The last time I put Kenda tires on a bike was back in 2011, when I built up a matte red Specialized SX with Small Block 8’s. It was never a conscious move to avoid Kenda tires, but they just slowly seemed to fade from the limelight, and without being aware of it I moved on to other options. Apparently consumers weren’t the only ones to notice that Kenda was a dead brand in the aggressive mountain bike world. After spending the last couple of years walking around the annual trade shows and bike events, the owner of Kenda also noticed that his tires weren’t the hot ticket they once were. The company had quietly slipped from being the tire of choice to the tire people pulled off their brand new bikes to swap for something else. Of course that wasn’t the case in the motorsports world. The now billion-dollar company was expanding very successfully with a widespread presence on UTV’s, quads, motos and even passenger cars. So what happened? How did a brand that used to dominate the mountain bike world quietly disappear into the shadows?
Let’s rewind back to 2002. Everyone was riding Nevegals, NWD 3 was the sickest bike flick out and things were balmy. These were the days when tires were designed based on athlete input above all else, and Kenda’s sales were strong. Roger Hernandez, the current MTB/BMX brand manager and who back then managed a Kenda-sponsored XC race team, recalls that period of time, “The company was going so fast that the bike sector could just coast, as we were relying on proven tires.” As a result, Kenda opted to focus their efforts and dollars on other markets like motocross and passenger cars, which is an understandable move for a company that’s looking to diversify their target markets. This left them with a difficult decision between focusing their resources on the new growing markets while allowing their bike tires to stagnate, or to simply focus on being a bike tire company. The company had built a formidable brand name for themselves in the mountain bike realm, which they assumed would be enough to keep the brand afloat while they expanded in other areas. However, that gamble ended up not paying off for the bike sector where technology and design make massive leaps in just a few years time. As the company had shifted focus on their other growing divisions, their MTB tire competition kept pushing forward. The MTB industry is not one to shy away from innovation and new standards – just ask anyone who bought a 26” bike thinking 27.5 would never take off or anyone that scoffed at Boost axles. “Times changed and we hadn’t. It wasn’t that we got worse, but that the competition got better,” said Hernandez.