|A Schwinn Collegiate from an old Schwinn catalog|
I used to have a job as a jeweler where I sat at a bench making, fixing, and designing jewelry next to a man that was a good friend of mine. He was married, I was not. I wasn't in any hurry to get engaged either. He thought I was being complacent. He said I was like a catfish, waiting for whatever came downstream. He thought I needed to be more proactive in finding a mate. It caused no end of discussions between us.
Well, that may seem like an odd story to bring up to lead into a story about cycling, but the industry has, for decades, been like me in the 1980's. Slow or just not about looking for "mates". The cycling industry wasn't proactive, and it hasn't been very much good at getting out there and trying to find cyclists until recently. What it has done is to sit complacently and react, for the most part.
Take the 70's bike boom. The catalyst for the massive uptick in bicycle sales during that time was not a result of creative efforts of the cycling industry. It was a reaction to demand which was brought on by the fuel crisis of 1973 and the fitness boom. Then, after millions of bikes were sold, did the industry advocate for ways and places to use them? No. They just raked in cash and thought it was going to last forever, one would think.
Later, about a decade later, some enterprising Californians decided that off road cycling was fun, and that bicycles built on a mass production scale were a good idea. Grassroots growth caused a sector to flower called "mountain biking". It was a "fad" some industry pundits said wouldn't last. It wasn't picked up right away by some of the bigger companies in cycling, and in the end, they were wrong. Obviously.....because they eventually made these bikes all about racing.
Then a thing called "free riding" came along, an offshoot of mountain biking that was more about having fun. It eschewed the then NORBA type bikes and racing culture for that of one based upon back country riding and "fun". (Imagine that. Fun, like the late 70's mtb'ers were having, perhaps?) This morphed into the long travel mtb scene which was dominated by smaller companies, not the big three, not until much later. Meanwhile a counter-culture based on single speed mountain bikes was bubbling along, largely ignored by the cycling industry. Added to this was the beginnings of the 29"er craze, a grassroots driven move toward bigger diameter wheels. None of these things were picked up on by the cycling industry who were content to keep pushing out the same old 26"er designs and road bikes, both based upon racing styles.
Then we had "The Lance Effect". Nuff said.....
|29"ers were resisted by many companies until they reacted to Trek/Gary Fisher's success with them.|
This has led to "knee jerk" reactions in the industry which have led to over-saturation of product, consumer misunderstanding, and a general mistrust of anything actually good and new in the industry. The first haymaker the industry threw was fat bikes. Then when that bubble burst they sent up the 27.5"er long travel bikes, or "enduro" rigs. When that didn't take off all over the industry jumped on "plus" sized tires, and then gravel/all-road bikes. What was going to be next?
E-bikes, that's what. Specifically, e-mtbs. But once again, while sales numbers are reported to be wildly successful, you can bet your bottom dollar that just like all the other "next big things", this one will have the rug pulled out from under it too.
|The e-mtb is what the industry is betting on now.|
Then one could also say that with all the "every butt on a bike" sloganeering going on, that the industry is really pretty hypocritical. "Every butt"? Really? Then why all the misogyny? Where are we reaching out to women? Where are we trying to reach out to minorities? I'm not seeing the industry doing much here.
The industry needs to quit chasing "the next big thing" in cycling gear and start shrinking things back to sensible levels. I read a great line on Jonathan Fields Twitter feed yesterday, it said, "More isn't better, better is better. And, that often means less." Make better bikes, simpler choices, and infuse them with more value.
Stop chasing the next niche and create places and a culture people want to be a part of, not more models of the same old bikes, not "the next big thing" in cycling. Stop making everything about racing and make it more about the "everyman". It isn't sexy, nor does it appeal to machismo, and it certainly wouldn't fit "The Rules". But do it anyway. Don't sit around reacting to trends, don't wait to see what happens, but create the atmosphere where things can happen.
Maybe the industry need one of those rants my old jeweler friend used to give me!