Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and as a constant thinker I guess the news that administrators had been called into Stanton Bikes a couple of weeks ago wasn’t as big a shock as it could’ve been. After all, we’ve had Brexit, Covid, war in Ukraine and the gross mismanagement of our economic affairs by an inept and corrupt Tory government for over a decade, formerly led by a halfwit who openly stated ‘fuck business’! What chance does a small-scale UK-based company really have in that environment?
Unfortunately, beyond that, to me as a close follower of the Stanton story there also seemed to be other factors that conspired to bring them down, mostly due to ambitious expansion at a truly unfortunate time, but with a couple of own goals thrown in. I’m not going to speculate too much what ultimately led to the current situation and I’m not going to badger Dan Stanton for the inside line because frankly he’s got better things to do, and the official story will come out over time. This article will just briefly examine how it looked from the outside.
For now they are working hard to fulfill all outstanding orders, and worst-case scenario they’ll walk away with their heads held high and no customers left out of pocket. It’ll be a truly sad day if Stanton are unable to find investors to keep the business afloat, they’ve been brave, innovative and have largely stuck to the ideals that Dan and Stu introduced me to when I interviewed them for a Singletrack Magazine feature way back near the start. They’d leave behind a legacy of having produced genuinely some of the best bikes ever made, uncompromisingly driven by quality of build and ride rather than ever-changing fashion. They have a very dedicated fanbase for good reason and thanks to the bombproof nature of the builds, regardless of what the next few months bring, there will be Stantons tearing around the trails worldwide for decades to come.
So What Went Wrong?
Obviously the aforementioned issues are the major factors. It’s been a turbulent time to be in the bike industry over the last few years with an unbelievable explosion in Covid-driven demand that was impossible to meet in a climate of component shortage and eye-watering cost increases. All bike manufacturers have struggled to meet their orders, with 18-month waits commonplace thanks to vital parts being unavailable. Unfortunately economies of scale will always have an impact and as the mega-corps greedily hoovered up all available supplies from SRAM, Shimano and the other key manufacturers, smaller companies were left fighting over the scraps. For the likes of Stanton this would’ve hit particularly hard as they offered endless customisation with customers asking for specific items that simply couldn’t be sourced anywhere.
On top of this, Stanton’s business model is based on customers having a huge freedom of choice, particularly in the final finish of their bikes. It’s an amazing idea, to have so few off-the-peg colours and finishes, but it’s highly reliant on key employees being constantly available. With Stanton’s steel bike production being based at home they were trying to meet demand using a small and highly-skilled workforce of welders and painters that was repeatedly decimated by Covid rules. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must’ve been trying to fulfill orders with so many issues conspiring against them. There’s little doubt that there were some disgruntled customers at this point, with ever-extending delivery dates testing the patience of a vocal few who took to social media to vent. I didn’t blame them, although I did feel for Stanton knowing what I knew about the impossibility of their position at the time. Maybe they could’ve been clearer in their communications?
They couldn’t really have picked a worse time to make the step to UK production. In the years closely following my interview they doubled the size of their premises and near quadrupled the workforce in order to follow that dream of total consumer choice. It’s a highly complex and labour intensive approach but it really stands Stanton apart from virtually all other UK-based bike manufacturers, apart from the completely bespoke framebuilders that operate on a much smaller scale. A much higher wage bill necessitates much higher sales volumes and so the ability to ride out storm after storm got infinitely harder. Every employee is a vital wheel in their cogs and so downsizing to survive wasn’t an option if they were to continue producing the bikes in the manner that makes them unique. You could say that this is a short-sighted business model that isn’t robust enough, but Stanton never came across as being purely profit-driven; it’s a model as much influenced by ideology as money. Unfortunately ideologies can’t necessarily cover the bills, but you can’t help but admire the uncompromising nature of the approach. How many companies really stick to their guns when the shit is hitting the fan?
I’m not sure what impact it really had but I was surprised by the recently published Pinkbike review of the Switch9er FS Ti; it can’t have been helpful to Stanton’s cause. I read it several times and was struck by a couple of things. Firstly the tone was odd, over-emphasising negatives that were easily fixed with a bit of basic maintenance, backed up by unnecessary videos. Secondly, the reviewer clearly lost patience with the time and effort required to get the best from the bike, and even once the shock had been changed he still didn’t get the right spring for the recommended 35% sag. Ultimately the review concluded that the FS Ti performed very well but by that point he had decided it had taken too much effort to get it there. A synopsis would be that it’s a very capable bike, superb climber and great descender, particularly in the hands of a skilled rider, but it took too long to get the bike riding that way and so it’s not very good overall.
On the flip side of that I was surprised that Stanton sent out the bike for testing with the inappropriate shock and with a sticky pivot. I don’t know the full story and it’s not like they have a fleet of test bikes sitting around, every available bike was being delivered to an eagerly waiting customer, but it was a vital oversight. Pinkbike is huge and in the highly competitive and niche market of top-end superbikes any negativity of review from them could be a killer. I’m just a bit shocked and saddened that Stanton weren’t able to perfectly set up a bike for the tester from the start based on his weight and measurements, it would have dramatically altered the tone of the review.
The Last Stanton?
I know from personal experience that some of the complaints raised in the Pinkbike article are just plain wrong, because I’ve been building up my own Switch9er FS Ti for a number of months now. With the benefit of time and patience I’ve perfectly aligned the gearing so there is no possibility of the chain touching the swingarm, even with the spring removed and the EXT shock totally compressed with the bike in the lowest gear. I’ve also fitted a chain device which doesn’t rub anywhere either. It took time, patience and a bit of faffing with spacers but that’s the kind of thing that owners will happily do where bike testers are too impatient. A conversation with my mate Tony revealed that he had to go through the exact same process with his Orange Stage 6. The fact is that if you’re hand-picking all your componentry then you will encounter build issues that need some tinkering time to overcome. Personally I love that process, it makes the bike feel more personal to you knowing that you’ve invested the effort to get the set-up perfect.
My new build is very nearly ready now and I’m unbelievably excited to get out and smash it around the steep Irish tech and slimy roots. It’s been years since my last full-bouncer, a fact entirely attributable to just how amazing my 9er Ti hardtail is to ride. The intention is to ride them both equally, I’ll certainly not be abandoning the older machine. It’s a massive shame to think that this may be the last Stanton that I’ll get to build, use and abuse, they are so well designed and put together and I don’t see anything else on the market that meets my demands so perfectly.
Stanton Bikes have been extremely generous to me over the years, helping keep me coaching, adventuring, racing and smiling with free and heavily discounted equipment. In return they’ve been so undemanding it’s untrue, accepting my almost non-existent social-media presence safe in the knowledge that I’m out there showcasing their bikes daily, answering questions face-to-face, telling the story behind my gleaming, beautiful hand-crafted titanium masterpiece. I’ve been extremely proud to represent the brand and have undoubtedly helped them sell a few bikes over the years. Fingers crossed the administrators and some potential new investors will buy into the viability and uniqueness of the business. Whatever the future may bring I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of the Stanton crew.
Massive thanks to Dan Stanton and everyone at Stanton Bikes. Be proud of what you’ve achieved, I hope you’ll get the opportunity to do more under the same brand. Down but never out….