How many of the above brands do you recognize?
The cycling marketplace is a battleground for bike brands where established favorites duke it out with young upstarts. Pay attention and you’ll get pretty familiar with the most popular brands. Top contenders like Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, Cervelo, Santa Cruz, and Yeti are great choices. But what else is out there?
IYKYK - If you know, you know...
I’ve picked out seven brands that make great bikes but don’t necessarily get the attention that the top brands do. You might call some underrated. Others are just gaining a foothold in the U.S. Maybe you’ve never heard of some! Read on to learn more about where these brands come from and why they might be your next bike.
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Factor was founded in 2007 in Norfolk, England and comes from a motorsports background. The Factor engineering firm began as an offshoot of bf1systems, an electronics provider for automotive and motorsports companies. Before bicycles, Factor engineers did design work for prestigious brands like Ferrari, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Maserati, as well as several F1, Moto GP, and WRC teams.
Factor transitioned to bikes in 2009 and in 2013 introduced its first production road bike, the Vis Vires. The Vis Vires had a stunning aero frame that ignored the UCI rulebook and turned heads with a “Twin Vane” split down tube and a split “Dual Bayonet” fork. The looks were divisive, but the innovative design, speed, and stiffness wowed journalists and enthusiasts.
To design its next generation of bikes, Factor engineers worked closely with many pro riders including David Miller and Tour de France green jersey winner, Baden Cooke. Cooke has since become the owner of Factor. The story goes that Cooke took the Vis Vires out for a test ride and was so impressed with the performance that he decided to purchase Factor Bikes from bf1systems along with Vis Vires engineer Rob Gitelis.
In recent years, cycling fans may have seen Factor bikes in the pro peloton. It sponsored AGR2 La Mondiale and currently provides bikes to the Israel Start-Up Nation World Tour team. I’ve also personally been enjoying the Factor Vista endurance bike (read the review here) which brings some of the innovative design features from the Vis Vires and ONE aero bikes to the all-road category.
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The EWS winning Meta AM 29 enduro bike.
Before starting Commencal, Max Commencal founded Sunn, a French mountain bike manufacturer that enjoyed immense fame in the 1990s thanks to the success of Nicolas Vouilloz and Anne-Caroline Chausson. The French duo won multiple downhill World Cup overalls and world championships. After Sunn, Commencal sought a fresh start, and started a new brand based in Andorra.
Commencal released its first bike, the Supernormal hardtail, in 2000. It was a bike that, in Commencal’s words, eschewed “bling-bling sophistication” and went back to the basics. It immediately won races and earned accolades from French bike media. Through the years, Commencal has stuck to this concept of perfecting the basics with bikes that emphasize durability and simplicity, with the majority of its full-suspension models using a classic linkage-driven single-pivot design.
Racing has always been integral to Commencal’s identity. The main office is walking distance from the Andorra World Cup track, and it found early World Cup success by supporting racing legends like Chausson and the Atherton siblings. In more recent history, Commencal’s Supreme DH downhill bike has won World Cup downhill overall titles and a world championship under Amaury Pierron and Myriam Nicole. The Meta AM enduro bike also achieved three consecutive Enduro World Series overall wins under Cecile Ravenel.
Since 2013, Commencal has been a direct-to-consumer brand focused on value for performance. Look through Commencal’s current line-up and you’ll notice a distinct absence of carbon bikes. Commencal has offered carbon models in the past, but concerned with working conditions for overseas workers, Max Commencal decided he wanted to commit to aluminum manufacturing. Not only does aluminum offer safer work conditions and environmental benefits, but it also allows Commencal to easily tweak and change designs to respond to its racer’s needs and changing geometry trends.
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The lightweight Argon 18 Gallium Disc Pro.
