Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thoughts On The Future

Word is that there will be a whole lot more of this coming down the pike for 2016/17
In Taiwan every year now there is a big gathering of industry marketing and product managers, spec people, component makers, and representatives of factories and bike brands which all convene to decide what the future direction of the cycling industry is going to look like for the next few years. It's called Taiwan Bike Week, or TBW for short, and it has more influence upon what you see on bike shop floors and on internet sites than almost anything else does.

For instance, several years ago industry wonks noted that the wave of 29"er acceptance was waning and 26 inch mtb product was dead and dying. The thought was that the then new "enduro" scene would benefit from bigger than 26 inch wheels, but not as big as 29"ers. The 650B wheel had been floundering around for a few years already and wasn't going anywhere. Haro had tried it amongst a few other brands. It looked to be a dead wheel size, that is until the industry decided that the new long travel mtb's would use that size and reinvigorate the enduro/long travel mtb segment with something new to sell. Before the next two years had passed, 26" wheeled enduro rigs had bit the dust like some kind of extinct reptile and "27.5" wheels, (the original moniker Kirk Pacenti gave the wheel size in 2007), were all the rage. Because the industry decided it would be several years before in Taiwan.

A similar situation with regard to the industry and sagging sales in a certain segment is going to cause another paradigm shift in what you see on shop floors and on the "inner-googles" next season. Recent sales figures for traditional road bike sales show a decline and in fact, sales of road bikes have been in decline for several years now. But wait a minute...... What are those gravel grinder guys doing? And look at Raleigh and Salsa Cycles, what with their success in gravel bikes. Just think! We could reinvent road bikes and sell a pile of them! 

Plus sized wheels will also be a big deal in '16 & '17
I know what many of you are thinking- that the industry is evil, making up crap just to grab money from your wallets, with categories and twists and turns in cycling which are unnecessary and pollute the marketplace with confusion and crap. I cannot say no one in the cycling industry is doing this, because, well.....Bikes Direct....., but honestly, most companies have employees to support and somehow, someway they have to grab a piece of an ever smaller pie. It is what it is, and so far.......consumers voting with their dollars support this. Keep in mind that none of this happens without willing support of individual riders. If they don't "buy in" to something new in cycling, then the products offered will go away. (See 26" mtb as an example here.) Road bikes- the traditional, skinny, lightweight racer boy bikes- are the category that is suffering now, and if Taiwan Bike Week has dictated that these bikes don't deserve center stage anymore, I say, "Bravo!". Why? Because most people do not belong on road racing style bicycles, that is why.

So, if the industry wants to get away from those bikes and do something with more comfort, versatility, and durability than road racing bikes, then I am going to applaud that, even if it is an evil intentioned money grab, which, of course, it isn't. It should be more of what people really need in all-around, go anywhere, do anything bikes. Now we will just have to wait and see if folks can wean themselves away from the knuckle-brained idea that they need skinny tires and carbon fiber to have fun. Not that there isn't a place for those sorts of bikes, but most people are not best served by those bikes.

Which leads me to my last point, and that is that bicycles are getting so stratospherically priced that the average person cannot even relate to them. Somehow or another the industry decided that if they cannot sell more bikes, then they will sell more expensive ones to make up for it. That's a dead end game, and I think it needs to stop and stop soon. I wonder if they talked about that in Taiwan!


David Van Trump said...

This is the first place I go to every morning, even before I check the news and weather. Todays' post was excellent.

Keep up the good work!


Guitar Ted said...

@David Van Trump - Thank you! That is very kind of you to say, and encourages me to keep pressing on.

Smithhammer said...

Of course, the other upside to the downturn in road bike sales is that we'll hopefully see fewer people in roadie outfits - walking billboards, festooned with corporate logos of companies that 99% of road riders aren't even sponsored by. : )

IMG said...

Ditto what DVT said! If TI ever has a sunset and your March/April calendar frees up, you will always have a spot at the Ragnarok up here in Red Wing, MN. It's not as much of a "party" or nearly as big as some gravel races, but the course is worth the drive for sure.

Keep it up!

Oh... and you aren't kidding that bike prices are going sky high. I would call myself a fairly avid cyclist and there is NO way that I can justify a new bike unless one of mine completely falls apart. It didn't seem to be that way even 3 years ago.

Doug said...

