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The Blue Ocean Trilogy: Cycling for the Other 90% of Us

by Ted Johnson
Blue Ocean Trilogy

Image: Mark Sanders

Mark Sanders is the inventor of the Strida folding bike.

I’ve had a nice e-mail exchange with Mark Sanders, which surprisingly began after I badmouthed the Strida.

Strida: Your name calling only betrays how desperately envious you are. The cult of Brompton has thicker skin–and better bikes–than that.

Sanders is no longer involved with Strida (which is now owned by Ming Cycles). He now works for Pacific Cycles as a designer and advocate.

We often ask, here and on other cycling blogs, What is keeping more people from riding bikes?

Sanders’ answer: The Cycling Industry.

He referred me to The Blue Ocean Trilogy a publication he wrote. The nine-page paper criticizes the cycling industry for focusing on the market of sporty males–where sharks fight it out turning the ocean red with blood–while virtually ignoring the vast blue ocean, which is everyone else.

The paper resonated with some topics I’ve raised in recent weeks: What is bike commuting “expertise?” and the power iconic brands, such as Apple and Brompton.

Here are some highlights:

Although more upright than racing bikes, mountain bikes and hybrid bikes do not give good posture for everyday, and city use, the sporty, lean forward posture, still strains the back, neck and wrists. Only the upright posture is really suitable for a pleasant journey by bicycle, and not a fitness training session.

Bike Posture

Image: Mark Sanders

Sports equipment is the most appropriate when carrying out a sport, BUT for a whole industry to pretend it’s also suitable for everyday use is lazy, patronizing and absurd.

[...]

Amazingly, with more bicycles being produced than cars, the bicycle industry still continues to fuel trends towards using unsuitable sporty and racing bicycles around town, this is crazy when there are much larger opportunities to sell bicycles to the other 90% Blue Ocean.

The bicycle geometry and posture a new cyclist will be forced into will most likely be chosen by a cycling ‘expert’: A salesperson, a marketing manager or a buyer/specifier. As part of the industry, probably an enthusiast, a long time, long distance bicycle user, someone well versed in all aspects of cycling; sports, leisure, culture and especially cycle racing. Many bike brands even boast of using famous racing cyclists to design their frames, and some even become brands – good for racing but totally inappropriate for town bikes.

[...]

But, I hear the industry respond – “there is an exciting trend that sporty fixie riders are fashionably cool” , true, this is cyclings equivalent of 1960′s motorcycle ‘cafe-racers’.

However this is ’cool derived from exclusivity’. ‘Natural cool’ as Cycle Chic espouses, takes standard elements available to all and with style, elevates them to special. As seen in places like Milan – Italians in suits, gently riding upright bikes are effortlessly cool (even in [86℉] heat). They demolish a huge myth and objection to cycling: that it makes you sweat – BUT this is only if cycling fast, racing against the clock. Natural Cool, Cycle Chic can be mainstream – and making cycling mainstream, attracting the other 90% ‘blue ocean’ folk, wearing normal clothes, is surely the way forward for the industry?

You can read the entire paper right here:

 

When I got to the part about an Apple bicycle, and how Apple would approach bicycles, my thoughts we not how amazing it would be. I wondered if I’d have to pay 99¢ every time I went somewhere I hadn’t been before. And when we upgraded to a new bike, would I be able to transfer all of my previous routes to my new bike? I think when Apple figures that out, we’ll see an Apple iBike.

 
The Chariot Summer Sale - 2013

17 Responses to “The Blue Ocean Trilogy: Cycling for the Other 90% of Us”

  1. JaimeRoberto says:

    If you could get that girl in the blue dress in that picture to ride, I think a lot of the non-sporty males would suddenly start riding bikes too.

  2. Josh S says:

    You seem to ignore recumbent bikes. They provide for even better comfort than uprights.

  3. Pete says:

    Jan Heine in Bicycle Quarterly this month had an interesting editorial on why US and European commuting is not the same. In Copenhagen, the average bike trip is 1.2km, and the average speeds below 10mph. Of course there is a lot of infrastructure that supports a leisurly, un-stressed riding style. And, oh yeah, those places are flat. Really flat.
    Few Americans have the luxury of bike commuting trips so short and easy. That Italian gentleman would be soaked in sweat after pedaling 8 or 10 hilly miles to work in most US cities.
    I’m certainly not advocating racing bikes, but I think that US commuters have, in fact, evolved a pretty effective style that works quite well for the far less homogeneous situations we encounter.

