Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Alternate Realities

A view of the internals on Specialized's new Turbo Creo SL HPC (Hybrid Powered Cycle)
Seventeen Thousand Bucks?!! 

Yeah-hum. That's what all the Tweets and stories blared out about this new offering from Specialized. But....let's be real. That screaming bit of info was pretty much click-bait, as that is the price for the special "Founder's Edition", of which only 250 bikes will be produced. The "entry level" Turbo Creo is $9K, is a bit heavier, and doesn't have the range of the top end one.

The mainstream cycling press was all agape at the pricing, but otherwise was singing the praises of this technological marvel of Specialized's design team, who designed the motor system themselves on this bike. Even on social media, all the names in the biz were saying, "It's expensive yes, but if it gets one more person out of a car, it's worth every penny.", or some like statement. But c'mon! Does anyone really believe that anyone that buys one of these race inspired rockets is going to drive less, or give up driving altogether? Pfft! This line of thinking is so lame as to be laughable. It's more likely to be an added toy alongside the six figure sports car and two gas guzzling SUV's in the garage.

It's really interesting that in the mainstream cycling press, it was really hard to find anything negative, or even seriously critical, of this bike. However; non-endemic press wasn't so kind. I stumbled up a site called "electrek", and here is an excerpt from their reporting on this bike:

"So why is the bike so expensive? Well, you’re paying for the California design team to create this custom carbon frame and the Swiss engineering team to develop an entirely new e-bike powertrain. And you’re paying for a wide range of sizes including XS, SM, MD, LG, XL, and XXL. Not to mention the slew of high-end bicycle components that invariably adorn a Specialized bike.

But at the end of the day, you’re largely paying for it to say “Specialized” on the side.


The author also called it "under-powered" and basically a "status symbol". Truth. Definitely a refreshing look at a bicycle that is more design exercise than anything else. And at the end of the day, I have to ask myself, "Where is the critical thinking in the mainstream cycling press?" It's non-existant. And as far as introductions go, most stories I read were deep dives into the marketing "ga-ga" and tech-speak non-sense that no one outside of cycling "nerdom" even gives a rip about. It's no wonder most folks that these companies want to pry out of their interstate roving tanks can't be bothered with cycling as it is presented in the mainstream press.

Give folks a practical bike, reasonably priced, and a two wheeler with attractive features that do not have marketing campaigns that include things having to do with carbon lay-up, watt/hrs, and gold plated jockey wheels. Maybe make it exciting to ride, like the Harley electric motorcycle featured in a video on the same page as the Specialized article at the link above. That's the kind of stuff that is going to reach the folks out of the traditional bounds of cycling today.

But apparently, the cycling media and pundits live in some alternate reality to most folks.


MuddyMatt said...

Hi Mark, I've followed your blog for years from the UK and finally I'm prompted to comment. I'm a long time cyclist myself (I run the Muddymoles website and ride both MTB and Road bikes whenever I can - BTW, you don't need to link to us if you prefer not).

In this case I - respectfully - think your comments about e-bikes are a bit wide of the mark.

First of all I think there's a big difference between e-bikes (or hybrid powered bikes) and electric motor bikes. The Specialized and other e-bicycles are at heart just that - bicycles. If you don't pedal, they don't go. You need an input to get anything out. On an electric motorbike, twist the grip and off you go. That's a big difference; we all like a bit of gravity assist on bicycles already, so having a bit of electric assist doesn't seem that different to me really.

Second, licencing. On this side of the pond - I'm not certain of the US - you don't need insurance or a licence to ride any kind of bicycle, but you do if it's a motorbike of any kind. So that would be a big barrier for potential users of electric motorbikes.

I fully get that this Specialized is a nerd bike. It's a halo bike (just like a Ti Mukluk) but it has some pretty decent solutions to e-bike problems. Time will tell if they are what the public wants but I think it's reasonable to imagine and expect a LOT of trickle down from these halo models to more everyday bikes.

And that, really is the key. Rich people might have these as toys, but when we get to more affordable price groups, the solutions e-bikes potentially provide are significant.

