Thursday, February 01, 2018

The One Bright Spot

Getting outside and having fun with friends on the 2015 GTDRI.
Fun...... Who doesn't like that? Obviously, the word can be defined in many ways, but taken in its most general form, "fun" means "enjoyable", "pleasurable", or maybe even, as says, "something that provides mirth or amusement".

I don't know much, but the whole of professional road racing, its supporters, and its imitators, never struck me as a group that was having this thing called "fun". Not in the least.

I will say that I always had a soft spot in my heart for guys that could suffer through a road race. But.........I never wanted to be that guy. Quite frankly, I couldn't be that guy. Most Pro roadies sacrifice so much, have a specific genetic gifting, and are of a certain temperament that there was zero chances I could ever be "that guy". Nope, I was never going to be successful at Pro racing, suffering the way they do. But I could do something else on a bicycle. I could have fun. I bet you could do that too.

I wanted to have fun  and have it often. It is why I have pretty much quit riding road bikes. For one thing, group road rides almost always end up becoming competitions and people getting dropped is a thing that is expected. Hmm......that isn't my idea of "fun". Not many folks would say it was either. Not to mention the fact that your chances of dying from being hit by a distracted, impaired, or unskilled driver are sky high when riding the paved roads these days. Yeah......the fun factor is not high here.

Take a look at RAGBRAI. Folks make fun of the riders because they stop so often and drink and eat. But you know what? They are having "fun". Guess what else? They aren't racing! Of course, there is more to it than that. Everyone has a different bike, wears whatever clothes they want, dresses up, dresses down,or wears costumes. In other words, fun is happening. Social things are happening. Mirth and amusement are happening. 

There is a great article up now on by James Huang about road racing and why it should not drive what happens in the cycling industry. I happen to agree with him, and furthermore, I would go as far to say that this insular, not very fun way of cycling is a big factor in what is killing the industry. People don't want to ride like the Pros, they don't want to suffer like the Pros, and they couldn't anyway. So why does the industry insist on basing its culture off Pro road racing? 

I dunno...... Fun haters? 

Too bad, they are really missing out. I know Mr. Huang gets it, Here's what he said in the article:

"One bright spot is the exploding world of gravel and adventure riding, and I’m not at all surprised by its appeal. After all, getting outside and having a good time with your friends are some of the core themes there. Exploring the world. Challenging yourself. Breathing some fresh air." - James Huang
Fun- Maybe the cycling industry should take a closer look at that. 


David Van Trump said...

I think this post relates very closely with your 25 Jan post “What’s in a name?”. I couldn’t agree more with both.

Tyler Loewens said...

A big reason I enjoy the company I am at is that we are small enough that you can handle an entire project, but large enough to work on projects you would have heard about. You can easily see the fruits of your labor, and that labor is not usually all that easy. There is something truly satisfying about that!

I find "fun" in the process of getting fit for racing. I equate it to seeing the fruits of my labor, much like what I wrote above about my job. Do I always feel that way? Of course not. There are times I just want to JRA, just check my Strava activities as I will put that in there.

So then why bring this up if I both ride for fun and the challenge? It feels as if people are looking for the enemy of the slow growth of the bike industry, and lashing out without any good data. Why villainize people who are in the game for the challenge?

Jonas Malever said...

I agree with your feeling about the industry missing the mark, but it is worth noting that there are plenty of fun, no-drop road rides happening all over the country. There is a disconnect between the industry and its customer base. That cannot be denied. However, local bike shops and local cycling communities have been promoting fun for a long time, and in my experience, they have been doing more of it in recent years than at any other time in my riding life(got my first bike as a young boy in 1978 and haven't looked back).

I think that the industry placed all its eggs in one basket during the Lance years, and that basket was racing. It finally had a superstar with a story that resonated with the average American. This created an atmosphere where ordinary folk were drawn into cycling by the endearing cancer survivor, and at the same time felt they could share a bit of his racing glory. Unfortunately, the industry held onto this model of bikes being equated with racing far too long.

Another more general problem, which the bike industry shares with most other industries, is that it feels the need to rely on "sex appeal" rather than targeting customer needs. Fit humans doing amazing things on bikes is much more alluring than overweight, middle-aged folk plodding along having fun. The approach is similar to the fashion industry, where millions of average people admire models whom they will never resemble. It's dreamland and it's hard to get around from a marketing perspective.

Kelly&Ted said...

Big topic. Good topic.

