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The bike industry is coming along

by Commute by Bike

My biggest beef with the US bike industry is the lack of vision of what a bicycle is and can be. The bicycle was stolen by the sport market and they are now seen large and wide as a hobby and/or toy.

But things are changing.

I spent a lot of time the last three days at Sea Otter speaking with the decision makers of several bike companies. Lot’s of discussion on what new products are on the horizon, where marketing dollars are spent and the message we should be conveying to the public in-mass.

The realization that they need to back off on selling bikes to people that already have them and work on getting new people on bikes is one they are slowly but surely coming around to.

You and I can make great strides, but the people selling the bikes are the ones with money. And they will benefit the most by spending that money on advocacy and providing bikes that will people get from point A to B. It’s nice to see them coming along.

So put yourself in their shoes. If you were the marketing director of a medium to large bike company, what would you be spending your money on at this point? If you were the product guy, what bikes would you be building?

 
Burley nomad 229

20 Responses to “The bike industry is coming along”

  1. Jared says:

    I would be focusing on a well-equipped, but cheap commuter. I know that’s a “hot” market, but I have yet to see something GREAT (well, a few things have come close). First, I’d be working on a compact road geometry bike, with options for frame/fork materials depending on needs and pricepoint (steel/steel vs. aluminum/carbon), braze-ons for a rack, disc brakes (chain stay mounted), fenders, SRAM iMotion or Shimano Nexus gearing, and plenty of space for large tires and fenders. I’d also be on SRAM’s and Shimano’s butts about road style brake/shifter combos for those who want to run drop bars.

    The bike would be designed with sliding drop outs (for single or geared), a derailleur hanger (for those who want external gears) and the brake tabs would be mounted atop the sliding drop outs for set-it-and-forget-it brake adjustments. I’d also consider having removable canti bosses for those who don’t want disc brakes.

    I’d offer the bike in three versions: one fully geared out for a commute (fenders, racks, etc.), one designed more for speedy commutes and casual road riding, and a single-speed/fixie version of the commute bike. Bikes would have an option of flat-bar road-bar and an integrated seat clamp and bolt-on components for more security (well, less ease of theft). I would offer a security package where major bolts (wheels, seat-post, etc.) come with anti-theft bolt heads (with one of several hundred head patterns).

    Of course, I realize that I’m talking about several items that may or are already patented, but that’s beside the point. I’m interested to hear others opinions.

  2. siouxgeonz says:

    Turn signals.

    Chain guard.

  3. Henry says:

    I want a bike that I can get on and ride wearing whatever I am wearing. I don’t want to worry about my pants getting stuck in the chain or greased up. I don’t want to roll up my pants or strap them up with velcro.

    The bike should have a place to throw my u-lock. I don’t want to stuff it in my pants, hang it on the handlebar or install some u-lock holding thing.

    A basket would be ok, but an integrated front rack/shelf would be ideal and much more “macho” than a basket. Something that can carry a lunch bag, suitcase, backpack or purse.

    One gear is really all I need, but please no more than three gears, I only have so much brain space to spare…

  4. We stumbled upon this website and love it, good source of info with regards to the variety of commuter bikes out there. Not many Canadian brands talked about though – too bad, as we make some damn fine bikes. My wife and I are Brodie fans with regards to a commuter bike – reasonable price, classy styling and great components with European flair: http://www.brodiebikes.com/2008/2008_bikes/journey.php

    Jared’s ideal commuter bike sounds great – just maybe not very economical with that many “options” . My wife and I have been admiring the Civia Hyland Alfine Build that your site has discussed – it is pretty close to her dream commuter, and the price does not seem that unreasonable when you break it down component wise.

    For me, Brodie’s Section 8 would do just fine, and therein lies the dilemma manufacturers may face with regards to designing the ideal “commuter” bike – it is quite possibly the most individualized (and stylized) of all the bike segments … very tough to make one that fits the desire of the masses!

    : http://www.brodiebikes.com/2008/2008_bikes/section_8.php

  5. Mike Fink says:

    sounds nice. what “few things have come close”? my conundrum: I want a single-speed commuter, geometry not too relaxed, not too aggressive, fenders, steel. that’s about it. I’ll plan on putting either a swept or moustache bar and a nitto stem on it aftermarket, cuz nobody but rivendell, on the quickbeam (not made right now, so not an option unless I fight for one on eBay), seems to see that a lot of people want those options. I want solid wheels and perfect tires for the geometry that can handle road and dirt shortcuts. I have yet to find the perfect ride prefab, nor have I been able to find the perfect frame to hang all that on. would love some thoughts from others.