For example, I'm lucky enough to be able to cycle to work with the option of either on or off-road routes. I do this all year round, it's brilliant, but it's a minimum 15 miles each way and frankly takes a lot of effort; any more than twice a week is just not sustainable long-term. With an e-bike, I can enjoy five days a week riding, using as much or as little of my own energy as I want, while enjoying all the benefits of cycling. I plan to get an e-bike in the next two or three years when the tech is more stable and to continue my riding as I do now but with an e-bike for when pure cycling is too much, which will let me ditch my car.

Another real example is local trips. Most UK journeys are less than five miles, most closer to three. Ideal for a push bike, but not if you are carrying gear back from shops or errands. E-bikes solve that by reducing effort, particularly for people who would almost always jump straight in a car. This requires culture (or mindset) change, but is realistic with ever-improving e-bike tech.

All this adds up I hope to a fair argument FOR e-bikes. They are not bicycle replacements, but their own form of bicycle that can suit many people's needs. Is the Specialized and other top-end e-bikes the solution for most people? No. But they are a statement I think of the future, a future when for most urban and sub-urban spaces cars need to take a back seat.

I guess we will have to wait and see and as always, it will be interesting I'm sure.

Keep up the good work on the site, I doff my cap to anyone who can create original content as readable as yours as regularly as you do.

Guitar Ted said...

@MuddyMatt- Hello and well met.

First of all, I have nothing against the existence of HPC or even "motorcycles" using electric power. That one has to try to differentiate them into categories and what not is not at all what my post was about.

How you want to use, or not, one of these machines, well, that's another subject. Also not what I was pointing out at all with this post.

My post today was about how endemic media has no critical element to their coverage, and that it is far, far too technical for the average cyclist. When you compare it to a site who has, as its focus, electric powered vehicles, saying the things it said about the Specialized Creo SL, well, that is something pretty different, and dare I say more to the mark? Yes. I dared say that in my post.

Now, as to the bike itself, it is a "halo" product, and Specialized has had a "halo" product e-bike in its line for several years. If, as you suggest, this technology were to "trickle down" to lower tiered price points, I perhaps would have seen evidence of that by now, but I have not. To be fair, neither has Trek or Giant done anything in this manner for the everyday cyclist.

And that is sad. When you can hop online and purchase a HPC for well under 1G and it doesn't hold to the conventions of what the pundits say about power levels, assist, and the like, it is pretty obvious that the mainstream cycling industry and media are just not getting it when it comes to what the non-cyclist out there are looking for.

And THAT is the gist of my post.

MuddyMatt said...

Thanks for the reply Mark, I appreciate it.

To your point about the marketing and journalism, absolutely. It's also I think a failing of the cycle industry in general; they always sell the nerd features to existing enthusiasts rather than sell the benefits to people who don't yet ride.

The industry isn't alone in this though - look at how cars are sold. Always a solitary vehicle in the great outdoors with people doing aspirational activities (almost always white people incidentally), or young perky 20-somethings darting round empty city streetscapes, almost as if they exist purely for the enjoyment of the person who is savvy enough to have bought the vehicle in question.

So the motor companies push the aspiration and the motor press then does all the nerd feature marketing for the car companies dressed up as consumer interest. Bike marketing takes it's lead from there doesn't it?

It's 'lazy' marketing in that individual companies are not trying to grow the sector but rely on organic growth to do the lifting for them (which is not really there at the moment for cycling). Then again, I don't wonder that individual companies focus on their own latest wonder-bike.

The question might can the cycling press work with cycle company marketers to change cycling perceptions in general and grow overall demand? I'm not sure - is that really where this kind of promotion needs to takes place? By definition the only people reading the cycling press are self-selecting enthusiasts. Back to giving them the nerd features!

One solution is to put good quality products in the hands of people who don't ride - here Specialized and others would be better advised to run programmes making fleets of bikes (e-bikes or otherwise) available to people to try a week of commuting to/from their workplace? Then cash incentives to buy the bike.

The fundamental is we need the industry to grow. We need great ideas, great product, great communication and much more from government, law makers, town planners etc. to get there.

Let's focus on the benefits where we see them - cycling solves environmental, physical and mental health issues, saves people money, creates jobs. Wins for everyone.

Best wishes, Matt