Sunday, July 27, 2008

Round 3 - CTS Series 2008

A ROUND TO FORGET. Here I'm, finally sitting down warm and dry after spending over 3 hours cleaning my bike, my race kit and myself, I'm finally calm enough to reflect on what should have been. Looking back at my piss poor effort today at CTS Series Round 3, I have nobody to blame but myself for not staying in shape since last round and not thinking through carefully enough on which bike and tire setup I should have been running.

IT WAS KNOWN for a week in advance that Sunday was going to be a wet race. Whilst I was registering myself on line last Monday, a regulatory weather check on the BOM website forecasted that both Saturday & Sunday was going to be wet. Anyway, for reason of optimism, I decided to run 310 dry racers on my Zaskar for Sunday, thinking that my bike handling skills would make up for the tire's lack of grip in the wet conditions. Had I set the bike up with Hutchinson Mosquitoes wet racers as per the year before, I'm pretty sure that I would have written today's blog with a lot more positive tone than now.

SO LAP 1, instead of the usual start dead last at the back of the pack and work my way through the group, I've decided on a reasonable start today and work myself into the race. I was in cruise mode chatting with Damien, both of us sitting in the mid pack somewhere. Damien's finally back on saddle after disappearing off the radar for over a month, and it was good to catch up and chat. Although the track was damp, the 310 tires were actually working reasonably well, and I didn't have too many issues until I hit the first mud patch. OH MY GOD. It was like watching butter sliding over a hot pan. How I didn't fall off there and then, only heaven knows. Well, at least that woke me up and shut me up, no more chatting with Damien, it was time to get serious, if I was going to try stay ahead of Damien, I'd better cover some distance on the fire roads before we both get to the single track section near the Dog Kennels, which is always wet and dicey, even during summer.

EVERYTHING WAS GOING OK, going fast where I could and taking extra care on the wet areas, I've built up a nice 3 min gap over Damien by the time I exited the Dog Kennels, which wasn't as bad as I had imagined. On the climb up to the single track, the chain exploded. BUGGER! So turn the bike upside down and getting into the mechanic mode, I quickly checked the bike for the damage. For a fleeting second I though my race was done, as the chain was wrapped so tightly around the frame and middle ring - it snapped as result after a major case of chain suck. After few minutes of cursing and fumbling, I managed to free the chain and re-joined the broken link with the handy little SRAM Power Link that race organiser wisely issued to everyone. By then Damien's already long gone and I've got a long way to go and catch him and make up for the lost time.

THAT CHAIN, now caked solidly in mud, was griding away the middle ring horribly. It wasn't long before I had to put the middle ring out of action as some of the teeth was pretty badly bent out of shape when the chain blew up. So I was forced to mash it out in the big ring for entire Lap 2. It won't surprise me if Lap 2 will be my fastest lap of the race as I had no options but to crank hard over everything. Caught up and flew past Damien, I was getting used to the slippery track but I had a niggling feeling that I won't be able to keep this up for long, and sure enough, I was right. Half way through Lap 2, the heaven opened up. Not quite bucketing but enough to make sure that the greasy sub soil would be dragged on to the surface after a knobby tire have tore through the saturated top soil.

LAP 3 WAS HORRIBLE. Never before have I gone around Lysterfield Lake so slowly and yet at the same time, holding on for my dear life. With the ground now nicely churned up by tires full of knobs, I was ricocheting through the single track like a pack of loose Skittles down a Safeway isle, out of control, and sliding wildly whenever the contour changes. Over some parts of the track, it was like riding on a bar of soap. How I escaped today without a single crash is beyond me. At one stage going down a relatively shallow & straight section of single track, I was understeering AND oversteering at the same time just trying to keep the bike on a straight line! Fishtailing wildly at 40km/h in a single track isn't cool. And because I cannot maintain momentum, I'm forced down to use the granny gear wherever there was any hills, which is the last thing you want when your chain's already on it's last legs, so at the end of the lap 3, seeing Paul who's already decided to pack it in for the day (for similar reasons), I also made the decision to end the senseless destruction on my bike and potentially myself, and call it a day.

So the damage bill at the end of the day are:

  • worn out brake pads, front and back.
  • a mangled chain
  • bent middle chain ring
  • blown rear hub seal
  • sticking freewheel
  • probably need a new set of brake and gear cables

Looks like I'll be going to Kat's shop, Croydon Cycle Works this weekend shopping for spares.

Looking back, I would have done a lot better if I had ridden the little rigid Bravado today with Highrollers on. At least she'd be far easier to clean and much less dicier to ride in the mud.

This will be my last race at Chase The Sun Series, as I'm away at Mt Hotham next round to indulge my other passion, snowboarding. Hopefully by the time next Ananconda event come around, the 12 Hours at Reedsdale, I'll be less flabby and a bit fitter. Need to do more training with Kat and James. No more excuses not training for the next event as spring will be coming around soon.
Thanks to Steve Rowe for braving the wet, cold and misery to take great photos again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The History of GT Bicycles

People often ask me - what is it with me and GT bicycles? It's a topic that comes up very, very often. Well, unless you were really into mountain biking since its infancy in the early 1990s, or perhaps BMX racing during the early 1980s, it's a hard to appreciate what GT was like during peak of its power. Myself, and many others around the world, still recall the glory days, and watched in despair as the brand neared brink of extinction, before the recent return to prominence of this famous brand.

