By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
United Bicycles, the exclusive team brand of the Toyota-United team, announced a licensing agreement with Fuji Bicycles to make and distribute United Bicycles as well as provide the professional team with Fuji frames for 2007. "It's two deals," said Fuji's Patrick Cunnane. "It's an agreement to supply the team with bikes and an additional agreement to license the United brand. They made some attempt to sell it this year, but with our foundation we feel that we will be more successful in distributing it."
The Toyota-United team entered the 2006 season with its own brand of team bicycles that they sold on the team web site. However, the lack of wide distribution made growth potential for the bike limited, according to team owner Sean Tucker. "I never wanted to be in the bike business, I just wanted my guys to have the best bike possible. You can't sell anything in this world unless you have distribution. Patrick called us and said he was excited about the United brand and wanted to do something with it. We were looking for a distribution deal since we weren't doing great volume. So when Patrick called and offered full distribution I was all ears. We did a multi-year licensing agreement. We are making less money initially but hopefully more in the end."
The Easton scandium United frame that the team rode in 2006 will no longer be distributed, as the team will switch to Fuji's two top all-carbon models with Fuji and United co-branding. "They will ride the Team Issue and our SL1 frame which is a 14.5 pound complete bike -- two excellent carbon frames that will give the riders a choice," said Cunnane. Additionally, Fuji will manufacture and distribute an entire line of United-branded bicycles, due out in the summer as well as maintain their professional sponsorships of two women's professional teams -- Nürnberger Versicherung and TEAm Lipton.