I have to echo DVT above. I appreciate your honest take on the industry along with your opinions. Your blog has opened my eyes more than a few times to the reality of the industry.

RC said...

" they will sell more expensive ones to make up for it. That's a dead end game, and I think it needs to stop and stop soon. I wonder if they talked about that in Taiwan!" Very well said GT. And it really needs saying!!!

Guitar Ted said...

@IMG: Thank you! And I've heard great things about the Ragnorok. Hopefully someday I can make that work out to ride with you guys on that course.

@Doug: Thank you!

@RC: You're welcome and I have to say that I believe the industry is seeing what we're saying but I just wonder if there will be enough done about it to make a difference. Hopefully so!

lostjr said...

"...most people do not belong on road racing style bicycles,..."

People have been saying that since the ten-speed boom in the 70s'. Among them was Jeff Bock, who used to work at Europa. Being a frame builder, he made his own English style touring bikes and three-speeds.

"So, if the industry wants to get away from those bikes and do something with more comfort, versatility, and durability than road racing bikes, then I am going to applaud that, even if it is an evil intentioned money grab, which, of course, it isn't. It should be more of what people really need in all-around, go anywhere, do anything bikes. "

Pretty much exactly what people said when the first MTBs appeared. IMO it was still not the best match. Unless you are actually gravel grinding, IMO the most versatile bike is the _it_ bike from several seasons ago, the hybrid (minus those stupid front shocks). Properly equipped, it seems like a good match for RAGBRAI / rail trail / commuter use. They seem to be available at a range of price points. I am guessing Europa still sees a number of these go out the door.

Trouble is, a hybrid that is above the junk category will last a long time, with proper storage and routine maintenance. So that will not solve the bike industry's problem.

Bike culture differs geographically. In San Francisco, where I now live, high end racing bikes seem to be very important to local shops. I think the industry focused on the high end because many of the high end people will buy a new bike every time they slap another cog on the cluster. I guess that still did not solve their problem, but it seems to be good business here.

As for these new bikes, I think the larger diameter may last longer than the greater width. Bruce Gordon was lobbying for larger diameter when the first 26" MTBs appeared. He probably built some. But you gravel grinders know that:

Brad said...

I worked in the cycling industry during the mountain bike boom years during the 90s. There was enthusiasm, and riders from all demographics were buying bikes. Entry level made in the USA trek was under $400 The made in the USA bar has gotten higher and higher ever since. Cycling was about experiences, feelings, enjoyment, exploration. All the cool stuff was anodized not carbon. It was an everymans sport. This year I spent the most I've ever spent on a bike, Its awesome, but not 3 times as awesome as the one I bought in 2000. My favorite bike is still my Surly crosscheck. its has used 8spd sti and mismatched crankarms. I finished dirty Kanza on the thing. Point is, cycling is about the experience, the romance of rolling through nature. That is why gravel riding, fatbikes, and black and white images adorn Vimeo. Going back to the 90's kids rode bmx bikes, those punks turned into mtn bikers, road bikers, etc. Those that gave up riding when they earned their drivers license, at least were aware of cyclists, and may give the unknown rider on the street a couple more feet as they pass. It was good culture. What I attribute to this affluenza feel of the cycling industry now is that there was a shift from off road riding to during the Lance years. The upside short term is that Lance put more white guys on bicycles than Budweiser ever did, but the downside long term is that the middle age riders with expendable income accepted 2-3-6 thousand dollar bikes. They wanted to act the part of a euro pro. In my opinion that's what we're left with. I attended interbike in 1996, and it was chock full of enthusiasm, Jeff Bagley was a Wildman at Schwinn in those years, The range of bikes was bottom heavy from 12' kids bikes on up. My final Interbike in 2008 was hard to tell apart from a fashion show. Everything was high end, high dollar, etc. Bike racks weren't displayed on Vw's anymore but Audis. Appealing to the masses is something that cycling has not done well. Somebody tells the bike industry what will sell, but they are missing out on the department store, REI demographic. Keep up the good work Guitar Ted! Its my first read of the day as well.

lostjr said...

Sorry, even though this was at the top of the page, it took me awhile to find it.

mm Mw said...