So, the history of GT Bicycles.

IT IS THE EARLY 1970’s. Moto Cross takes off and MX racing is big. Between moto’s parents allow the youngsters to race bicycles on the big dirt tracks. Dad’s get involved and Bicycle Moto Cross was born. In 1973, a father named Gary Turner is one of the dads that goes to Moto Cross races and watches the kids racing, including his own. He notices that the bikes are heavy, slow and fragile. Gary is not only a musical instrument repairmen with experience welding things like trumpets and trombones, but is also a professional drag racer and has experience welding and building cro-mo “rails” or chassis, for drag racers. With the high grade aircraft cro-moly tubing used for dragsters, Gary starts to make frames for his son to race at the MX track. His son’s bike gets noticed and Gary starts to supply the frames to other kids and building his reputation one frame at a time.

Product Highlights:

  • 4130 Cro-mo Frames / Forks

1974 THE BEGINNING. Richard Long owns and runs a bike shop in Orange County, California. He notices Gary Turner and his frames. He notices that they are selling and that people want to know how to get them. Richard calls Gary and asks him if he can stock and sell the frames. Gary agrees and the most famous partnership in BMX history starts.

1975-1980 BUILDING A BRAND, ONE FRAME AT A TIME. Things happen fast and soon Richard and Gary invested in a shop dedicated to making top quality Cro-moly BMX frames in Santa Ana. In 1979 they incorporated into GT Bicycles, Inc. Richard sold his bike shop and began selling frames as fast as possible to bicycle distributors across the USA and into Europe. Business is huge and so is BMX. GT begins to sponsor BMX racers. Richard is the business and marketing genius and Gary is the engineer and craftsmen. Little did they know that in 20 years they would build together one of the most well known bicycle companies in the world.

Product Highlights:
  • 4130 Cro-mo Frames / Forks
  • 4130 Handlebars
  • Forged Stems
  • 4130 Seatposts

1980-86 THE GLORY DAYS OF BMX. GT expands exponentially every year and enters the new off shoot sport of BMX, Freestyle. The first frame designed by Gary for freestyle, the Performer, becomes a legend in freestyle and, still today, in 2002, is one of the most recognized brand names in juvenile bicycles. The company moves into new digs on 2300 Container Lane in Huntington Beach California. Soon, they grow from one office into 4 separate buildings that handle welding, warehousing, shipping and administrative. During this period GT would come to dominate BMX racing as the sport matured into a worldwide phenomena. GT establishes itself as the preeminent racing brand in the sport and begins to dominate the race venues that would lead to the nickname “the firm”. For better or for worse GT goes from garage to corporate in a big way.

Product Highlights:
  • Full assortment of USA made BMX frames and parts
  • Full assortment of USA made Freestyle frames and parts
  • Performer frame and GT Freestyle parts challenge Haro for dominance in the market place.
1987-1994 BMX DIES WHILE GT MOVES INTO MOUNTAIN BIKE. As the late 80 ‘s approached, BMX racing tapered off and the BMX business got hit hard. In light of this Richard turned his focus onto the new sport of Mountain Biking, although he never forgot BMX and in fact turned up the heat on his competitors. In November of 1987 GT showed its first line of 5 mountain bikes at the young Interbike Show in Reno, Nevada. 5 years into the MTB boom many said that GT was too late and too BMX to make it in this market. Those that knew Richard Long thought other wise. Within 5 years GT came to dominate the sport of Mountain Bike racing as it did in BMX with a massive marketing effort led by a large international race team that raised the brand to a high awareness level on a global scale. In 1988 GT moved from the 4 separate Container lane buildings into a specially built facility on 17800 Gothard street in Huntington Beach for the next 5 years. Many would say that this was the high water mark for the company in terms of culture and profit. In January of 1988 GT bought its way into dealer direct distribution with the acquisition of Riteway products in Placentia Ca. Within 4 years GT purchased 3 more distributors across the country and became a national force in the IBD market. During this period GT started to make and assemble complete bikes. The complexity and scope of the business increased yearly and soon GT was a 125 million dollar company. In 1991 GT signed World Champion Julie Furtado to it’s international racing team. Julie would go on to win more World Cup’s than any rider of her time. On the men’s side GT signed up Junior World Champion Nicholas Vouilloz who would dominate DH like no other rider in history and has yet to be dethroned. Also signed was Rishi Grewal, a pioneering MTB racer that had style and flash to match the GT image. Many other world class racers would join the stable of Team GT in the early 90’s to form one of the most powerful MTB teams in history. Also implemented at this time was Project ’96. A “no holds barred” attempt to design and produce the fastest track bikes in the history of the sport for the US Olympic Track team. This would be a multi million dollar effort and would eventually lead to the UCI banning most aerodynamic design aspects from bicycle racing due to the revolutionary bicycles that resulted from this award winning and medal winning venture.

