Should you buy a bike from a boutique brand? This is a total opinion piece that may ruffle some feathers. So tread lightly and take it with a grain of salt. In my eyes the answer to this is simple. I personally want to support the small team of real mountain bikers who are passionately working to create the amazing bikes they dream of. I am NOT trying to give my money to the huge team of people trying to pump out all kinds of bikes by the tens-of-thousands with the aim of hitting their quarterly financial goals.
I am an unapologetic mountain biker and a bike snob, there is no question about that. To me, it’s not just about the bike but also the people, the passion and the focus that are all behind the bike. It’s about supporting the brands that I feel deserve the support whether their bike is the best or not. Luckily, just about all of these boutique bike brands are creating bikes equal to or significantly better than the giant competitors they stand next to.
Yeti SB4.5c Custom Build
The small teams of people that make up boutique brands like Yeti, Evil, Transition etc. are all actual mountain bikers. They are passionate, caring and focusing on just mountain bikes and building the best ones on earth. Sure, there must be some real and passionate riders within the ranks of the hundreds of employees over at Trek, Specialized, Giant etc. But those big box brands are merely sprinkled with passionate riders and their focus is mass production and mass market. That is just such a different mentality from a small boutique brand.
You can relate this to the automotive industry pretty well. Yes, Nissan makes a cool supercar and Lexus makes a cool supercar, but Nissan and Lexus are not solely in the business of building supercars. Their main focus is on the average commuter who is looking for good mileage and reliability — not superior handling or speed.
Transition Smuggler Custom Build
Nissan and Lexus just make a few supercars to keep their names in the news. And sure these cars are very cool and perform amazingly well. But the primary money-makers and focus of these companies are medium-sized, practical cars — just like bikes built by big name brands in the bicycle industry. They’re reliable, but they are not exciting. They were not created with the same passion and they certainly weren't the entire focus of the company like you'd see in a boutique bike brand.
Big box brands are trying to stock the shelves with anything they can make a margin on and anything they can sell. Trek bikes are covered in their house brand, Bontrager. And it doesn’t end there. Have you been to a Trek store? Happen to see some Bontrager apparel? Bontrager water bottles? Bontrager tire levers? Tubes? CO2 cartridges? It never ends! All the big guys are doing that. They also make kid’s bikes, beach cruisers, commuter bikes, road bikes, dirt cheap entry level mountain bikes etc. I don’t mean to sound like a hater here. I admire the amazing businesses Trek, Specialized and all the other big dogs have built. Their products are great and for the most part they are doing great things keeping human beings on nice bicycles and enjoying the sport. But that isn’t the point here. The point is if you are going to drop some serious money on a high end mountain bike specifically, I think you should support the small, boutique, passionate and rider filled brands. They are the ones that deserve your dollars when you are in the market for a phenomenal mountain bike that costs well beyond a couple thousand dollars.
Evil The Wreckoning
If you are in the market for a kids’ bike, commuter bike, beach cruiser or a mountain bike under $2,000, then you’d be wise to go with a big box brand and will no doubt get the most value there. The big brands have done an incredible job at what they focus on: the mass market. And the boutique brands have done an incredible job at what they focus on: the high end niche market. It seems rational to me then to go with the brand that fits your taste and budget. If you are looking for a mass market style bike, then go with a big name brand. If you are looking for an amazing, state-of-the-art mountain bike, go with a boutique brand.
A Yeti may not be light years better than a big name brand’s top shelf bike. We certainly think it’s going to be far better, but maybe not an “Oh my God, this is UNREAL!” difference. Sure, the quality is definitely better and the ride is more fun, but the difference may not be huge. If we told you it was, we'd be blowing smoke. Top shelf mountain bikes from small brands like Yeti, Evil, Transition and Pivot are amazing. But the top shelf bikes from Trek and Specialized are pretty damn amazing, too. You may favor the progressive geometry or suspension platforms from small brands, but at the end of the day it’s not just about the bike here. It’s about the people behind the bike. Did I say that already?
Devinci Troy 29" Custom Build
So if you’re going to buy a high end mountain bike, by all means SUPPORT THE GUYS WHO RIDE THE BIKES! Support the small team of people with passion and focus on high end mountain bikes and nothing else.
The strategies and focuses of these brands are night and day different, and that is something you should definitely consider before you purchase a bike over a few thousand dollars.
Because not only are you going to get a better, higher quality machine — you’re also going to be supporting the kind of people that you genuinely should be supporting. People like you. People you can relate to. People that love to ride the best mountain bikes on the planet.
Transition Smuggler Alloy Custom Build
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