Why Do Luxury Brands Keep Producing Crappy Mountain Bikes?

With Across the Pond Beaver in full swing, we’ve been covering all manner of new mountain bikes that have been released in a frenzy of activity this past week. There’s one bike we resisted covering though, until now. That is the AMD Custom mountain bike pictured above. AMD is best known for producing computer processors, but this week decided to step into the world of bikes with a mountain bike and a cruiser.

A cursory glance will tell you that this bike will serve you about as well as one of their microchips out in the mountains, but its press release merrily boasts of the bike’s “twist grip Shimano index shifting, linear pull MTB brakes, dual suspension frame, and a comfortable Mountain bike saddle” regardless (no, we’re not sure why Mountain is capitalized either). The kicker is that this thing retails for $299, which isn’t that expensive as mountain bikes go, but the equivalent level of bike from Walmart is half that price.

AMD is hardly the first company to brand up a cheap catalog frame and flog it to the masses who don’t know any better. Car brands are the usual culprits, and we’ve seen some howlers from Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Ferrari and other tech brands like Sony in the past.

But the real question is, why do brands do this? To anybody with a modicum of knowledge about bikes, it’s patently obvious that they are a waste of time and money but they still keep cropping up. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons.

Publicity

Sure, no mountain bike publications picked up on the AMD bikes but they were reported on by PC GamesN, PC Mag, PC Gamer, Benzinga and other tech publications. It put AMD back in the conversation, and then yesterday it was announced that it was preparing to launch updated versions of the Ryzen CPU and Radeon GPU products, despite having reportedly been quiet since the spring.

A small run of a novelty product has got people talking about the brand again and probably did no harm to the algorithms that will thrust its latest piece of news to the top of Google search results and social media feeds.

Selling a lifestyle

While brands don’t participate in mountain biking directly, they definitely do want to align themselves with what it stands for. If you go into a Jeep dealership and see a Jeep branded mountain bike on top of a Wrangler, you don’t have to know the difference between a Horst Link and VPP to understand that it means the car is as rugged and adventurous as the bike.

In that respect, it’s no different to car commercials featuring mountain bikers or Audi sponsoring the Nines competition, or Mercedes the World Cups. Arguably Red Bull has become one of the biggest drinks companies in the world by smartly aligning itself with the right sports and athletes.

It works both ways too. As much as brands want to align themselves with lifestyles, people want to align themselves with brands. Some of us might want to buy a T-shirt representing our favorite rock band or mountain bike media outlet and in the same way, some people will buy a bike based on the brand it represents.

For a lot of people, a bike is a bike is a bike and how the bike looks will be their number one priority when buying one. If you love Ferraris but can’t stump up the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to buy one, maybe a bike is the next best way to feel like you’re a part of that brand. In that sense, these bikes are just merch, no different from a branded bottle opener or baseball cap.

People actually buy them

That brings us on to our last point. Why do they make them? Because people buy them. Simple as that. If you want proof, the AMD monstrosity that we started off the article talking about has already sold out. Of course, AMD probably didn’t order a huge production run, but it has managed to get all the benefits listed above, and still probably made money while doing it too.

When it’s done right

At this point, it’s worth saying that these things don’t always have to end in disaster. The most famous example of a car brand making a mountain bike is the Honda RN-01, which ended up being a World Cup winning frame that captivated the imagination of race fans for years.

We’ve also recently seen Santa Cruz and Supreme team up on a custom Chameleon hardtail. Yes, there was plenty of eye-rolling in the comments for that one, but at least you know the hype beasts that bought it won’t end up with a broken bike the first time it’s pointed off road. Other examples include Specialized and MacLaren or Lamborghini and Cervelo producing road bikes or Lotus and Hope’s track bike that’s set to be raced by Team GB next Olympics.
It’s clear that these luxury brands can genuinely produce a decent bike by either collaborating with a brand already established in the mountain bike world, hiring a mountain bike consultant (yes, they exist) or even hiring some engineers to design a bike for you; the problem is they don’t have to or need to. If all their customers want is a simple bike with a badge slapped on it to cycle around the park 3 or 4 times a year, why try harder? Why put in all the effort to design a bike that’s on modern and capable when buying a bulk load in cheap will be simpler and profitable? Unfortunately, these brands are giving their customers exactly what they want and probably charging a premium for it too. That’s why we’re seeing all these crappy bikes and we’ll probably see plenty more in future too.