie Furtado one of the cheerleaders?
Marc Corbett said…
I don't know man, I may be a little bias but after searching for a hard tail with great specs for under a grand I landed on a GT Avalanche expert which, after allot of ridding and researching, proved to have better specs and ride-ability than it's trek counterpart the 6500 and all the specialized rock hoppers in that price range. Plus who wants to buy the name "specialized" with Dart shocks instead of a GT at the same price with TORAs.
Colin R said…
Marc: Sounds like you're the exact market GT's after, and I don't mean that as an insult. If I was buying a bike at retail, I'd check out GT too, but I'm currently bound to whatever the shop gives me a deal on, which ain't GT.
Anonymous said…
GT never sold any bikes in WalMart. The bikes were always sold through IBD's. Sure, they dropped down to LX models and didn't have nearly the range they did in their heyday and they stopped making road bikes completely for a few years, but the mountain bikes were never sold in retail stores. I'll admit, I did see a few BMX models sold at Academy for a year or so and some I-Drive 4.0's being sold off at Sams immediately after Questar went bankrupt, but that was it. They kept Lopes, then added Kintner and Wells and had a nice team that kept growing. Pacific\Dorel had to rebuid GT from the ground up with much trial and error. Funny, they bought Cannondale to join forces with GT as their two top tier brands, but not nearly as many people consider C-dale's a WalMart special.

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