Mountain Biking UK’s Mike Davis reckons mountain boarding – aka All Terrain Boarding, ATBing for short – has limited appeal:
“You can’t do much with ‘em unless you’ve got a big grassy hillside to hand. And then you have to walk back up it. Looks like fun, but I don’t think it’s going to be massive.”
Voters on the BikeBiz.co.uk poll agree, 82 percent said mountain boarding would turn out to be ‘a flash in the pan’, not the Next Big Thing.
However, Evan Lipstein, 38, president of Hyline and Mongoose All-Terrain Boards of America, begs to differ. He’s been championing mountain boarding’s potential for eight years.
“My professional training in business was originally in real estate but I have had a passion for board sports throughout my life. I started snowboarding in 1981 and have always gravitated towards alpine sports and wheel sports. In 1994 I heard about some guys in Colorado who had invented a board designed to ride on grass and dirt as well as tarmac and I was very excited to purchase one. I explained my background, and burning desire to ride boards of all varieties. “I told Jason Lee, one of the innovators, that I had financial connections in New York and some money of my own. I offered to write a business plan for this idea and offered free consulting to turn this phenomenal idea and product into a full blown business.”
This become MountainBoard Sports, one of the original mountain board companies. However, mountain boarding wasn’t started in one place by one set of innovators, it evolved simultaneously across America.
The first commercial mountain board designs fuelled interest in the category, and similar to the emergence of mountain biking in California in the 1980s, garage brands grew into micro-corporations.
In 1996 Lipstein pumped seed capital into MountainBoardSports, owning 27.5 percent of the company. For two years he served as the company’s director of PR, intellectual property rights, risk management and international sales. However, following ‘differences’ with his two partners he formed his own company staffed by ex-MBS employees. This company was Hyline and it delivered its first boards in 1998.
Hyline boards were offered at more competitive prices than MBS boards and came with accessories such as foot bindings, a leg leash, maintenance tool and an instructional video.
“Hyline was doing well but we knew that the brand was virtually unknown,” Lipstein told Bikebiz.co.uk.
“I had spent three years of my life building brand equity in [MBS], a brand that I now had to compete against, so we needed to do something to jump-start our business. I started speaking to major snowboard companies such as Burton, Sims, and K2.
“While many were interested, none were motivated enough to get involved. So I went after bicycle companies, including Cannondale and GT.
“When we had no luck there I decided to pursue the BMX makers, after all they ride on dirt tracks, we ride on dirt tracks. BMX customers shared many synergies in age and other related demographics. The first company I called was Mongoose who had had a strong name in BMX since I was a kid and I knew that their distribution network was vast. They were interested to work with us as they liked our category and believed in us, so we entered into a licensing agreement in 1999.”
With a major bike brand now fuelling interest in the sport, Lipstein believes mountain boarding is getting ready to grow rapidly.
“We want controlled growth and not out of control growth that can turn trends that develop over a sustained period into overnight sensations fads like the mini-scooter craze of 2000.
“Our business has grown at roughly 70 percent per year. The industry on the whole has grown at roughly the same rate.”
Lipstein estimates that 25 000 boards were sold in 2001 but that his company alone will sell 20 000 boards in 2002. This is because of the introduction of a $100 entry-level board for the mass market.
“Until now our sales have been through the smaller independent mom and pop board shops and bike shops dealing in snowboards, skateboards, surfboards, wakeboards, as well as mountain bikes. Our migration into the major chain stores will enable us to reach more potential riders through broader channels of trade and help propagate the sport and proliferate it amongst the millions of action sports participants.”
This will turn newcomers into enthusiasts, who will migrate to more expensive boards sold in specialist outlets, said Lipstein.
“The sport is poised to explode and we intend to be on the leading edge of the explosion. We’re taking steps to address the markets needs and develop [Mongoose] boards suited for entry level riders all the way to pro models offered under our Hyline brand.”
But where will the growth come from? Mountain bikes have the advantage you can pedal them to the top of a hill. Mountain boards seem to be at a disadvantage on that count but Lipstein believes the category can grow, even away from ski resorts with summer tow-pulls.
“While mountain boards can be pushed up a hill they are intended for downhill use mostly. We are not trying to take the place of mountain bikes. Mountain biking is a totally different sport although related to ours in terms of the terrain that we can ride on.
“We view our sports as the [no snow] alternative to snowboarding, the dryland alternative to surfing and wakeboarding, and the off road alternative to skateboarding.
“It is a different sport, hiking is a part of it and it can be a drag but it is definitely part of the sport.
“Ski resorts and other areas that have lifts can benefit from using mountain boards as we can offer them an activity that can be done whenever there is no snow covered slopes (in many areas this is 270 out of 365 days per year). “We benefit from the lifts and have detailed resort programmes in place to help us market to the resorts. Mountain bikers are our partners in this. We try to convince the resorts that they can attract board riders and mountain bikers simultaneously by offering lift service in the off seasons.”
Do IBDs have competitive advantages over existing board sport shops?
“Bike shops have greater expertise in wheel sports products with maintenance issues,” said Lipstein.
“IBDs are also typically used to selling much more expensive products than board sports stores therefore their customers are accustomed to paying more.
“Since an ATB costs more than a skateboard but is usually far less expensive than a high quality bike, the typical bike retailer’s customer base is usually comprised of a more wealthy demographic.”
Most mountain boards are £200 or less. After-market parts are on the cheap-side too. So, are there any developments coming along that will hike up pricepoints? And because the product looks fairly easy to maintain does this not mean there’s little scope for IBDs to ‘service’ mountain boards?
“We are working on much more complex designs through constant research and development,” said Lipstein.
“Like in bicycles, composite materials are part of our future. Lightweight alloys and titanium materials will, in time, be incorporated alongside more sophisticated steering mechanisms, braking systems, and binding systems. Each development will in turn raise prices in time. Our aim is to propagate the sport through lower priced entry level boards and drive the performance market through higher-end, higher-performance board models.
“As boards get more sophisticated there will be more moving parts that need servicing. However, today’s mountain boards are fairly simple with few maintenance needs. But there are many customers who are totally clueless and want their shop to put air in their tyres, adjust their trucks [steering mechanism], mount their bindings and so on.”
So, should IBDs, even those well away from hills and ski-lifts, and who may have shied away from stocking mountain boards so far, get into ATBing?
“Bicycle retailers could benefit by carrying ATBs as many of their existing customers will cross over to participate in ATB riding,” said Lipstein. “Many board riders, ride mountain bikes, BMX and road bikes. People are much more multi-sport disciplined these days, crossing over to participate in many different sports. Therefore as the bike market continues to become even more competitive, bicycling has levelled off or even declined in participation, bike store owners can still have the opportunity to capitalise on emerging trends that are interesting for their customers to get involved with.”
To get a handle on the UK mountain boarding scene go to http://www.atbsports.co.uk.
“The UK is ideal for all terrain boarding as we get very little snow or reliable surf and hence have a lot of frustrated snowboarders and surfers. We do, however, have a lot of good hills,” Stu of ATBSports told US consumer mag, Off Road Boarding. ATBSports also runs the ATBA UK British Championship Series.
Jon Bisson, designer of the Indescent/Muddy Fox board (which uses Hopes discs), is part of the team producing ATB*Mag, the UK’s first mountain boarding magazine. Tel: 01404 831 564 firstname.lastname@example.org
Mountain board suppliers:
Hot Wheels (Mongoose). Tel: 01202 424 945
Raleigh P&A. Tel: 01623 688308
Muddy Fox. Tel: 01268 247 007
Maxtrack (MBS & Jeep) Tel: 01531 890955 http://www.maxtrack.com