It’s weird how thoughts can be triggered and once those thoughts are started, you really can’t get it off your mind. This morning when I hopped on the computer to get the day started, one of the first pieces of news I came across was that GT Bicycles added Albert Mercado, Dan Conway and Jeff With Glasses to their team. Now, initially it triggered this thought “Man, GT have been really taking steps in the right direction”, but that really just scratched the surface because then it lead to a more in-depth thought which was that GT Bicycles have really stepped their game up since they brought Ben Ward on board. Ben has been making the necessary changes to the team, product and overall image of the brand to really get people looking at GT as a freestyle BMX brand that is putting in some actual effort versus just producing bikes with no real image beside affordability. That lead to the thought of how Haro have really revived their reputation since John Buutljens was put in charge over there.
When you work in the BMX industry, you will undoubtably hear that BMX goes in full circle where trends will come and go, to return later down the road in a more refined (or possibly worse) way. We’ve seen a lot of brands come and go and we’ve also seen the reputations of brands and riders go from high to low or the other way around. In an industry that relies so much on trends and reputations, it’s no wonder that people in power have to walk a thin line to ensure that things continue forward in a positive way. You have one bad falling out in public, like when Stranger added Adam LZ and most of the team quit, or a product that completely flops, you can expect to see that snowball into a shit storm because social media thrives on drama and things that push the buttons of ethics and morals.
It’s funny how a few changes can lead to some pretty amazing things, though. Now, you probably wouldn’t notice it unless you really pay attention but it’s pretty obvious that since John Buultjens has taken the reigns at Haro, the team has become incredibly stacked and the products and brand have received a much higher approval rating than it did in years past. It went from a brand that was associated with this mass production that wasn’t really one of the “core” brands, nor did it seem to really care what these core riders cared about because Haro’s target was more toward entry level riders scooping bikes up through bike shops. I specifically remember a time when a kid showed up at the skatepark on a new Premium frame that he was really stoked on, until somebody pointed out that Premium was a sub-brand of Haro and that he was essentially riding a Haro. It was really weird because there really wasn’t anything wrong with the product, it was just that the association with Haro wasn’t exactly a badge of honor, and that bummed the kid out.
Haro released this sneak preview of the Chad Kerley signature CK frame that is in the works.
Once John took over, he put a lot of emphasis on the retro, old school roots of Haro which a lot of people were kind of wondering what the hell he was thinking. Why would anyone be stoked on a bunch of retro bikes beside these “old guys” who are far beyond this “target market” range of 13-18 year olds? Sure, it might have been something that was geared toward going against the current trends in BMX and paying homage to the history of the brand to shake things up a bit, but that was just part of why it was done. In our opinion, John was reviving the old reputation of Haro. That reputation that it was a core BMX brand that had a history of supporting some of the best BMX riders in the world, pushing those riders to show the world that BMX is a legitimate sport to the riders and the masses. They stacked the deck with riders that kids idolized and the older guys respected because they were riders that absolutely crushed it. Haro had DMC, Mat Hoffman, Mike Dominguez to name a few back in the day, which followed up with the crazy Mirra and Nyquist days that put the brand in front of damn near every kid. That followed up with a bit of a quiet period. Mirra left, they really weren’t doing anything innovative beside moving product, Premium was introduced but, in my opinion, never really gained that quality after market reputation because it was attached to Haro. It was in a bit of a rut that was holding the brand down from it’s previous history. That’s what lead to the shake up that lead to John being hired and it’s safe to say they’ve done a good job of reviving the brand to some of its core values. They put Dennis Enarson, Chad Kerley, Tyler Fernengel, Jason Watts and Mike Gray on the team, along with the legends Ryan Nyquist and Dennis McCoy still holding it down like they have for years. Mix in that team with some more appealing quality product and a much more appealing image than they had in past years and it’s easy to see the changes that have been happening that helped alleviate that rut the brand was in.
Preview of the new 4-piece bars that GT are bringing back based off their originals that started the 4-piece bar back in the day.
It’s a similar story for GT Bicycles. Over the last decade, GT kind of faded out of the freestyle side, sticking to their guns in the racing side of this sport of ours. Sure, they made some complete bikes and kind of dabbled in the freestyle stuff with guys like Jeremiah Smith kind of holding it down for them for a while, but there was never really much of a push to be innovative in the product department. At the end of the day, it was just this corporate brand that was going through the motions to keep the cash flow going.
I specifically remember the exact moment that I felt GT would be making some real moves to come back alive like it was in the past, though. It was at Interbike 2014, somewhere between the convention center and the hotel that I bumped into Ben Ward who had been kind of laying low after parting ways with Fit Bike Co., and Odyssey a few years prior to that. Ben had mentioned that he had just taken a new gig with GT and would be handling design work for them, along with their freestyle side of things. He didn’t say much at the time, but it was obvious that Ben would be putting a lot of work in his BMX role at the brand.
Immediately we saw a few shake ups with the team that ultimately lead to Brian Kachinsky, Rob Wise and Jason Phelan holding things down for the brand with Jeremiah Smith parting ways back in December. We started catching some sneak previews of some of their new products that Ben was working on, too. Then we got a look at a good chunk of new product at their Interbike 2015 booth, along with Ben filling us in on a few things he has been working on that wouldn’t be available for a little while. Now, today they announced that they have added Albert Mercado, Dan Conway and Jeff with Glasses to their squad, which is a pretty interesting combination of riders that we never expected to see representing the brand. But, it’s some new enthusiasm that the brand really needed to get some peoples attention again. It might not be on the level that Haro has went with, but seeing those changes are really good considering that a few years ago it seemed like GT didn’t really care to put much into the freestyle side of BMX.
Albert Mercado with his new GT Bicycles setup.
The next piece of the puzzle is seeing what Ben has been working on as far as the product development goes. What you might not realize is that it can take about two years before you can really see changes take effect because production and development of products is not a quick process, especially when a large brand like GT are working a few years ahead of what’s currently “new” and just becoming available. It might be 2016, but I guarantee there’s plenty of talk about 2018 at GT. These changes and new efforts being made can completely change the image and reputation that riders can have for a brand drastically.
The classic Pool tire from GT revitalized with the new energy from the brand.
So, now that I’ve managed to ramble on and on about two of BMX’s more iconic brands that have been making some key changes to revive their images, all because of some sponsorship news that popped up today. I should probably try and wrap this up and get to the point. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s pretty awesome seeing what can be done when the right people are given the reigns to put a brand back on track. Am I saying that we’ll be seeing Haro and GT taking BMX back over like they did in the past? No, and I don’t think that’s their goal. I don’t think they’re trying to compete with brands like Cult, Kink, Wethepeople or Subrosa, but I do think they’re trying to be a little more involved and current with the freestyle aspect of BMX than they previously had been in years past and that’s important. As much as BMX appears to reject this “corporate” side of the industry, it’s still important to have these brands involved because they do a really good job of reaching beyond the small core BMX community, which is important to draw in more riders and sponsorship dollars that this industry does need to keep the wheels turning. I guess what I’m getting at is that I appreciate that these classic brands still care enough to do things the right way versus what might generate the most revenue and I think that’s important to a lot of other riders, too.
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