GT- You clearly don't like the competitive racing aspects of bikes (I say all bikes, not just road racing, because to go fast in any discipline of bike racing requires the same sacrifices). You don't like the specific training rides needed, the goal setting, the necessity of maintaining a competitive race weight, ect. I know its hard for you to believe, but setting goals and working towards to those goals, can be fun, even if its hard at times. And thats ok, it aint for everyone. (side note, it aint all genetics that make people fast- velo news had a podcast about pro bike racers, they interviewed people involved with pro teams like their trainers and the thing that surprised them most was that they all initially thought that genetics were the biggest factor in success, but after working with pros for a long team, they realized genetics were not as important for success as they initially thought when they first started working with pros). I actually feel like cycling is one of the few sports that its easier to overcome genetic potential more than other sports through motivation and hard work, but I digress...

I think there already has been a big shift from the 'racing' and competitive aspect of our culture, to the 'participatory' aspect of things. Marathon runners have gotten slower over the years Im guessing the same is true with bike racers if you consider gravel and fondos as races, which is basically what a marathon is- a race for some, a long walk for others. That is ok.

Marketing to the 'fun' and 'participatory' crowd I already feel like is happening for some time, think Salsa. James article was great, but I do feel he cherry picked a tad, running definitely has a suffer side to their marketing, same with nordic skiing. This is an old photo but one I remember because of an local athlete puking after a race that nike used in their advertising campaign

That all said, Im a firm believer for some time (like yourself) unless you are actually planning on road racing, you should not buy a road bike, so basically 99% of all bike buyers. But I don't think that is whats killing the industry as you put it. When I see adds for enve wheels or an aero helmet, I feel like the people are trying to sell me some enve wheels and an aero helmet, and not some sort of road lifestyle. How else should they try and sell these high end items, showing the riders sitting around eating bon bons?

If anything is killing the industry, its the fact that you can't buy even a totally bottom of the line new bike from most major brands for under $1000, and mid level builds are easily over $2000. How do you market the fact that this "fun" you are trying to sell to a non biker is a "bargain" at $1800?

bostonbybike said...

Road bicycling industry seems quite disconnected from Average Joe folks much, much more than off-road bicycling industry (if I can call it that way) is.

It's not just about image of "fun through suffering" but also bicycle design. One example - cranksets. They are essentially exclusively race-oriented, with large chainrings that Average Joe would never need. But even the cheaper, budget groupsets that are not desgined for racing (Tiagra, Sora, etc.) come with the same large chainrings. Gravel/adventure bikes started changing that.

Another reason why MTB/gravel/CX world seems better suited for Average Joe is that we simply ride these bikes where there are no cars (or less cars). Road cycling always happens between cars and many people (especially new to this sport) would feel intimidated by it.

Guitar Ted said...

Good comments all- A couple of points- First, I don't think anyone is "demonizing" people for wanting to be fit, competitive, or fast. If you feel that way, I think you are looking at this post as an attack on you/those people, which it isn't. It is a commentary on marketing, plain and simple, and how the bike industry is missing the mark.

Secondly, who said I don't set goals, that I don't train, and that I don't engage in competition. Show me in the post where I said that specifically. (Looking at you Kelly & Ted). Again, the rest of your comment falls in line with the post, but ad hominem comments don't fit here.

Otherwise, great discussion here. thanks for the comments.

Michael said...

Poking around on the web and looking at the bike selection for 2018, I've nice that the gearing on a lot of the bikes has dropped a little lower a 34/32 bottom gear on a road-ish bike is commonplace. Now if they'd just drop that big ring up front from a 50 to a 48 or 46 we'd be in business.

Kelly&Ted said...

HI- My comments about your not wanting to race are based on what you have been saying lately about not racing much this year, specifically in a post last month "Personally I am taking a different approach to my events. In the past I had a mix of competitive and "fun" riding. This coming year I am going to cut back on the competitive bits."

you mentioned how you couldn't be a roadie, didn't have it in you to make the sacrifices, etc. Ill stand by everything else I said, I don't think anything was a stretch based on your pro fun ride vs anti "suffer" statements. Im well aware you go for bike rides, but training and going for fun bike rides are different things. Its ok to just go for bike rides for fun, its was I do 99% of the time too. im not trying to insult you, but there is a difference.

lets talk marketing if thats your real goal of the post- I personally feel a massive push lately towards the marketing of adventure, aka fun. Truly, road feels completely and utterly dead to me and any company just relying on selling road bikes is literally going out of business. Its the age of every company having brand ambassadors or paid instagramers whose entire job is to sell fun. Companies don't care if their ambassadors suffer or even race, but more that this image of 'fun'or adventure is portrayed.

Given that you feel road biking marketing is killing the industry (please start by showing some numbers of how the industry is dying I really had no idea it was in such bad shape), how do you feel that 'fun' could be better marketed? Im serious about that question. What more should companies be doing to sell that $1600 entry level gravel bike? And where should they be focusing their marketing dollars on?