Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Who Are We Trying To Impress?

One of the "mantras" of the cycling industry these days is to "get more people to use bicycles for utility", or just "to get more people riding bicycles". Sounds good, right? Health benefits, ecological benefits, and all the "green" stuff we keep talking about. Yeah. It's all good, right?

Well, that depends on who we're talking to.

The assumption that is made here is that "getting more people on bicycles" is referring to the people who "are not on bicycles". Seems simple enough, right? I mean, a lot of people are not cyclists and the more cyclists we get the better we get as a whole, no? More health, more green, yada,yada,yada. Okay, great. But where are the new people? I am not seeing a rush to the bicycle anymore than there has been over the past 20 years or so. So why is that?

It's because we, (as cyclists and as an industry), are talking to other cyclists, not to what I like to call "Non-cycling America".  Here is what I mean....

Take a look at this bicycle by "Beloved". It is part of the Rapha Bicycle Collection. Rapha being that cycling clothing company that manufactures a romantic, mid-20th century cycling aura that you can buy in to. (I wonder, do you see everything in daguerreotype when you ride in Rapha clothing? Just curious.) Anyway, check out the simplicity, the utilitarian "monkey grip" to help haul it up stairways, the fenders, and useful rack all driven by an internal geared 5 speed transmission. Cool, right? Practical, no? Well, cool your passions folks, and check out the asking price: $5,195 + shipping. No, that isn't a typo folks. That's 5G of utility sitting there. How many of the "Non-cycling Americans" that you know will be interested in this?

Yeah.........not many, I'll wager!

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about when I say that the cycling industry, and cyclists are all hob-nobbing and slapping each other on the back with congratulatory salutations while speaking the right words but directing them all at the choir. All the while "Non-cycling America" is looking at us like we're speaking in some alien language, running around in ridiculous get ups, and pissing them off by getting in their way on "their" roads. (Well, because we are!) No wonder there is such a gulf between cyclists and everybody else on many cycling issues.

Think I'm crazy? Try talking "bike" with your non-cycling friends, relatives, or acquaintances, and get back to me on that. I'm betting you will "get the look" while they strain to comprehend what the heck that it is you are trying to talk to them about. Now look at the cycling industry, and tell me they are "talking" to these people any better. They are not, and that's a big problem if this industry really wants to get more folks on two, bi-pedaled wheels.

Now, check out this rig. Here's a guy from Nova Scotia, (if I recall correctly), that runs a shop. He got in several "town/urban" type bikes, canvassed the average citizen, and came up with the bicycle in his hands there. It is something casual and "non-cyclists" told him would work for them. And you know what? This fellow is going to start up a factory that will supposedly crank out about a 1000 of these 8 speed internal geared bikes with fenders, upright seated position, and sprung saddle per year for...........wait for it.......

About $1000.00. Yup! (And I think that is still too spendy for "Non-cycling America", but hey! This is headed in the right direction.) Oh the way, notice the man's garb? Yeah......practical. Looks like the guy next door, no? And what's more, this fellow wouldn't sell typical bicycle helmets to his customers because he knew that they thought the racing inspired helmets we see in every bike shop were going to make his customers feel stupid. Well, ya know.....he actually is talking to non-cyclists. Gosh! Isn't it amazing what you'll learn if'n ya just listen? Wow!

While it isn't very romantical, cool, or inspired by Europe's hard men, this guy is going in the right direction to get more people on bicycles. You know, the people that are not already on bicycles that we all want to get on bicycles? Yeah, those folks. Not "us". We already have bicycles.

I suggest we use 'em as often as possible too.


paxtoncoyote said...

Living in a very small town in western Nebraska I can definitly relate to the people who don't "get it" This is a real car culture out here, especially the big diesel pickups & soccer mom suv's & I think everyone thinks my family is a little crazy when they see one of us miles away from town on a bike, especially in the winter, & I don't even ride to work as that is less than a block for me to my office/shop so I walk everyday but believe it or not I know others who live the same distance to their jobs & they fire up a Chevy Suburban every day to drive that distance! MAKES NO SENSE!

Now my daughter who is living in Sweden this year as a jr in high school is learning the exact opposite, A LOT of bike commuting over there or walking/skiing this time of year & she's right there with the natives having a BLAST! I think when she shows others over there the type of riding we do over here on my blog & such they don't understand because to them it looks like more "sport" riding than out of necessity, but I'm thrilled she is a part of a cycling culture this year while over there, I think it will change her perspective in the long run.

I've had folks come to me more & more over the years with biking advice & I try to steer them in the right direction, unfotunatly most of them come back home with Wal-Mart bikes anyways as they think the bike shop bikes are "to expensive", which is a good opportunity for me to tell them EXACTLY why they see me some 30-40 miles from home on MY bike, because it's NOT a Wal-Mart bike! Oh well, I'll keep trying because I BELIEVE in the 2 wheeled transportation!

Joe said...

You just nailed it with this one. Right on!!!

Jason said...

Very good post. The town I live in now in central Michigan is very bike oriented, it's a college town, it's flat, and most of the roads are wide. A few main roads have bike lanes, and the downtown even has some pretty sweet bike decor on the lamp posts to promote locking you bike up to.