Product Highlights:
  • 1988: Full assortment of USA made 4130 BMX and freestyle frames, components and accessories
  • Complete BMX bikes sourced from Taiwan, range expands to over 10 models Introduction of MTB line with 5 models: Outpost, Timberline, Tequesta, Karakoram, and Avalanche all featuring triple triangle technology. This would become a GT hallmark of frame design Dyno brand name introduced to market place as a hard core freestyle brand.
  • 1990: MTB range expands to 12 models including the Titanium Xizang LE and the ill fated 700D series of trekking / cross bikes.
  • Dyno brand name introduced to market place to be a less expensive line to complement GT.
  • 1991: The legendary USA made Zaskar (frame only ) is introduced. This is one of the first USA made aluminum frames that can withstand the rigors of offroad use.
  • The Quatrefoil off road tandem is introduced.
  • 1992: Huge proliferation of GT innovations such as the Groove Tube, Flip Flop stem and 2 x 4 forks are introduced.
  • GT “Tech Shop” concept introduced to allow GT shops to buy custom USA made Titanium, Aluminum and Cr-Mo ATB frames.
  • Taiwan aluminum arrives in the form of the Pantera
  • 1993: RTS hits the market and GT becomes a leader in full suspension.
  • GT USA begins to assemble complete adult bikes with the RTS-1 and Zaskar LE.
1994-JULY 1996 TRAGEDY KILLS THE DREAM. As GT prospered and grew the competition could do little but watch. Many wondered what the secret formula was to GT’s run away success and wondered when it would end. As the fall of ’95 approached business was better than ever. BMX racing was coming back and GT was on top. Richard had crafted GT into one of the few, if not the only, bicycle company in the world that was a top supplier of not only BMX bicycles and products but adult bicycles as well. Combined with the might of the Riteway parts business GT was the dominant US cycling company in the USA in 1995. That year GT left the old building on Gothard and moved into a sprawling warehouse back in the original town of GT, Santa Ana, California. With twice the space for both warehousing and office GT kept growing and growing. In October of 1995 GT Bicycles Inc. went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange with the help of Bain Capital, a well known investment bank in Boston, Mass. Richard and Gary were turned in multi millionaires over night. As the 1996 Olympics approached the company was at full throttle and hitting on all twelve cylinders just like Richard’s BMW 850i. Life was good and Richard lived it to the hilt. Motorcycles had always been a passion of Richard’s and with his new found wealth he indulged his habit of speed by owning no less then six high performance cars and four Harley Davidson motorbikes. A particular model caught Richard’s eye, the new monster bike made by Honda called “Valkyrie”. Built on the Gold wing platform it was basically a horizontally opposed 4 cylinder car engine stuffed into a motorcycle frame. It was huge. Richard took delivery of the bike a week before the 1996 NORBA national at Big Bear. With a few rides under his belt Richard blasted off toward Big Bear on the bike to watch Team GT crush at the races once again. However, Richard never arrived. On the way up the hill to Big Bear, on the winding route called the “back way”, he was killed in a wreck with a pick up truck that turned left across his lane in front of him. Thousands of stunned spectators and racers listened in disbelief as the announcer read the news. The man who was bigger than life, who almost single handedly built a 250 million dollar public company was dead at 46 years of age leaving a wife and two sons. From that point on GT would never ever be the same. There has always been and will continue to be speculation of the role that the big bike played in that wreck. But it cannot change the fact that Richard Long, the life force behind GT, was gone. The very next day a Board of Directors meeting was called by Bain Capitol, who had control of GT (much to the dismay of Gary Turner) and told Gary and the other members that GT was to be sold as soon as possible for the highest possible price. Only they would know of this plan.

Product Highlights:

