Titus’ announcement yesterday that it was folding its tent caught even long-time insiders off-guard — but not surprised.
One of Titus’ most stalwart dealers, Roaring Mouse Cycles in San Francisco, heard about the liquidation via press release like the rest of us. A couple of other Titus shops contacted by Bike Intelligencer had not even been notified.
Still, most said it was a matter of handwriting on the wall. As bad as the economy is, with high-end boutique bike makers like Titus taking the brunt of it, insiders say most of Titus’ downfall was its own doing.
Foremost was forcing out Titus’ founder, Chris Cocalis, in 2006. Cocalis landed on his feet of course, founding Pivot Cycles. But his acumen, contacts and reputation were never something that Titus could replace. It’s impossible to say how many core and potential Titus customers Cocalis took with him, but a review of the MTBR.com forums revealed considerable name loyalty.
Post-Cocalis, Titus was left mainly to ride out its brand name without coming up with true innovation or a feel for where markets were headed. It dropped the SwitchBlade, its best-known (and most popular) bike ever, and was slow to adapt to the freeride revolution. The El Guapo had potential but took a couple of tries to get right. The same was true of Titus’ 29er full-suspension model, the Rockstar.
There were reports of overproduction and bike dumping, the kiss of death for a niche player. Titus marketing, traditionally a strong point, suffered under budget cuts and lack of a marquee model or two to focus on.
“They tried to cover too many bases without really shining at any one thing,” noted a Seattle dealer, Adam Schaeffer of Downhill Zone. The road market never really latched onto Titus, and its focus stayed on too-light cross-country and racing bikes long after those markets were usurped by aggressive trail and freeride bikes, Schaeffer added.
Dealers said they will continue to support Titus as long as they can get parts. Sean Ramirez at Roaring Mouse said the hope is Titus will get purchased and supported by another company, but that may be wishful thinking in a down economy.
We have a Titus we purchased from Roaring Mouse nearly a decade ago but count ourselves lucky: It’s a titanium hardtail, built Cocalis-tough, and not likely to need attention. Owners of full-suspension models may face increasingly uphill battles getting replacement parts, and God help the Titus owner who breaks a rear triangle or tube butting.
More from Jimmy Mac at Mountain Bike Action.