One of my co-workers showed me a magazine photo of a 7-11 rider, Davis Phinney, on a Huffy. The year was 1987. The bikes were white and red, and the builder was none other than Ben Serotta. As with so many of the things we see in pro cycling, appearances were not quite what they seemed.
With effective marketing, you can put a label on anything and pass it off as a gold nugget.
But where does the quality of a thing live? It is one thing to take a pair of super light, super stiff wheels, for example, and redecal them with the logos of another maker of super light, super stiff wheels. Clearly the decals are just decals. The wheels are where the quality lives. It is easy to heft them in one hand and know what is there.
But what happens when a company gets purchased? New management comes in. Designs and procedures change, but all the while the label stays the same. In fact, in many cases the new ownership has simply purchased the label to pump out lower cost crap at high prices, trading on the company’s prior reputation. And how many once-great bike companies have we seen blunder down this path? I’ll let you supply the names.
Is the quality of the thing in the hands of the creator, by which I mean the founder or lead designer at the company? Is it in the people on the factory floor who turn out the products? Is it in the ephemeral style of the object? Or is it a combination of many intangible factors?
New management isn’t always a bad thing, but it is always a different thing. Is a bike company, founded by one charismatic and inspired individual, the same company when its ownership passes into the hands of a conglomerate, when its factory moves from one country to another? All of these things pass by beneath the stoic label on the component box or the impassive crest on the head badge.
We regularly see vintage brands reborn under the guidance of a new set of investors/operators. What are those brands? Are they consistent with the originals? Does the quality of the thing live on in the idea of what once was? What do you think?