  6. FritZ says:

    J&S: I actually have a series of posts on Norco’s offering on the back burner — it’s been sitting their too long. I’ll try to have something up in the next couple of weeks.

  7. CJ says:

    I think the bicycle industry as a whole needs to figure out how to make bicycle commuting cool to the the young hipster professionals that are driving SUV’s right now. It seems to me that the popular culture is starting to really accept an earth friendly stance. Now ALL the major players in the bike industry need to figure out a way to make commuting by bike cool, responsible and earth friendly!!!

    Sure, the bike needs to be reasonably priced. But the funny thing about people is that they will tell you they can’t afford a 300.00 bike, but they will pay 100.00 weekly to fill up their Tahoe. If these same people start to feel, or believe that commuting on a bike makes them cool, or somehow more earth friendly then some others then maybe we can get a lot more bikes to be sold.

    Yeah, I know….why would someone who drives a huge SUV ever think about being earth friendly. Because if they thought that way already, they wouldn’t be driving that big SUV. Well, it is because they have not been peer pressured into the choice to ride a bike to work. And that person is just too scared of considering a bike as an option because non of their friends consider the bicycle as a commuting option.

    Well, maybe I am wrong. You asked for my thoughts.

    Peace out

  8. Girl Jen says:

    I’d build a practical replacement for those $100 mountain-style toy bikes at the big box stores.

    My biggest obstacle to commuting was the lack of an affordable, good quality bike. I had suffered through a few 6-mile round trips on a heavy, unwieldy, unreliable big box bike with knobby tires and sketchy shifting, and wanted no part of cycling.

    It took (literally!) a year of convincing by my twin brother to get me on a bike. I decided to “splurge” on a $400 hybrid from REI. It’s not the best bike out there, but it’s a good beginner bike. It’s comfortable. It makes cycling easy and enjoyable.

    If any curious person could walk in to a bike shop (or a big box store, as most non-cyclists don’t go to bike shops) and buy a practical, reliable bike for $100, there would be more bike commuters.

    As for my own marketing efforts, I display my bike helmet proudly on my desk and gladly answer everyone’s questions about bike commuting.

  9. nat says:

    Get Shimano and SRAM to make anything-but-twistshift shifters for their internally-geared hubs, damnit! In particular, i see no reason why they couldn’t’ve just made the gidgets at the hub that translate cable pull into gear shifts compatible with standard road bar-end/downtube/brifter cable pulls. But, failing that, come out with some shifters that work on drop bars, moustache bars, bullhorns, classic English racer, etc. bars–in short, all the bars out there that aren’t straight[ish] tube. Plus, there’s the ergonomics angle–there are so many bars out there in part because tastes differ, just as much as because uses differ. Similarly, twistshift just doesn’t work for everybody, even on a flat bar–gimme a basic lever, with detents, any day. Whether it’s on the end of my bar, or clamped onto it somewhere (a la Paul Thumbies, or a classic 3-speed shift lever), i don’t care. I just want a simple lever that i can instantly tell, visually or tactilely, what gear it’s in by looking at the angle, and which i can easily flick with a thumb or whatever other finger is convenient.

    OK, done ranting. Anyway, internally-geared hubs are such an obvious choice for the casual/commuter market, both on their own merits, and because they make other things easier. Most noticably, chainguards, if not full chaincases. We need to get over this notion that they are somehow exotic components, and just start putting them on all sorts of bikes–commuter, road, mountain, whatever. For the average cyclist, they do everything they need, and as well as or better than derailleurs. The combo of an internally-geared hub, full fenders, and a well-designed chainguard (the chainguards on classic Schwinn 3-speeds, frex, well keep even relatively light-weight and flowing pants and skirts out of the chain, i’ve found) makes a bike into a “get on and go” vehicle for a lot more people–no need for special clothes, etc.

    The other big change that needs to be made is to market more complete bikes. You don’t have to pay extra for the lights, fenders, or trunk when you buy a car, and you shouldn’t have to on a bike, either. For a non-racing bike, those are basic components. A hub dynamo or bottle generator and attached lights, rear rack, fenders, chainguard, maybe even lock and pump, should just be part of the package.

    Oh, and back to the handlebar issue: drops can be great, but for most people take some getting used to, and are intimitading. Straight bars may look great, but are actually a pretty poor choice for most people–they’re at an artificial angle for most people, and give no variety of hand positions in any case. Bars like the Albatross/Swift/Dove/Northroad/Priest provide a good range of hand positions, and by putting them along a nice curve, everyone can find the position that matches them best. Sloped down, they’re fairly aggressive and stretch you out a bit; sloped up, they’re laid back and can be easily reached froma more upright position. And, near as i can tell, the relaxed hand position with arms out front for most people is neither horizontal nor vertical, but some angle in between–an angle that none of straight, drop, or bullhorn bars provide. H-bars give you that angle, and all the curvy bars other than drop bars do, too.

