Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Dreamers Ideas To Make Mountain Bikes More Affordable

With the news that 2009 bicycle prices were going to be significantly higher, I was left wondering how much it might cost now for someone to get into mountain biking, and 29"ers in particular. Of course, it never has been really cheap. Mountain bikes, all terrain bikes, or what ever you want to call them, have always been a bit pricey. At least what I like to call "real mountain bikes".

And maybe that is the problem. Just what is a "real mountain bike" anyway? I mean, some folks are "mountain biking" on department store rigs, right? Well, for the sake of this discussion we will assume that the equipment must be serviceable, durable, and have a reasonable level of high performance off road. A bike that could be expected to give years of service with basic maintenance. The ability to fit at least two inch wide tires is also a prerequisite.

Okay, so what do you suppose a bike like that costs? $400.00? $500.00? Somewhere around there? I'm going to say that with today's future pricing in mind, you are looking at $500.00 and up.

That's a lot of cabbage.

Especially for those that these bikes are aimed at: the first time buyer/novice cyclist. Don't bother talking accessories. That will make the price even higher. Before I go on, I get that mountain biking is an equipment intensive sport. However; if we want to continue to grow the sport, (and I think that by all of the trail advocacy efforts I see, it is fair to assume that we do), we need to re-examine pricing and just what an "entry level" mountain bike should/could be. Here are a few suggestions and ideas to that end.

Make It Basic: First time riders are not "tech intensive" for the most part. Usually you are talking about someone that is concerned about durability, price, and having fun. A decent frame, a drive train that lasts and doesn't need to be fiddled with, and tough wheels. What would be so wrong with this: Develop an all aluminum seven speed drive train. Make it like the old STX RC stuff maybe, (although that had a bit of steel in it here and there), and get rid of the front suspension. Give it linear pull brakes. Give it a decent, tough frame. These days it seems aluminum wears well, but for this project, I would like to see a steel frame and fork. Give the customer a single speed option.

I know some companies are doing this already. It just needs to be given a wider audience.

Make It Versatile: Make the bike not just an all terrain bike. Make it a commuter ready bike. Sell it with skinny tires on it right off the floor. Rack mounts, fender mounts, a place for a kickstand. Again, I know versions of this have been and are out there, but the drive train usually isn't up to snuff, well.........because what I am talking about doesn't exist! Not from Shimano or SRAM. That said, I know Marin did the Hamilton single speed in this vein and by all accounts I've heard, they sold well. (They also had a geared version, as well.)

Make It Upgradeable: Sell this "basic all terrain" bike, but give the customer an "upgrade" option. Sort of a "good, better, best" set of packages that could be bolted on at purchase by the bike shop. Or at least a model that could be upgraded into a full on mountain bike hard tail at some point. Include disc brake tabs, suspension corrected geometry, decent handling traits. If it is the single speed bike, give it a derailleur hangar too.

Those are my thoughts. Would it be enough to get the price down? Would any company be willing to manufacture this "generic bike"? Could we ever hope to get a really nice seven speed drive train from Shimano or SRAM? That is a tall order and those are questions I don't have answers for. My guess is that you would say I am a dreamer and there is no way this would work.

Who knows. I can dream at least!

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