Canada’s best-known high-performance road bike manufacturer may be Cervelo, but Montreal is also home to Argon 18, a competitor that is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of aerodynamics, weight, and performance. Argon 18 was founded in 1990 by Gervais Rioux, a former pro who represented Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Rioux competed on a custom bike made by one of Montreal’s most revered framebuilders, Giuseppe Marinoni, who built frames for Rioux’s shop sponsor, “Argon 18.” The name comes from the element Argon, which is the gas used to weld frames (Argon is number 18 on the periodic table of elements). After retiring in 1990, Rioux bought the Argon 18 shop and set an ambitious goal: to turn Argon 18 into a global bike brand with a Tour de France team.
Argon 18 has always been performance focused and it has assembled a team of engineers and R&D specialists who test frames and carbon lay-ups with the help of the Composite Development Centre of Quebec, an independent R&D institution. It has a close relationship with its factories and uses the data it gathers to influence and control the manufacturing process. This has allowed Argon 18 to experiment with sophisticated carbon lay-ups and create some of the lightest production road frames on the market.
By 2015, the company achieved Rioux’s goal of making it to the Tour de France with the Bora-Argon 18 team. From 2017 to 2019, Argon 18 supplied bikes for Astana, which saw Fabio Aru riding in yellow aboard an Argon 18 Gallium Pro. Argon 18 has also supplied track bikes for the Danish Olympic squad in 2016 and in 2017 it became the official supplier to Canada's national cycling teams.
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The grand tour ready BH Ultralight.
Founded in 1909 by the three Beistegui brothers, BH (Beistegui Hermanos) is the oldest bike brand on this list. Much like its compatriot Orbea, BH is located in the Basque Country in Northern Spain and it began as a gun manufacturer. In 1923, the company changed direction and used its expertise in forming and joining steel tubing to enter bicycle manufacturing.
As cycling grew in the early 20th century, BH was integral to the creation of one of cycling’s grand tours, the Vuelta a España, In 1935, BH supported the race by providing cash prizes for the riders. The inaugural winner of the Vuelta, Gustaaf Deloor, won the race aboard a BH. Through the years, BH has supported top-level race teams, and its riders have won seven more grand tours with Álvaro Pino, Roberto Heras, and Alexander Vinokourov among the most famous (or infamous in Vinokourov’s case). BH bikes also scored two gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics with Julie Bresset in mountain biking and Nicola Spirig in triathlon.
Mountain biking is a key part of BH’s history. In 1984, BH became one of the first big manufacturers to enter the new sport. MTB historians may remember legendary BH bikes like the Running Bull, Top Line, Supra Litage Sakae, or Corona. The 1990 Top Line was one of the first mountain bikes to use an oversized aluminum frame, similar to the Cannondales and Kleins of the era. BH teams have long been a fixture in World Cup mountain biking and its Lynx full-suspension bike is currently one of the most successful modern XC bikes with 11 World Cup wins.
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Devinci Cycles began life as “Da Vinci” (as in Leonardo) in 1987, a small operation started by two engineering students making aluminum road bike frames in Chicoutimi, Quebec. Devinci’s owner, Felix Gauthier, arrived a few years later. Gauthier had shattered his leg when his road bike broke after hitting a pothole. In search of a safer frame, he found Devinci. Impressed with the build quality, he bought the company in 1990 to bring safe, high-quality frames to more people. From there, Devinci has grown into an international brand and Canada’s largest bike producer.
Devinci is unique compared to many other North American brands of its size as it still manufacturers the majority of its bikes in Canada. Chicoutimi is a town with a long history of aluminum manufacturing, so Devinci is able to source raw material and build its aluminum frames locally. Doing so allows Devinci to prototype, test, and produce bikes in its own factory to its own high standards. Though it does have carbon models, aluminum is still core to Devinci’s identity.
Devinci’s full-suspension mountain bikes all use a Split Pivot system designed by legendary suspension guru, Dave Weagle. The concentric dropout pivot design separates suspension movement from acceleration and braking forces. This keeps the suspension active under pedaling and braking, allowing the bike to “vanish” under the rider. Along with a complete mountain bike selection, Devinci also offers road and gravel models for riders who want a full Canadian quiver.