  4. Chrehn says:

    Thank you to Mark Sanders for pointing out that the Emperor Wears No Clothes.

  5. Peter says:

    That could be the girl in the blue dress over at cyclechic. On a bike too. http://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine/4923756645/
    She seems to have changed her hair colour.

    Back to serious, thats a really good article by Mark Sanders.
    We could do with a lecture or two on this here in Australia, a very similar bike environment to the U.S.
    I gave up the lycra scene in favour of normal clothes a few months ago and feel that this side of cycling is the way forward and needs to be promoted.
    Its unfortunately held back here by the effects of helmet law.
    Helmet law has been described as a selective herbicide. It killed off Utility Cycling and the only cyclists that sprang back all felt they needed to treat cycling as only a sport then wear lycra and go fast.
    Theres some hope though in that surveys show a recent increase in normal attire but also pressure to remove helmet laws.

  6. Gear says:

    Cars keep more people from bicycling. Just ask any non cyclist, they will tell you that the number one reason they don’t cycle is cars. Absoutly no one I’ve asked has replied that they stay away from bicycling because they are intimidated by the bikes that other riders are on. CARS.

  7. John in MD says:

    I found your article right up to the iBike part interesting. I would just point out that the record companies wanted a LOT more than 0.99 for each song. And if you had been as astute a technology watcher as you are with bicycle trends you would have noticed that Apple’s formats have not been locked down in years. Again, the lockdown was not their idea. The record companies wanted you to pay for each place you listened. Not being able to sync anything but an iPod to iTunes, now that was all Apple.

    I think it would be more accurate to say that an iBike would probably be beautiful, very easy to use out of the store, and almost impossible to modify. Pundits would focus on the last point, declare that it would be a failure like all of Apples products are. And before you roll out the old canard that Apple products are more expensive, I would point put that I have yet to see a tablet sell for less than the iPad with similar specs.

    I have probably kicked off a Mac/android/windows flame war here…..

    • Ted Johnson says:

      I admit, it was a cheap shot. But I still enjoyed making it.

      Since publishing this article, I’ve been thinking how good an iPhone-of-bikes would be for cycling–whether or not it was made by Apple. I wouldn’t buy one, but millions of faddists would. It would be good for cycling generally. And, you’re right, people would argue endlessly over it. It would be the bike that cyclists love to hate, but more people would be cycling.

      Fodder for a future post…

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      PS: I use a Mac Mini at work, and a MacBook Pro at home. I have a 2nd Gen iPod Nano, and I can’t wait for it to die so I can justify an upgrade–but it just won’t die. I don’t use a smart phone. (I don’t carry any portable electronics on me that I can’t afford to lose or break [i.e. replace] once a year.)

  8. Michael says:

    I found the article interesting, but unrealistic. They might be able to wear suits and ride bikes without sweating in Milan, but how far are they going? A mile or two? I guess if you lived in the city and lived a few blocks from work… How about all of us who live in the US, that was laid out with urban sprawl as part of the plan. Most people live 10+ miles from their jobs. I commute 20+ mile round trip to work over some of the knarliest Ozark hills here in Missouri. I don’t care how slow I could ride, climbing the hills would make me sweat like a PIG! I’m not a fan of Lycra, but after years of feeling like I wet my pants after a long ride, I found Lycra to be pretty nice. And riding bolt upright while heading into a 20+ mph wind on your way home from work is a REAL PAIN. Beig able to drop down and cut through the wind is nice. I am just talking real world friends.

  9. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    What I find needed is more well designed paths that have easy access to all destinations. Minneapolis has lots of trials, but not many are good for transportation to any destination.

    I argree, CARS are the biggest issue.. Stupid people think 1/2 a second is a big deal.

    I find when trails take to close to store, I shop there more often. I only wish they had covered bike parking, where I could load the bike and don my rain cape.

    Quite streets are nice, but all it takes is one stupid motorist to end the enjoyment and make me turn around and spend my money on-line and away from the community I live in.

    Comfortable bikes- I have a nice Dutch bike, but I lowered the bars aome to help with headwinds. My commute is only 7 miles, with few hills, but some days the wind can be a bit much.

    Our government spends lots of money building BIG roads for cars, but can’t build equally important paths for bicycles and non-mortor travel. This trully sends a message.. So, where do polititions invest their money? Gas stations, auto-insurance, auto reparir????

    I broke my leg a few monnts ago.. Ice skating. I found that most (almost all) broken bones are from car wrecks… To all that live with “Helmet law” how does a “full body armor” sound for motorists?

  10. Mark says:

    Interesting comments… Thanks all for writing.