I love my bikes direct bike. It came with a components and wheels of a quality that I simply could not have afforded had I bought from a specialized/trek/QBP-behemoth brand. It's held up beautifully for over 5 years now, and I've put so many happy miles on it. Disappointed to see you slag off on a company that's actually delivering value (and not fancy name brands or hipster-beard-adventure marketing) to customers.

Guitar Ted said...

@mm Mw: I am glad you love your bike and I hope you get many miles of smiles on it. Just like I wish for the people that own Huffy, Magnas, etc.

I am not unfamiliar with Bikes Direct bikes, by the way. We get a lot of them through the shop where I work, so I know very well what components are spec'ed, etc.

That said, I feel that there is probably no other company that I am aware of that has jumped more trends and caused more confusion in the market place than Bikes Direct, which is why I wrote what I did about them. That has nothing at all to do with you and your love of your bike, by the way. It is what it is. Just go see any on-line forum thread that concerns that company, and I think you will agree that this company engenders a lot of confusion and angst.

So, I stand by my words, but I also have said here many times, and I will here again- Anyone riding any bike is better than not riding at all.

Ride On mm Mw!

Glenn said...

What's the definition of skinny? 23? 25? 28? While I lust after something like a Salsa Warbird, I can't justify even the low end for a bike I would use a few times a year (due to a lack of unpaved roads and an abundance of quiet paved roads) in my area). That's why I stick to a 29er hardtail for off-road and the yearly gravel adventure, and a road bike for the rest, although I *do* wish the Domane had been in production when I bought my last road bike, something like that to me is the perfect (paved) road machine. 28s would be perfect for me.

But -- if a money tree sprouted in my backyard... I would be all over a fast "unpaved road" bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@Glenn- Yeah, 23mm, (which is falling out of favor), 25, 28, and I would lump in 30's as well.

Part of this "future" road bike deal is bikes that will go up to about a 32mm tire, but no more. That may be the sweet spot for you. I've used 30's and you can get away with a fair amount with those tires. By the way, a disc Domane is said to have the capability to swallow 30's now. In my view, that bike has the perfect geo for gravel riding and with the Iso Zone rear damping device and fork, it should prove to be pretty dang awesome just about everywhere. Only on our chunky gravel would I hesitate to use that bike due to the lack of big tire clearances.

nimmnorm said...

On the topic of plus sized wheels:

I've noticed g-ted expressing certain skepticism about the wider appeal of 29+ in the future, as opposed to 27+. And we've seen good reports on the use of 27+ in the gravel setting recently on this blog. I get why 27+ might be more suitable for a wider spectrum of riders in the MTB segment, but the 29+ comes across as generally superior to 27+ for the gravel thing specifally (if need be for a "plus" tire).

Guitar Ted said...

@nimmnorm: The problem with 29+ for any sort of use is that the geometry and fitting of folks gets progressively weirder as the individual rider's height gets shorter. That happens at a larger size than for 29"ers, or if we must have a "plus" sized wheel- at a much larger size than it does for B+ wheels.

Of course, if anyone wants to ride a 29+ bike on gravel, that is certainly doable, possible, and well within anyone's capability to obtain. Is it the optimum set up for gravel riding? That is a question that individual riders must ask themselves. So far, my observation is that by looking at what people are actually using at events, that answer is "Not very many people see this as the optimum set up".

That may change, but if I were pressed to make a prediction, I would say that 29+ will be the odd bike at most gravel events. In fact, I would also add that B+ wheels will also be rare.

Ike Cajka said...

Hey there.
Ive been in the industry the least among you fellas at 9 years and I have noticed this trend as since I started working at the local trek store. people dont want to buy road bikes and not be able to hit the numerous gravel trails.
Myself included. I bought a 1982 Motobecane Grand Touring off craigslist, put Ultegra drivetrain on it, 700c wheels, drop bars, long reach calipers and x28 tires and its hella less than a new Boone or Crocket. and comfier. I do the Pittsburgh-DC trail with it and its so much better suited/dynamic than a carbon race frame.

I dont see people buying high end road much any more and with my bike at the shop all the time, i end up helping customers make their old road bike similar to my own, once they see mine. We see hella hybrids at the 500$ price point and its for good cause. I wish perception at the top would be the same as it is in the trenches.

I love this blog/commentary. Keep it up. I cant just have reps whispering sweetly to me. I must have someone who "keeps to real...too real."
Thanks again,