From VeloNews Vol 23, No 4, Early April 1994:
Editorial: A bike company with a heart passes on
As you will read on page 14 of this VeloNews, we're losing Bridgestone
as a bike company in the United States. It will quit selling bikes
for pure business reasons. But, of the bike outfits big enough to
operate outside some niche wherein idiosyncrasy serves as a sales
tool, Bridgestone Cycle (USA) conspicuously never did things for
business reasons. Bridgestone operated on human reasons.
Those who knew the Bridgestone people will feel the loss deeply. We
suspect the company's dealers and enthusiasts across the country will
feel the same way. We worry about what they'll do next, and hope they
stay in the bike business, where we need them desperately. We wonder
if they'll ever again make the humanizing impact on so many people as
they did at Bridgestone.
And we'll remember that, these last few years, Bridgestone bikes, ads
and people shone as a beacon to remind us what cycling is all about
--- lest in the bewildering din of commerce, hype and personal
drivenness, we might forget.
Bridgestone sold bikes but reminded us that it was always the
experience that mattered, not the products. The company never offered
bikes that would draw crowds, bikes you'd buy with the intent to
impress, bikes that offered flash and "features," rather than function
and value. A Bridgestone ad might focus with pride and wonder on a
single item --- a fork crown, maybe, that most bike shoppers would
never notice --- an item that Bridgestone types would quitely
appreciate as an example of the company's pursuit of perfection in the
A list of Bridgestone's favorite adjectives would include: solid,
serviceable, wool, versatile, steel, environmentally harmless. Its ad
models were always actual cyclists, people you could ride with:
Pineapple Bob, Pineapple Karen. Bridgestone ads and catalogue copy
understated everything. In an era of Mountain Bike Action-style rad,
thrashin' hyperbole, Bridgestone slogans sound almost bashful: "We
make bikes you are sure to like," and "Thrilling to ride, pleasing to
Bridgestone ads and catalogues resisted the industry's rampant bike
categorization. Other companies want to sell you specific bikes for
every imaginable purpose; Bridgestone told you you could tour without
a touring bike, that every bike was multi-purpose.
Most companies want you to lust for the latest, to believe in the
inevitable obsolescence. Bridgestone was a notable exception, the
"retro-grouch" outfit that honored old stuff, that wouldn't let
suppliers dictate equipment choices, wouldn't spec th latest whizbang
widget if its only benefit was salability.
Bridgestone stubbornly swam against the current, following its better
judgment, its more human, more seasoned-bikie judgment. It never
tried to sell you that first giddy week with your new "super-bike."
They offered bikes you would live with for years, bikes that'd work
and work with you, making you perhaps a better, happier, more
adventurous bike rider.
Rider, not merely owner. Rider. Bridgestone promoted cycling
whatever you rode. The company continued to care what happened to
Bridgestone buyers after the "deal" was done --- when rubber met road.
It instituted a club for its owners and fanciers, offering members
hard-to-get items --- some merely rare, some rare and desirable ---
through the club newsletter. That newsletter, like the wonderful
annual catalogue, showcased terrific technical and philosophical
essays by some of our most provocative writers.
Some of Bridgestone's ad messages did not promote its bicycles. The
company liked to remind us that, here and there in the world, folks
make do with less than they need in the way of material goods,
including transportation tools.
Some of those people, more than a few really, do not have a new
16-valve Honda Civic and three bicycles. They may never own a set of
suspension forks. We, who have more than we need, should think of
those people now and again, how we might be able to lend a hand; but
we're busy, we have full lives.
Bridgestone used to buy occasional, expensive ads to remind us about
those materially less fortunate people. THe company would offer to
help us help them, to make it easy to do --- so our lives wouldn't get
fuller, only our hearts.
Farewell, men and women of Bridgestone. As with our sport, your
company had a heart. We regret its passing, yet hope that its spirit
can be injected into other companies througout the bicycle industry.
Bridgestone to close in September
The announcement came from company president Tad Kodama at a Monday
morning staff meeting on February 28, and the directive, mandated from
corporate headquarters in Japan, would take effect September 30. That
day the doors would close permanently at Bridgestone Cycle (USA). The
result: 23 full-time employees would be out of work, 500 dealers would
be looking for a new supplier, and an untold number of U.S.
Bridgestone consumers would ponder the loss fo a company that took
pride in offering hype-less bikes.
One week after the announcement, marketing director Grant Petersen,
who had been with the company (some in the industry viewed him as the
comapny) for nearly a decade, was witty if not upbeat. "I'm in a
healthy frame of mind," he said. The company's closure, Petersen
said, is due to international currency exchange rates. "The fact is,
if the dollar was strong, we would be doing quite well," he noted.
"There isn't anyone to blame... it's just the way it is. This sounds
like a regurgitated answer, but it really is related to the weakness
of the dollar to the yen.
"We liked to build bikes that we and our friends would ride... You
can't go to war with the giants of the industry --- and that's a lower
case "g" --- and use the same weapons."
Had there been earlier indicators of Bridgestone Japan's concern over
the financial situation of its U.S. company? "Inklings? Yeah,"
Petersen said. "Our first real year was 1984, and in the middle of
'85 the bottom fell out of the dollar and that made it very
difficult." Eleven years ago a U.S. dollar would purchase 230 yen;
today that buck buys only 105 yen.
On the heels of quickly circulating news within the industry of
Bridgestone's demise were the speculative scenarios on how the company
could save itself. One idea was for Bridgestone employees to license
the name from the Japanese, much as Dash America licensed the Pearl
Izumi name when that apparel was initially pulled from the U.S. market
"We would all be happy to do that," Ptersen said. "If there were a
way to keep the name around, we would jump on it. Individually and
collectively, the employees don't have the money to make that happen."
Petersen also had positive news for current Bridgestone fans: A new
company will be established to handle warranties for existing
Bridgestone owners; the distribution and sale of 1994 models will
continue; and publication of the BOB Gazette will be ongoing.
--- Tim Johnson