It’s a labor of love.
So says Brendan Quirk, CEO and co-founder of Competitive Cyclist, of his company’s purchase of titanium bike company Merlin Metalworks.
The online retailer recently bought the brand from American Bicycle Group (ABG), the longtime parent company of Litespeed, another brand that made a name for itself with the lightweight metal.
In a world dominated by carbon fiber, Quirk makes no bones about his reasoning to invest in titanium.
“This business decision was heavily influenced by the personal side of things,” Quirk said. “Merlin was the brand that I was in love with when I was trying my hardest as a bike racer. In the late ’90s the best bike the world was Merlin. I have always had that floating around in the back of my mind.”
Emotions aside, Quirk said he believes that there is a place in the current-day marketplace for a titanium road frame.
“Carbon is an amazing material. It does a lot of things very well,” Quirk said. “But there is something fantastic about the ride quality of ti.”
Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Competitive Cyclist has carved out a niche for itself on the high-end of retail, combining the convenience of online shopping with the customer service of a good local bike shop. (Case in point: Competitive Cyclist has a 60-day return policy that includes all clothing.) The company has a fairly unique perspective on the mid- to top end of the road market.
“There has been an escalation of price on many bikes,” Quirk said. “The question for me is: where has the really well made but not cost-prohibitive titanium frame gone? Outside of the less-costly models from Moots — a brand which I have a lot of respect for — there really isn’t any option.”
The purchase of a bike brand by a retailer is also a fairly unique situation in the United States. Although some larger retailers secure exclusive distribution agreements with certain brands, the outright purchase of a brand by a shop is relatively unheard of.
Quirk said Competitive Cyclist’s goal with Merlin, a brand once known for its independent spirit and quality craftsmanship, is to recreate “Merlin’s magic in a modern way, and create a really attractive options that honor the pedigree.”
“We are not trying to take over the world with this brand,” he said. “But this is a special, important niche that we want to participate in. Rob Vandermarck, in my mind, is one of the 10 most important people in the bike world. He was such a pioneer. The integrity and the intelligence that he brought to that brand is what we want to tap into. I don’t think anybody involved in the original Merlin got rich. It was a group of dedicated people focused on making fabulous bikes.”
As part of the sale, ABG will retain the rights to manufacture and sell Merlin into Asia Markets through 2012.