BMX bikes:
  • 1994: “Fueler “ frame introduced, at the time it was one of the only dirt jump specifc frames in the market. The Fueler featured massive over size cro-mo tubes with plate cut dropouts and 1 1/8” headtube.
  • 25 models in the combined GT / Dyno line
  • 1995: Fueler is offered as a complete bike.
  • Power Series tubular cro-mo cranks introduced.
  • Line grows to 27 models and over 20 framesets.
  • Powerlite and Robinson lines are also introduced with a combined total of 16 models.
  • 1996: Aluminum hits the track with the all new “Speed Series Team” . This is a huge step for the former Cro-mo driven BMX product line. GT applies lessons learned with Zaskar production into BMX technology.
  • GT and Dyno both feature price point Taiwan frames to capitalize on the trend. There are now 50 models between GT/Dyno/ Powerlite and Robinson.
Mountain bikes:
  • 1994: RTS becomes a complete line of suspension bikes.
  • GT is the first company to mass produce a functional full suspension bike in Taiwan.
  • GT introduces a line of road bikes.
  • High end custom bikes are ridden by the US Olympic Team
  • GT is the official sponsor of the US Team through the Olympics in Atlanta.
  • The ground breaking LTS, a 4- bar linkage frame is introduced in the January of 1994
  • The LTS wins the 1994 “full suspension shootout ” among all the major brands.
  • 1995: LTS ruled the MTB line up and GT is the first to supply dealers with a fully functional 4 bar linkage MTB made in the USA and damped by the infamous ALPS 5 by Fox.
  • The Karakoram won “1995 bike of the year”
  • 1996: Adult line features two complete suspension platforms in the LTS and RTS. RTS dies a quick death at the hands of the functionally superior LTS platform
  • LTS-2 and 3 is the attempt to bring LTS technology to an affordable price. The Rock Shox coil sprung 2 is a hit. The elastomer sprung 3 is late and a dud.
JULY 1996-1998 THE SALE. Even Richard’s death could not at first slow the massive inertia that GT generated. Business kept growing and GT soon purchased distributors in the UK (This deal was actually consummated in the months prior to Richard’s passing) , France and Japan in the months after Richard’s death. GT moved to an even larger 300,000 square foot facility a few miles down the road in June of 1997. This latest location was a fully integrated manufacturing, assembly and warehousing facility. The stock price, after a dip following Richard’s accident, soared as high as $22.00. However chinks in the armor started to show and the weak organizational fabric that was previously held together by Richard’s sheer force of will was starting to rip apart. By the fall of 1997 a few corporate suitors had secretly come and gone. The focus of senior management was not on the company and the internal forces within were often at odds. Sales goals were missed, forecasts were wrong, product delivered late, massive recalls occurred. The numbers slipped and so did the stock. However the money kept flowing like water out of a broken dam and to all outward appearances GT was as healthy as ever. In the summer of 1998 GT introduced a new suspension platform called “I drive” that was the next step in suspension technology. The global press, 60 publications in all, were given the royal treatment at an all expenses paid junket to Las Vegas, Nevada and Brian Head, Utah to view and ride the new bikes. However the party was spoiled when on the first night of the press intro the surprise announcement was made that Schwinn had just bought GT for 175 million dollars. Stunned GT employees walked around as though in a daze and wondered what their fate was and what would happen to their world.

Product highlights:

BMX bikes:
  • 1997: Monocoque constructed “Box series” chainstays appear for the first time on the Speed series team.
  • Shimano V-brakes are used for the first time on a GT BMX bike.
  • Spin wheels are introduced to BMX.
  • 1998: Aluminum is introduced to freestyle by the groundbreaking “Show” flatland frame. With close input from legendary flatlander Rueben Castillo, Robert Kahler and Jeff Soucek designed a frame specifically for the discipline of flatland that has yet to be equaled in the business.
Mountain & Road bikes:
  • 1997: With the massive press of the 1996 Olympic Superbike 2, and the revolutionary “STS” technology GT threw out new model after new model on the adult side.
  • Carbon fiber and aerodynamics drove the Mountain and Road lines respectively.
  • In 1997, GT introduced 3 new carbon fiber high end LTS full susp. MTB’s and 3 new Aero road bikes including the alien looking Vengeance triathlon bike.
  • The Vengeance was based on the old SB-1 or first generation Superbike and turned out to be a template for almost all TT bikes in used in the world today due to the enforcement of stricter rules governing aerodynamics brought about by the SB-2 and others.
  • 1998: STS technology drove the product line and GT introduced the LOBO DH bike.
  • Full suspension represented almost 80% of the models over $1000.00.
  • The LTS –2000 won “Bike of the Year” .
  • GT hires Steve Peat for DH and Team Saturn rides our bikes on the road.
  • Summer of 1998, I drive is introduced to the press with one of the most controversial launches in the history of the bike business.
10/12/1998 - 9/11-2001 THE QUESTER YEARS. In reality Schwinn had not purchased GT. An investment company, not unlike Bain Capital, Questor had purchased Schwinn bicycle from Scott USA in 1997 as Scott sought to escape the US bike business and focus on Europe. The mighty Schwinn Organization had been downsized to virtually nothing but a marketing organization by then. They had no manufacturing, no global presence and more importantly they had no big factory and no huge Riteway parts business. From the onset of the purchase Questor underestimated both the power of the GT brand, the intense pride of it’s employees and the complexity of it’s operations. However, Questor Senior management did instantly alienate large amounts of vital personal upon their first few visits to the Santa Ana plant. Instead of conserving needed senior talent, they disparaged and denigrated key players that left the company headless and open to the whims of the top dogs at Schwinn. Schwinn Sr. management, having had time to get close to Questor over the past 15 months, then moved into the power vacuum and asserted control and used influence to make sure that GT was cast in the worst possible light. From the start Questor could not control the strong personalities and internal factions of Schwinn and GT. They sought “synergies”, they wanted to “leverage strengths”, they talked management speak better than anyone but could not understand bike culture and what motivated bike people. At the same time the US bike business and European businesses continued to tank. The market had matured and problems previously masked by double digit growth were exposed by thinning margins, massive overheads and dropping sales. Rah, rah speeches, and gung ho memos were replaced by cost cutting, lay-offs and closures. As Questor desperately tried to stem the red ink the business suffered and so did the brand. In spring of 2001 it was obvious that Questor and the banks had decided to get out. Spending was frozen, payments to vendors and subcontractors were stopped. The writing was on the wall. Questor through their holding company, Schwinn-GT inc, declared bankruptcy on 6/27/01. Five years to the day that Richard Long had died. The once mighty duo of bicycle companies was sold to Pacific Cycle through bankruptcy court on 9/11/01 for 86 million dollars. This represented an almost 175 million dollar loss to Questor and a much larger blow to the bicycle community.