    I love Jared’s idea, but i think that’s trying to put too much into one bike. Spread all those framestyle options out across 3-4 frames, and then make each one available off the shelf at a couple price points (due to varying components and other equipment), and i think you’ve got a winner. Right now, a typical bike company has 8 different road-racing frames, usually differentiated primarily by component quality and frame material, 8 different off-road-racing frames, usually differentiated primarily by component quality and suspension system, a couple “comfort”/”hybrid” bikes, a couple other oddballs, and maybe one “commuter”. If they can justify that many different bikes for a market of enthusiasts that will gladly and comfortably swap components and otherwise tailor the bike to themselves, they can definitely justify having at least as great of a variety when targetting a market that is as likely to not buy the bike at all as swap some components if it isn’t right for them. Lower psychological barriers to entry, and one of those is the intimidation of figuring out bike mechanics and another is not knowing what to buy. Gary Fisher’s Wingra/Monona/Mendota are an excellent example: all basically the same bike, just differentiated by component quality, and in clear price steps–each one is in every way as good as or better than the one below it, so no “trading off”.

  10. nat says:

    Oh, and kickstands standard. So your nice new bike that is gonna tempt you out of the car once in a while doesn’t get all banged up right away leaning against stuff, doesn’t fall over and damage stuff, and stays put while you’re loading the rack.

    Speaking of which, something else the big bike companies could be doing to promote bike sales is think a bit outside the box: spend some time/money lobbying gov’ts to pass ordinances/laws requiring bike parking, X spaces for every Y car spaces they put in, and well-designed–quality bike racks, at the least, covered ideally. Did a bucnh of shopping today, in afairly bike-friendly city. Exactly one bike rack, and that was a crappy one and not attached to anything–most places, if there was bike parking, it was well hidden (so i didn’t find it). And, in almost every case, not so much as a light pole to lock to–any light poles there were were in the middle of the parking lot, with no space between them and the parked cars, and none of them would’ve worked with a u-lock. The only way i was able to give these merchants my money was by being gutsy/foolish enough to leave my bike unlocked leaning against the wall (outside) near the door. Most people will either be smart enough not to do this, or get frustrated after their first stolen bike, and either way won’t be using their bike for utility transportation for long.

  11. wannaCmore says:

    Advocacy/Infrastructure. Kickstands/Chainguards. The slogan “JUST SAY NO TO FUEL, FOOL!” (with Mr. T as the spokesperson).

  12. Jared says:

    I agree with Nat, now that I’ve rethought it. Custom build.

    Girl Jen: My cousin and I have talked about this very thing. Something more “commuter friendly” that competes with the Walmart set. Also, it would have to have components that are workable. I know of a few LBSs here in SLC that won’t touch department store bikes because they are so labor intensive (ever tried replacing a BB on a Next bike? Good luck!).

    Also, I think that a line of inexpensive, but fully customizable bikes would be sweet. For instance, budget lowriders and bikes that can have bling, but affordable bling. Does that make sense?

  13. FT says:

    It is a shame that the large discount stores continue to sell bikes that are neither quality mountain bikes nor good commuters. Heavy, cheap and a poor choice for their intended use – commuting for most! Look back at the good old days of single and three speed Schwinn’s and Huffy’s, coaster brakes, chain guards, baskets. As the industry focused on the “Sports” side of the bicycle they all but forgot commuters, utility and touring bikes in favor of the racers. Too bad!

  14. Keith Wikle says:

    I worked at General Motors at the customer service call center when I was fresh out of college (late 90s) . One sales statistic that was oft repeated by management has stuck with me.

    It is astronomically easier and more likely that you will be able to sell more to a customer you already have, than it is to find and close new customers.

    Converting the lethargic republic into a vast armada of cyclists will be no easy feat. Certainly offering simplicity bikes, and making cycling appeal to the more proletarian masses is a good and divine goal.

    My two local bike shops stock primarily racing and mountain bikes. Each shop has a dejected corner where a hybrid bike or two sits that the mechanics scoff at dejectedly. If the sex appeal that surrounds the ubiquitous racing bikes were used to promote everyday bikes perhaps there would be some change.

    Until then they will most likely continue to thrive on the up-sell to the small, but already converted zealots of diocese of cycling.

    Also gas hit 117.00 a barrel, maybe change is coming?

  15. stan says:

    I remember well my days when I thought “spending $399 on a bike is splurging”
    My first MTB was a steel Alivio-equipped Trek 830, which was fun to ride compared to a $199 DB Sorrento, which rode like an anchor.

