Without a doubt it’s been something of a rollercoaster of a year, or even longer, for Swiss cycling and the Swiss bike business in general, and perhaps the biggest winner and loser in all of this has been bike manufacturer BMC and the team behind it.
The BMC brand has been around for 20 years now, although it’s only been at the top end of road bike production and pro team sponsorship for 4 years. The company started out as a bike assembly and distribution business, started by a Briton in 1986. In 1995 they started their own production, with a focus on high-end mountain bikes; but it wasn’t until 2001 that they made their first serious foray into the high-end road market, a market that now accounts for 55% of the company’s sales.
The big turn around and change in direction that has taken BMC to the forefront of bike design and manufacturing largely came down to the enthusiasm of one man – Andy Reis. This is a name that you’ve probably heard a few times recently, in relation to the Landis affair. Reis is a wealthy, bike crazy Swiss businessman and owner of Phonak Hearing Systems. Reis’s passion for bike racing and bikes firstly lead him to the acquisition of BMC, and then to forming the ill-fated Phonak cycling team, where he was able to mix business with pleasure and propel the small bike building company to the technological forefront.
The whole Phonak cycling story has been something of a fairytale turned nightmare, which has made a serious dent in Reis’s enthusiasm for the sport. The Phonak and BMC venture started in 2002 and matured rapidly. It’s hard to forget the gutsy rides of Tyler Hamilton in the Tour and his Olympic crowning moment in Athens 2004, when he took the BMC TT01 Time Machine to perhaps its greatest victory. But then it all started to go bad, when Hamilton and Santos Gonzales became entangled in doping affairs, as did Phonak rider and ex World Champ Oscar Camenzind. Seemingly the writing was on the wall for the team. But Reis was having none of it, and invested hugely in cleaning things up and pushing the team forward into 2005, and then signed Floyd Landis to lead the Phonak offensive in the 2006 Tour de France.
It had been a long time since Swiss bikes had reached any level in the Tour. You have to delve way hack to the old Cilo team of the early 80’s, when Beat Breu took them to great success – until this year that was. It was a tense week in late July at the Grenchen HQ of BMC; the race was beamed in live and the company staff were on a high as Landis took the lead. The mood soured some after he suffered his big time loss. But at least they could console themselves with the knowledge that the Team and Time Machines had been pushed to their limits and performed well. Then of course the amazing comeback day turned everything around, and BMC staff drove 10 hours through the night to Paris to hand over a brand new Time Machine and special yellow bike for Landis to ride on the final stage. The rest, as they say, is history. The TT01 has only been ridden once, and stands on display at the factory, while the ill-fated yellow Team bike still sits in a bike bag in an upstairs stock room.
The company had also just prepared to launch a series of yellow Landis bikes, which needless to say never hit the stands of the dealers. The whole situation was a great blow to everyone involved. Luckily it has not dented BMC’s reputation as one of the most innovative bike manufacturers around, and Reis has remained committed to BMC, despite pulling the plug on the Phonak team. There is no doubt these are still very desirable bikes, and this year BMC will be the steed of choice for Vinokourov’s Astana team.
The Swiss HQ of BMC is a surprisingly small and efficient set up, which is mainly due to the fact that just about all of their manufacturing takes place in Taiwan, as it does with so many manufacturers. The Grenchen base is primarily a design, assembly and distribution centre.
This attention to design and development detail is at the core of BMC’s philosophy, and show’s through heavily in their product, which is some of the most distinctive and innovative in the business. The company has won endless industry awards for innovation, as well as the prestigious German rd award for design, which awarded for innovative design concepts – not just in the bike industry.
The cutting edge design and development work that takes place here leads to some of the most innovative carbon fibre products in the market place. Although ultimately produced in the Far East (apart from the TT01), they are initially designed and prototypes are built just 20 kilometres away by specialist carbon fibre company Futec, who work heavily in the F1 and aircraft industry, and you can be sure that with the management’s ongoing commitment and enthusiasm for the sport that this fast moving development process is set to continue.
The Time Machine
The BMC TT01 Time Machine is without doubt one of the most innovative and impressive bikes on the face of the planet, and possibly the fastest time trial bike currently available.
It was in 2002 that BMC set out to design and build the fastest time trial bike in the world. By the end of the year they submitted design proposals to the UCI. These designs focussed around a one-piece integral fork and steering set up, integral seat post and disc brakes.
Needless to say it took some negotiating with the UCI, and the disc brakes were dropped, and by December 2003 the final drawings were in place, and BMC started work for the 2004 Tour de France.
By March 04 the first prototype emerged, and following more tests the company set about producing 6 custom bikes for the Tour, bikes which got their first outing just days before the race, and made their first appearance in the prologue.
Since then the bike has progressed even more, to the level of the Landis machine that appeared in the Tour this year. It has become one of the most desirable bikes out there, and following numerous requests to buy these bikes, BMC has set up a custom production option.