BMX bikes:

  • 1999: Niche takes over the line with the products firmly going into three categories
  • BMX racing: Speed Series sets the tone for all the models
  • Trails: Fueler, Bump and Thumper mark a new segment for GT
  • Freestyle: Dominated by the Show platform and “Vert” bikes
  • 2000: ULTRABOX !!!. An all new creation by PM Robert Kahler and Industrial Designer Alec Tam blows away the BMX world. With super exotic monocoque technology the Ultrabox gives GT a much needed boost in the BMX market place.
  • Fueler and Show platforms carry on in their respective categories
  • 2001: In an effort to catch up to the rider owned companies GT switches the focus to the X Games crowd and starts to market their athletes more aggressively with an all new model line up.
  • Vert legend Dave Voelker and new schooler Jamie Bestwick are the centerpieces for the new line of jump bikes.
  • Ultrabox leads the charge in the shrinking BMX category and the Show carries on unchallenged in flatland.
  • 2002: Basically a bust due to the bankruptcy.
Mountain & Road bikes:
  • 1999: I-Drive is born and marks a new chapter in MTB suspension technology. Suspension guru Jim Busby invents a whole new way to suspend the bicycle.
  • The buzz is huge and so is the hype. GT features the technology on 7 models for an across the board roll out designed to leave the competition in the dust.
  • LTS carries on in it’s last year and the final model, the XR-1000, with sealed bearings and FOX air shock is actually the finest LTS ever made and sets the stage for light weight cross country full suspension bikes.
  • 2000: GT acquires the Syncros brand and gets into the Tour De France. With a vastly revamped road platform GT does what only Cannondale has accomplished and is the second US bike brand in the Tour de France.
  • The new line of triple triangle road bikes is as light or lighter than the competition and has a much smoother ride making it a natural for team Lotto to use in the brutal classics of the spring.
  • The I-Drive line is refined and lightened.
  • The world beating DH-I is used by the team to replace the aging Lobo platform.
  • In August Roland Greene pilots a prototype I drive to a silver medal at the 2000 world championships in Madrid, Spain. It is the highest ever finish for a suspended bike in a UCI world championship.
  • 2001: The new I-Drive Team (inspired by the bike Roland raced) weighs in at about 24.5 pounds and brings I-Drive onto the race courses of the world in numbers.
  • The Dh-I is released as the most affordable and highest performing DH bike to date.
  • The emerging extreme category is addressed by the Ruckus hardtail.
  • The Zaskar Team weighs in at an unbelievable 22.5 pounds.
  • 2002: The only real news is the Ruckus I-Drive which is the new standard for free riding.

THE PACIFIC YEARS. On 9/11/2001 Chris Hornung, then owner and CEO of the highly successful Pacific Cycles, LLC, managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat in a Denver bankruptcy courtroom and snatch away the prize jewel of Schwinn from the seemingly invincible Huffy Corp. 3 years later, Huffy would file for bankruptcy as a result of this loss. Hornung knew very well that whoever possessed the number three most well known name in American brands would have the golden key to the mass merchants floor space for a very long time. And he was right. However, very few people know that the sr mgmnt team at GT had a deal with Huffy to off load GT to a private equity firm the minute they won the auction for @25 million dollars. But as they watched the horrible spectacle of the twin towers burning and collapsing the irony of that image as personal metaphor could not be shaken.

2003, RISING FROM THE ASHES. PC had Schwinn….and they knew exactly what to do with it. Make Money. They had the bikes ready to go. They had PO’s with Walmart, Target and TRU. PC was a well oiled sourcing and delivery machine and Chris punched the gas pedal and accelerated towards one of the most successful moves in the bicycle business. However none of this applied to GT. PC had no idea what to do with this once high flying IBD brand….the mass was not interested and PC had no infrastructure to support it. All of the GT crew in Foothill Ranch and all of the Schwinn crew in Boulder were given their walking papers in the weeks that followed the sale of the company. The buildings were emptied. The equipment was sold or moved to Madison. All the accumulated history and people scattered to the winds. There was no Schwinn / GT left. At Interbike 2002, one of the most famous battles of all time in the IBD occurred when Chris Hornung and Byron Smith attempted to embrace the IBD at Interbike in Las Vegas. In three days of raucous, often highly vocal meetings, Chris and Byron tried to impose a whole new way of doing business on the IBD dealer base. It was complete disaster. No one signed up and it ruined the reputation of the brands until this day. But in mid November a senior member of the PC staff, Bob Ippolito, once one of Richard Longs’ right hand men, saw some potential in GT and asked Chris to keep 3 key members of the GT product and international sales team. He agreed. A tiny office space was found in Lake Forest in Feb of 2002 and GT was back in business. Sort of. From a high watermark of over 2000 global employees to three people is hardly “back in business” . But the small team, with the addition of three more staff, went to work to make a line of bikes for the 2003 season. None were sold in the USA. All were sold internationally. Richard had been the first, besides possibly Cannondale, to understand the importance of a global brand strategy. GT had purchased four international distribs, the UK, Japan, France and Germany prior to being bought by Questor. They were the first US brand to do so. Every other major American brand has done so since, as well as some Asian brands. GT was ahead of the curve here but the BK lost all of this momentum. However there were many ID’s that were still very interested in the brand despite the financial woes it had encountered. Their countrymen had no idea of the demise of GT to any great extent so the brand was still viable and powerful. So the 2003 model year was in actuality a moderate success. This impressed Chris and gave him some inkling of the power of the GT brand that he had purchased for virtually nothing…..