    Ideal commuter for the new cyclist/commuter.

    - Cheap ($500 max. still the magic price point)

    -Chainguard, kickstand, front and rear blinkies included.
    -Computer included (some of the newbies may be amazed at how fast they are going or how many miles they have racked up; it was a great encouragement for me)

    - Efficient as possible, rolls fast (700 wheels, 28c to 32c for comfort)
    (Needs to be able tackle hills even if person is just of moderate fitness) that means wide gearing, At least a 1 x 9 with a 32 in back.
    - If it is going to come with a rack it should come with pannier/grocery bag or something they can get for under $30
    - Fenders can be optional, because most newbies probably won’t ride in foul weather…free lock and rack would be more appealing
    - Free lessons on how to lock bike and ride in traffic.

  16. Tony says:

    I am surprised that no one mentions towing a trailer? Perhaps 5-10% of commuters are towing kids to day care etc., and a trailer leaves room to haul a few items without a rack. Problem is the trailer means more gearing range and braking power (it you have hills) are desirable. It would be nice to see a “purpose built” tow bicycle.

  17. jazzy says:

    Oh my…such passion about handlebars and such assumption of “what is comfortable for all. Someone in this dialogue got it right: there are different tastes. I actually prefer my mountain bike handlebars. Really. I have a road bike with curvy bars and I hate them to the point that I am almost never in them and enjoy that bike the least. I use my older, first mountain bike with semi-slicks as my commuter because it is much more comfortable and can handle the rack, rampant potholes of Pittsburgh, and sidewalks of Pittsburgh (due to my paranoia about being hit again on my commute by un-looking, speed-loving, distracted car commuters. Right on about bundling: put the rack, blinky, headlight, pannier together. And get me a SAFE way to ride, and you’ll see the “sea of riders.” Plus, if it’s not flat as a pancake where you live, you are bound to SWEAT. Tax-breaks for employers who put in showers. Bike manufacturers should focus on advocacy, incentives, and infrastructure for commuters to grow the overall market share. Most riders I know ride more than one style – they are mountain-bikers at heart but like to road-ride sometimes. Or they are dedicated commuters and touring cyclists who also happen to be darn good mountain-bikers. Some applications are optimized with special equipment, but to get a bigger market, commuting is the best opportunity and the one with most need for better, safer — or perceived safer — routes.

  18. Jared says:

    How about lobbying for mileage reimbursements for people who commute by bike rather than drive?

  19. nat says:

    @jazzy:

    You hit the nail on the head with your last sentence: it’s perceived safety that is the problem, not safety. Unless Pittsburgh is some sort of statistical anomaly, you are already safer on your bike than in a car–and safer from cars on the road than on the sidewalk. It’s just that a near miss is scarier on a bike than in a car, where we might not even be aware of it. Not that it wouldn’t be great if cycling were even safer, but if the danger of being in a car doesn’t keep people off roads, the lesser danger of being on a bike really shouldn’t, either.

    Maybe the big bike companies should quit funding helmet ads, and start funding PSAs whose message is “oh my god! you ride in a car! don’t you value your safety?” alternating with “bikes should obey the traffic laws. if you follow the rules of the road and exercise due caution, you’re safer there than in a car.”

    Oh, and regarding drop handlebars: i’m not surprised you don’t find them comfortable, because they have the same exact problem most flat bars do: all the hand positions are either perpendicular to the long axis of the bike, or parallel to it. My contention is that most (not all, but most) people’s relaxed hand position when their arms are in front of them is somewhere between these two extremes. For me, it’s at about a 45deg angle. Yet both of the most common types of handlebars don’t provide any hand positions that match this. I think that’s what’s driving the rise in popularity of all the “weird” handlebars, all of which (except ramhorns) share this characteristic: moustache, northroad, albatross, dove, randonneur, h-bar, butterfly, etc. What’s holding back greater adoption is shifters and brake levers optimized for the two traditional shapes–i have drop bars right now, because setting up albatross bars so that i have a brake lever under my fingers at all points is a real pain. I may yet switch, nonetheless.

  20. Sebastian H says:

    Dutch bikes!

    -Chain guard
    -Fenders and mudflaps
    -Internal drum brakes
    -Internal three or 8 speed hubs
    -Dynamo/generator lights
    -Sturdy
    -Comfortable
    -Large load carrying capacity
    -Reasonably fast
    -Priced well under a thousand bucks

    In the Netherlands they cost between 500 and 600 Euros (ca. $750-900). Importing makes them ridiculously expensive (as the Dutchbike company in Seattle proves) If someone would start making these quality bikes here, price could come down and make them more affordable.

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