Like other brands on this list, racing has been a key part of Devinci’s history and it’s worth noting Devinci’s most famous rider, the late Stevie Smith. Smith, won the overall World Cup downhill title in 2013 aboard the Devinci Wilson and was the most successful Canadian gravity racer of all time.
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YT stands for “Young Talent” but, according to founder Markus Flossmann, it has nothing to do with age. To him, young talent is about tapping into the youthful desire to explore and grow. “It’s never too late to try something new and find your passion,” he says. In recent years, YT has made a splash in the mountain biking world with well-priced direct-to-consumer bikes and playful marketing.
Back in 2007, Flossmann met a pair of 15-year-old riders doing 360s and pushing their limits on cheap supermarket bikes in Forchheim, Germany. Knowing these bikes might not survive the next impact, he decided to help them out and put together a production run of 150 affordable steel dirt jump frames. The frames promptly sold out and Flossmann realized he was onto something. He quit his day job and went all in on his new brand.
YT first gained widespread recognition with Andreu Lacondeguy, who rode the Tues downhill bike to victory at the 2014 Red Bull Rampage. YT then went on to prove itself as a serious World Cup downhill contender when America’s most successful downhill racer, Aaron Gwin, joined the YT team in 2016. Gwin won his debut race on the bike and went on to achieve two consecutive World Cup overall wins.
Despite the competitive success, YT’s core values have always been about having fun, feeling free, and developing up-and-coming riders. With enduro and trail models like the Capra and the Jeffsy added to its line-up, it has plenty of gravity leaning options that are affordable and approachable for any level of rider, while providing the necessary performance to explore the limits of your talent.
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Banshee has been around for 20 years but it is by far the smallest company included on this list. Based out of British Columbia, Banshee’s aluminum bikes were born and bred on the legendary trails found on Vancouver’s North Shore and Whistler Bike Park. Unlike every other brand discussed here, Banshee doesn’t have a history in professional racing. Instead, its focus has been on making rugged mountain bikes for everyday riders. They’re designed to not only perform, but stand up to regular abuse when riding the gnarliest terrain.
When I say Banshee’s small, it’s truly small. Its core team consists of four passionate riders who wear many hats ranging from engineering to design to operations and sales. As a brand, it tends to do very little marketing and instead invests in R&D and manufacturing. But they have a dedicated customer base, and those who are in the know tend to spread the word.
I was compelled to include Banshee since several TPC employees have raved about Banshee’s bikes over the years. We have a small contingent of employees riding the Titan enduro bike, as well as a couple riders on the Prime and Spitfire trail bikes.
Banshee bikes are known for their KS Link and KS2 suspension design and swappable dropouts that allow riders to easily run different wheel sizes and alter geometry. These features allow riders to easily experiment with plus-tires, mullet set-ups, and coil shocks to suit their terrain or riding style.
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There are plenty of small manufacturers out there that deserve mention but we unfortunately can’t feature all of them. For this list, I decided to choose medium sized manufacturers that have a decent presence in the U.S. and internationally.
A Word on Direct-To-Consumer Bike Brands & Why They Make Sense
So what does direct-to-consumer mean, and why are bike brands starting to adopt this business model? Well to sum it up quickly, this means cutting out the middle-man in the bike buying process and having the factory ship a bike right to your door. In the end, this will save you money and time, two things we could all use more of.
Brands like Canyon, YT, and Commencal will ship bikes right to you so you can save on extra charges that a shop may add. Other brands like Trek will ship the bike to your closest Trek dealer and have them assemble it for you. This keeps smaller shops relevant and ensures your bike is built properly.
Oh, and did we mention TPC is a direct-to-consumer brand as well? Just point, click, and the next thing you know, you have a brand new bike at your door, ready to be built in minutes. If being in-person is more your style, we also have a curbside store where you can browse our selection of bikes for yourself!
Who did I miss? Tell us about some of your favorite underrated brands in the comments!
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