Product highlights:

  • I-Drive Marathon- Featured on the cover of BIKE (Germany) magazine buyers guide, full XTR fullie weighing in at 25 pounds.
  • Ruckus Dullies- One of the first lighter weight 6 inchers
  • Not much else as the GT crew was essentially cooking with left overs…….

2004, A HARD YEAR. With some success under their belts and a steady pay check in hand the meager GT crew did their best to follow in the footsteps of the once mighty brand. Prior to the sale to PC and the bankruptcy, plans were afoot to revolutionize the I Drive system introduced in Brian Head Utah in 1998. The goals were to simplify, lighten and improve the I drive suspension system. However it would prove very difficult to bring out a piece that would compete with the horsepower that the majors had acquired during those years that GT floundered. Specialized Trek and Giant were hard at work in the black arts of carbon frame construction and aluminum Hydro-forming and those two specialties would come to define the business in the middle part of the decade. To not have those processes involved in your design was to not have marketable products. Due to many internal factors GT did not have access to those processes and hence was handcuffed to good old mitered tubes and welding……this was to be a problem. While GT grew its lower priced business the high end languished as the majors rolled out model after model of incredible workmanship and weight. GT could only watch as the peloton of high end business rolled away.The rework of the new I drive system was slow and painful. However two new models of short travel full suspension were introduced. The marketing effort was not enough to make a dent in the onslaught of the competition however and the new platform was not well noticed.

Product Highlights:

  • IDXC 1.0 and 2.0 The reinvention of I-Drive for short travel.
  • The first full suspension bike that uses a Shimano BB tool and a 5 mm allen key for disassembly and service.
  • Ruckus FlowtaThe first Air / Air free ride bike from an American brand
  • Zaskar Team Sub 23 pound hard tail is a hit in niche markets like South Africa and Norway…the bike reinvigorates the Zaskar name in the world of racing

2005, THE REVIVAL. Slowly but surely the GT development engine gets more gas as two years of success convince PC that it is worth paying attention to not only GT but the IBD market in general. The international business is gaining steam and the US market is not a total failure. Team GT/ Hyundai is actually a good presence at the races and with Brian Lopes and Hans Ray representing the brand, press actually gets generated. With more engineering and design resources added the GT product team resurrects the “G-Box” concept bike for the 2005 Eurobike show. This gets noticed. Also a new 5 inch platform is introduced that uses the new idrive system and finally lays to rest the old eccentric based system. A new era has begun. The international markets begin to take notice of these new designs and sales begin to creep up. The IDXC 1.0 gets the coveted “Gear of the Year” award from Outside magazine. The last year for any eccentric based fullie is offered. After 7 years of history the original I drive design is gone.

Product Highlights:

  • I-Drive 5 All new 5 inch all mountain platform. Uses same flex bone technology as the IDXC platform and a new modular drop out system.
  • ZuM Zaskar Urban Machine. A new breed of city sport bike

2006, RETURN OF THE I-DRIVE. This is the year that all the full suspension models employ the new I-Drive system. The DH-i which is under a complete redesign will not be offered this model year. Also offered to the amazement of many is the IT-1….the commercialization of the original Gear Box design first shown in Anaheim in 1998. While not perfect it represents what could be done if a small group of passionate people work hard to make something unique happen. The IT-1 is fully functional production gear box design using a Shimano Nexus hub mounted centrally in the frame. The bike gets large amounts of press inside and out side the industry. To the lay person it represents something new and exciting in the world of bikes. The IT-1 sets the stage for a larger introduction of gear box designs.