    I am driven by the efficiency of these ‘human – amplifiers’ (aka bicycles :-) ) which for the same energy as walking take up 4 x the distance at 4 x the speed. Like you reading this, I love cycling and look for ways to get bring its benefits to the other 90%.

    Yes – infrastructure with, ideally, segregation from cars would be a big help to ‘blue ocean’ folk. In the bicycle industry the only ‘levers’ we have on this are: advocacy, education, presenting an appealing image (!) .. and the design / specification of the bike itself. So this is where I focused (the article was for the Taipei Trade show). Industry people surprisingly agree with the majority of the points, but in discussion are at a loss on how to get from ‘here’–established routes to profit etc.–to ‘there’–getting more folk on bikes.

    Yes, for the few hilly cities – gears and slow climbing are the order of the day, (or ebikes maybe ?). Although mainly flat The Dutch DO have very steep short hills at every canal crossing. But as they ALL have ridden continuously since ~age 3 they just apply a subtle extra pedal force and allow the speed to drop–all so effortlessly. (I was in Amsterdam 2 weeks ago and am always amazed at the universally good riding).

    Many people in Europe do commute 10 miles or more, and IF they don’t try to race, they arrive dry. Balancing cooling air speed with effort = no sweat.

    However, multimodal transport is a great solution for longer commutes, ie Bike > train/bus/car > bike using the bike for what it’s best at–shorter distances to avoid congestion, and other forms of transport for the long leg. The bike–and especially folding bike–is ACE at canceling the negative that trains etc. don’t go door-to-door.

    The piece was an amalgamation of earlier writings and FWIW individual pieces are:

    Blue Ocean: http://issuu.com/mark77a/docs/notes_mas_taipei09/1
    Imagine: – bicycles as consumer products ref: Appl : http://issuu.com/mark77a/docs/imagine_-_bicycles_as_consumer_products_article/1
    Posture: http://issuu.com/mark77a/docs/upright_is_right-the_view_ahead/1

    All targeting and ‘poking’ the bicycle industry.

    Goodness knows how I got from designing bikes to writing about the bike industry!! Some may say, “Stick to the day job” :-)

    Mark

  11. Paul says:

    The last time the AMERICAN bicycle industry and Shimano came up with an idea for grabbing the “ocean” of those millions of non-cyclists out there, the answer was the “Coasting” bike and it’s shamefully limited marketing and totally ill-advised use of those lacra-spandex stocked sport only bike shops! Needless to say, the whole “Coasting” concept failed! I picked up a few coasting bicycles dirt cheap and they have been really reliable and fun to ride. A whole different type of store MUST be the place to sell proper upright euro-style city bikes, no Treks, Giants, Cannondales, etc.

  12. BluesCat says:

    ” … Only because BluesCat wouldn’t submit to an X-ray … ”

    Dang, Ted, now I gotta get another new keyboard … got morning coffee in this one … and I’m alternating between choking and laughing.

    Josh S. has a perfectly valid point, th. Mark should have four x-rays of bike riders. The third one should still be of that Dutch-style upright, but there should be a bit of red in the lower lumbar region (where you wind up with compressed vertebra after a couple of Black Hole Sized Pot Holes).

    The fourth x-ray should be of a recumbent bike and rider. Here is where there should be NO red in the rider’s back. As a matter of fact, to show the TRUE comfort of a ‘bent, the skeleton of a figure in a blue dress should be shown in THAT x-ray: giving a relaxing back massage to the bike rider.

    It is not so much CARS, per se, it is our CAR-centric Society that is the problem. I recall an incident when I was waiting at a stop sign in the far right traffic lane at an intersection. A Phoenix policeman pulled up behind me, honked his horn, then pulled up next to me and told me “I didn’t belong out there.” A true, “WTF?” moment.

  13. John in MD says:

    Too late! Crate and Barrel is already selling a Dutch-style bike. Faddists are probably flocking there even as we speak.

    I have to go wrap twine around my handlebar tape…

  14. Chris Jordan says:

    My thoughts exactly: high or low recumbents, ‘bent bikes or ‘bent trikes- delta or tadpole, ‘bent tandems (also bikes or trikes), even enclosed velomobiles or velotaxis!

  15. Anthony Rizzo says:

    While I agree with you that US commutes are longer than European commutes it is important to remember that it is so by choice. Our cities were built around the automobile not the bicycle. What we need to aggressively pursue now is a complete over haul or retrofitting of the automobile infrastructure to fit the bicycle and other pedal powered vehicles.

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