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  • Writer's pictureMo Awesome

YT and Canyon Made Buying Bikes Online Cool. Fezzari and Propain Made it Sustainable

As someone who spent a pretty significant amount of time in their 20’s working in bike shops, I remember the direct to consumer boom clearly. The typical avenue to purchase your mountain bike had been a standard bike shop. You would find a shop that fit the vibe you were looking for and they would have product on the floor for you to browse. If they didn’t have your size or a specific model you were looking for, they would make a special order, normally with some form of a deposit, and the waiting game would begin. As soon as the bike arrived they would build your bike up and get it tuned to your exact needs. Upon pickup, they would help you set up the bike and answer any of your follow up questions. Your local bike shop would also be your connection to the brand itself, fulfilling warranty claims and assisting with any recalls. Then YT came along and things got weird.

I remember when the YT bikes craze first happened in the US and hearing about their bikes as well as their new models. It seemed like I was seeing them everywhere, and now looking back at it and understanding how the bike industry works, I realize it was a very aggressive marketing campaign. It seemed like everyone had heard about the bikes, but no one really had seen them on the trails yet. These bikes were supposed to be just as good as what we were selling in bike shops but for thousands of dollars off.

Instantly the talk amongst shop employees became about how ridiculous direct to consumer was and how we were going to now have to help service bikes that people weren’t going to buy from us. This was going to be the death of the local bike shop and possibly the end to all of our in person sales careers. Then they started popping up in person and things got worse. The bikes actually looked rad and had this very core look to them. We as bike shop employees were seemingly in trouble.

Things got even worse when Canyon began really making their US push following YT’s footsteps. It seemed like you couldn’t escape either of these brands marketing campaigns no matter where you went. Canyon seemed to be going for a little more of a posh style look, while YT kept things seemingly rock and roll. Both of these brands started to become more prominent on the trails and it seemed like they were growing very rapidly, with big HQ setups being opened in Southern California, somewhere where retail space definitely isn’t cheap.

So if things had went this smoothly for both YT and Canyon, the story should end happily correct? Afterall, if 2 brands with a business model of creating high end bikes while changing the way they are sold to decrease the costs are growing so rapidly, they should have taken over the market correct? Well turns out going all in and focusing on growing as big as possible in the quickest amount of time comes with its own logistical nightmares. These nightmares have already been addressed by traditional bike shop brands.

Issues with warranties and replacement parts began to plague both of these brands for good periods of times, almost crippling the marketing hype they had created. It seemed at one point, everyone knew someone waiting for a replacement something from either of them, something that is an easy fix traditionally at your local bike shop. I still remember when a part on my first real mountain bike, the Kona Mahuna, broke and The Path Bike Shop let me borrow one of their rental bikes as they normally do with repair services, to make sure I didn’t miss out on any riding. That is what makes a local bike shop so special.

Also it seemed as if issues with who was going to be fulfilling warranty requests started to ensue at both of these brands. The aggressive marketing techniques combined with being the first to really disrupt the market didn’t help win favors with local bike shops, and shops were reluctant to work on them. Another issue started to arise during the bike boom and all of the rapid growth that followed. It was at this time that these 2 companies began to lose their soul, with outside hires of non-traditional bike industry corporate executives being brought in to a sport that requires passion to thrive in. Fast forward to today when that bubble has burst, the lack of soul and passion can be smelled a mile away. YT’s founder being brought back in to help try and restore that stoke that first helped launch this brand within the US seemingly confirms this. Canyon is still trying to find the vowels they lost in the CLCTV

Now is direct to consumer a bad business model? Not at all, and I think if you look at where the industry is going with more brands seemingly wanting to give it a try it seems like it’s here to stay. And this is where Propain Bikes and Fezzari Bicycles comes in.

Unlike YT and Canyon, Fezzari and Propain both seem to have taken a little bit of a back seat initially, learning from the initial struggles of YT and Canyon in the US market, while making sure they don’t repeat some of those mistakes. Fezzari actually has been around for quite sometime too, but unlike YT and Canyon, have taken a much more long game strategy when it comes to what they are trying to accomplish. Slow and steady growth has been crucial to them, with an emphasis on the steady part. The same can be said for Propain as well.

In regards to Fezzari, I recently had a chance to ride for them for 2 years and got a good look under the hood of their operations. What struck me as different was how efficient the company is ran. The founder, Chris Washburn, is still the man in charge running day to day operations, something I think is crucial to a company’s success in the bike industry. Passion sells bikes and his vision for starting the company is still the ethos they run the company with. They don’t have any crazy corporate executive they poached from some shoe brand, everyone at the company is passionate about bikes. They also realized the goal isn’t to just sell someone a bike. Afterall, if that person ends up with a horrible warranty experience, you lose that customer forever. So they were one of the first direct to consumer brands to really dial things in on the logistical front and make sure you felt taken care of, just as you would through your local bike shop. And I would argue, in my opinion, they have the most professional direct to consumer business model in the bike industry backing bikes that ride great!

As for Propain? They are a bit new to the US market, but have executed things perfectly. First off, the person launching them in the US wasn’t some corporate CEO from an industry that couldn’t care less about mountain bikers. It was actually a guy named Victor Sandrin, who is also the man responsible for bringing IXS and Spank to the US market. Vic is very passionate about bikes and the sport of mountain biking as a whole, and that passion, as well as care shows in how effective they have been growing Propain here in such a small time period. The athletes they work with also aren’t just insanely talented, but are heavily involved in the community, like Ryan Radriguez, everyones favorite free rider. Logistically, they seem to also be taking their time growing rather than expanding rapidly and not being able to take care of their customers, which in my opinion is what handicapped YT and Canyon.

So how do you disrupt a market and grow a successful business? Well, it looks like you have to have a solid product backed with amazing customer service and a strong marketing push. This isn’t a pick two of three game either. Missing one of these qualities will handicap you and bring all of your growth to a halt. And if that happens? Well, you probably are going to be spending a bit of time looking for your vowels while waiting for the quality missing from your business to catch up.

-Mo Awesome


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