Product highlights:

  • IT-1 First production gear box design.
  • Zaskar All new hydroformed frame. The lightest aluminum MTB frame ever produced by GT.
  • Double Down Kustom Kruiser super chopper.
  • I-Drive 7 All new freeride platform using the new I Drive system.
  • GT Ruckus 29" MTB for the singlespeed crowd
  • Kustom Kruiser All new line of totally aluminum cruisers. The lightest most rust proof cruisers available

2007, THE YEAR OF CARBON. After extensive preliminary research and development GT is ready to offer carbon in more categories than every before. Road, DH, XC are all addressed with new carbon frames or structures. The new carbon road platform is met with excellent sales in key markets such as South Africa, New Zealand and Norway. The I-Drive 5 platform is also totally revamped and now meets the need of the market place with a great riding frame in a lighter more responsive package. Also introduced after almost two years of testing and development is the all new DH-I, the lightest production downhill bike available. With the former DH-i, although loved for its pedaling and handling characteristics, getting a bit long in the tooth, the product team at GT knew that they had to redefine the bike in order to compete with the best out there. Using the I drive technology in a whole new package that allowed for better optimization of the system the GT engineering and product team brought out a bike that is a state of the art piece for today’s DH courses. It is met with universal acclaim. Also offered is the new Carbon I drive 4. This is a complete ground up redesign of the I Drive 4 cross country platform.

Product highlights:

  • DH-i - All new downhill bike that weighs in under 40 pounds
  • I Drive 4 Carbon - All new 4 inch XC platform that combines a mind boggling new front carbon triangle with a super light rear aluminum triangle for a bike that offers the best of both worlds.
  • Carbon road All new proprietary road platform spread across three models.
  • I-Drive 5 complete frame redesign that moves away from the “Flex bone” to a new forged I-Link as used on the ID 7. Also employs a modular drop out system.

That is all for now, 2008 marks a true return to form for GT Bicycles. With the introduction of the all new GT Zaskar carbon hardtail, Marathon, Force, Ultrabox 2 carbon BMX and GTR Series of carbon road bikes, GT have come a long way from the 2002 bankrupcy. To celebrate 20th year since introduction, GT also released a limited edition of GT Zaskar Re-Issue, in gloriously retro ball bearing burnished finish and decals to mimic the original Zaskar. In the pipeline, new GT Fury carbon downhill bike and Force carbon bikes are under development test by racers Bryn Atkinson, Jill Kintner and legend Hans Rey. Let's hope GT will continue and return once again to its glory days.

Article extracted from GT Bicycles Taiwan website & edited accordingly.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My First Win.

SUNDAY, 13 July 2008, THE STARS must have lined up for me as I have finally won a mountain bike race. Since my very first attempt at a mountain bike race in Chum Creek on board a 21" Shogun Metro hybrid bike (what was I thinking?) back in 1992, I have tried various forms of mountain bike racing from downhill to endurance events. Most of which had netted me mediocre results or a hefty hospital bill. So today's I think I was a bit lucky, as I originally had no intentions other than just get my fat arse out to have a bit of play in the woods, but everything fell to my favour. Winning today (albeit in D Grade) was a nice & a happy surprise - and to think I nearly didn't enter!

IT ALL STARTED on Saturday with an invitational ride with my trusty riding friend Kathryn to check out the Beaconsfield race course before deciding whether she would race next day or not. As usual, James was there as our tour guide. This track. GWS Scout Camp. Heavens. I have been here before, site of my first ever attempt at an enduro race. An ill-fated 6 hours race a few years ago with Damien, where I was decimated by the cold rain, mud, and debilitating cramps. So I knew this track was going to be a tough one, especially in the wet, but I was not going to miss a chance to ride after weeks of inactivity due to poor weather.

With four solid days of rain prior, slippery mud was expected. So my fully rigid GT Bravado was chosen as it does not have any suspension or gadgets whatsoever to wear out in the mud; plus it was already running Highrollers - the best tires for wet and changeable conditions. And because it was such a simple, basic bike, it would be an easier job to clean up afterwards too. Besides, I haven't ridden it for ages, so it makes a good change from the full suspension GT I-Drive I last rode in the Rockhop track at Beaconsfield.

So our ride started with James leading as usual, followed by me and Kat. The track was tight and technical with short but steep climbs, but it was the kind of track I liked. We stopped at a few drop- offs and sections with steep climb to help Kat out. James was doing the usual great job of mentoring her, while I stood back and gave her encouragement. If Kat was a student, she would be a star pupil for sheer determination in overcome difficult terrains. She won't give up until she has had a good crack at it, or until she literally run out of steam. I on the other hand was having a ball aboard my little GT. She was a real bone shaker but it was also quite a laugh riding it, getting back to basics: no suspension, no disc brakes - just charge and hang on real tight!! This little steel of a beast forced you not to get lazy with your line choices, or she'd slam dunk you face first into the bushes. We did two laps of the circuit together, with Kat getting much better on the second lap, nailing a steep drop off which she had trouble with a lap earlier. I liked the track a lot, so James and I went off and did another lap while Kat winded down to conserve energy for racing next day. In my lap with James, I only managed to keep James in sight for few minutes but soon he was gone. My lack of fitness was really telling.

WHEN THE RIDE ENDED, I recall saying something to Kat: "My friends talk the talk but don't walk the walk", a reference that a lot of them complained about not being invited to ride or race, but when the opportunity arise, all sorts of reasons and excuses come out of woodworks to avoid participation. So when Kat asked me if I was going to race on Sunday somehow I did the hypocrit thing and turned it down with some lame excuses. I was such a hypocrite!! As I was driving home, what I'd said was really bugging me. Although I knew my legs were done for, my head was saying "no more excuses - just go out and ride, who cares if it was race or not!" so when the forecast for Sunday was to be fine and sunny, I had to text Kat to let her know that I was going to race tomorrow. As it turned out, it wasn't too bad a decision after all....

SUNDAY, RACE DAY. Because I was too lazy to wash my bike after Saturday, and knowing that today would be wet still due to overnight shower, I took the little GT Bravado out again for today's race. It didn't worry me too much that I was the only guy with a fully rigid bike in the field, as I knew I can handle the track, but then again no body really said anything bad other than happy pleasantries, unlike the usual shit chatting you get at Anaconda series. People in club races were indeed nicer, as Kat correctly pointed out. James was a no show because he didn't agree with cost of the entry fee. I was surprised with that. Met Kat's sponsor Mick and Nick from Croydon Cycleworks, who are also the event sponsor. Top guys and I really liked their genuine enthusiasm. Race started at 10:30 but I deliberately didn't do much warm up before the race, as I was trying to save my already tired legs, but it was something that I would soon regret.

The race was divided into A, B, C & D grade, and knowing how unfit both Kat and I were, we both entered D grade. Didn't bother me since I just wanted to ride for the fun of it and use the race as a training session for Anaconda series at end of this month. Our race started after riders from other grades had departed. I was planning to follow Kat for a bit and see how things would pan out, but Kat had other ideas. Flag dropped and she was off!! She got a hole shot on me to sit second behind Jane Ollerenshaw, an Australian MTB legend and current cycling coach from Fat Tyre Flyers. Hmmmm. I had better get going. The other guys in D grade seem to be content watching the ladies battle it out in front of them. Hmmmmmmmm. Saw a gap and squeezed by Kat on the uphill fire road climb and sat behind Jane up the first big single track climb, exchanged a some pleasantry talking about a squeaky mouse (why? I don't know why!) then she decided to let me by. At that point, I realised that I might just be able to win this, if I stepped up my effort, as the other guys were still behind the female pack at the start of the single track climb. More hmmmmmmmm. Luckily it was all downhill after overtaking Jane, as my legs were finished then from the not being warmed up. Right there and then I felt like puking my breakfast out and had a knot in my stomach - I knew I was going too hard. Anyway, I took a big of risk charging the downhill sections and managed to build up a nice gap from the rest of the chasing group while I tried to catch my breath again. The race was turning out to my favour as long as I can kept this pace up and not blow up or do anything dumb.

The track was a lot greasier than Saturday, making all the off camber & technical section a much more trickier prospect, so extra caution were taken when traversing over logs and rocks, as they would be lethal for I had no luxury of a suspension fork to cushion over them. Nonetheless, the little GT never missed a beat. She was light & fantastic. Danced up the climbs, and bounced (in a jack-hammering kinda way) along nicely down the hills. The short 41" wheel base was neat & tidy for those tight turns and with those super grippy Highrollers tyres below me, I knew unless I got lazy, I'd stay upright no matter how slippery things were. Still, mistakes were made, trees were glanced a few times from to lack of concentration, but nothing major enough to end my race.

At end of lap one, I saw Nick from Croydon Cycleworks who was on side of track, egging me on. It was nice to have someone cheering for you when you are alone all by yourself. Then I caught up with my new friend Alex on the Diamondback Axis - an even older bike than my GT, but tried as I might, I couldn't catch him. I was really redlining my body there and then so I really had to back off a bit, even though I didn't want to. So a small change in strategy. Second lap was to be a steady lap maintaining momentum, rather than hard charging as in lap one. Much to my surprise, the time difference between kamikaze style of lap one vs. using your brain on lap two was only one minute slower. Food for thought. Briefly saw Kat again but I was too knackered to acknowledge her presence. A few drifts here and there was all I could remember for otherwise a steady but uneventful lap. No, hang on. I think I hit a tree somewhere again because I forgot to turn. Ouch. I think Nick saw that one. As I crossed the start / finish line at end of second lap to slowly grind my way uphill for lap three, the race announcer yelled at me to come back - I had completed my race. I wasn't sure if I had won or not as there were already a couple of other riders there waiting in sweat, so maybe I came second or third. Nonetheless, I was glad that I took part on this race event. It was fun and I loved it. I was happier later when Mick from Croydon Cycleworks told me I had won the race. Woah.

Thanks to my friend Kat for inviting me out for the ride, without her, none of this would have happened and I'd just be doing boring laps at Lysterfield. Also to Mick & Nick and Scout camp owner for organising this event. A big hug to my little GT Bravado, I can't believe she'd become the bike to take me to my first ever victory - sans suspension and all! You deserved a full wash down today, well done.

As someone said, once you get a taste of victory, you will want more. Looks like I'll be doing more racing in the future. The little medal makes me happy and the prize of a brand new Maxxis UST tire was a real bonus. A happy day.