I see a TON of folks from ages 5 to 80+ riding bikes to work, shop, etc., What I DON'T see is anyone on bike that costs more than $1,000, that is for sure. There is no need. Most are heavy cruiser or old road bikes. I have seen more vintage Schwinn 10 speed bikes in the past 2 months than I have my whole life! And I think I have only seen one fixie. GASP! Oh right this isn't the "hip" city.

But even the hardcore cyclists that I am friends with and bike shop folks aren't riding the big $ bikes to do their shopping and what not. Most have fixed up super old mountain bikes with slicks, fenders and super hip milk crate baskets for grocery getting. Everyone else in town in using Wal Mart bikes to get from A. to B. No one here gives to shitz fronting, they just want to go to the store (or to the bar)and leave the car at home.

I know I personally have 4 bikes, but there is not one (even in this friendly mid western town) that I would feel good about leaving outside while I did my shopping or eating or whatever. Now if I find an old beater for a couple hundred bucks or less. Then yes.

I could not agree more with your post. More folks on bikes does not come from $5,000 town bikes. Ug!

Head Honcho said...

Bu-but the Beloved is brazed by [[[Chris King]]]. Isn't he a god that deserves to charge that much for bikes and components?

mark, you're on fire lately! Keep it up!

Steve Fuller said...

Heh. $5000 city bikes. Love the Rapha lifestyle. Commuter bikes are tools that have a fairly rough usage pattern. As such, they need to be fairly reliable, but not too expensive to replace. I think this is one of the reasons that most people balk at $1000 for a bike. That's a lot of money for a tool, and it's a lot of money to spend when you're not sure how often you're going to use the tool. As much as we harp on the BSO's and Wal-Mart bikes of the world, the reason people buy them is that the tool meets their needs, and it's not too expensive to replace if something happens to it. I would gather that a number of cyclists view cars the same way. Why would you buy a fancy car and stretch your budget, when a used KIA will do the trick?

Unknown said...

For only $1700 more, the carbon and Campy, full Edge equipped IF looks cheap. Just saying.

Jay said...

Excellent thoughts, while we aren't only paying for the image with rapha we definitely are paying for quality...but Chris King doing Cielo, Beloved, what next, its unreasonable to market that bike at anyone that doesn't already ride like you said and custom builders know this, ANT on the other hand makes some affordable townies ($1500 for hand built aint bad)that are still heading in the right direction. Its nearly impossible to take any given "non-cyclist" customer that walks into a bike shop and sell them a custom frame, let alone a $1000 salsa casseroll. Find a decent Giant or Trek with a rack on it and get those people riding...then once they fall in love with it they will want to spend more on their next bike and so on... It is our job to facilitate that (although i know not everyone reading this works at a shop). Again, great thoughts GT

MG said...

It really doesn't matter how much the bike costs, or what it looks like, as long as it gets ridden. But that said, I think it takes all sorts and if tying up folks hard-earned cash in $5k commuter bikes keeps 'em from spending it on a new car, I think that's pretty good too. Because they're still gonna' ride more in that scenario, no matter what.

But they guys at the office will still never understand... They'll just have something new to gawk and point at. And so it goes.

Great post today, my brother.


paxtoncoyote said...

Ironically my neighbor just went to Wal-Mart & came home with a new Mongoose 29'er the other day! WEIRD! It's not a bad looking bike for $200 but I warned him of future problems with cheap drivetrain issues & such not to mention is Wal-Mart going to start carrying 29" tubes/tires? Yes, it does have a kickstand to!

Tom said...

I love Rapha's concept. Top shelf, high quality gear that is fashionable and functional.

But their prices are not in line with reality. I have a hat. Only got it cause I like wool hats and this one had a purple stripe.

We should support the efforts of 'all' the vendors trying to push Everyday Cycling as a viewpoint. But we should also encourage them to move towards a more practical price point.

Wally said...

Excellent post GT. I took me all day to read it since I'm on the road but i'm glad I was able to.

Like Marty says, you are on fire lately my man! you go!

bmike said...

pot kettle, kettle pot.

from the guy that is currently building up a muk, has how many other bikes in the stable?, and is stressing out about chain stay mounted brakes and flex in the frame for a custom one off gravel road specialty bike.

yes, people who don't ride, usually don't get it. same as i don't go reading car blogs and atv or snow mo blogs.

gt, i agree that the rapha stuff is over the top - especially for a commuter. if this were a car blog would you be ripping on the over the top autos that most folks drive to get back and forth to work? you know, your basic $35,000 family sedan? add another $5k for the minivan with dual tv monitors, game stations, and heated seats?

not to mention how many folks drive a beemer or a lexus or an SUV to work? wait till that 'volt' hits the street! over the top to go 15-20-30 miles to work and to pick up take out or milk on the way home?

rapha has a very particular market in mind - and they appear to be doing quite well with it. its sort of absurd for those 'everyday cyclists' - but if someone keeps the bimmer parked and rides that custom bike to work 3 days a week - its a good thing.

(note, i was given some rapha kit as a gift - really nice (aside form the pink striping, which is tastefully used as a design element) - we'll see how it does to rain and mud and hours of sweat...)

$1000 for a commuter is too much to ask a non cyclist to pay (i know, i imported some dutch city bikes and some bakfiets...), $500 is pushing. $349 seems a sweet spot - but the quality just isn't there for long term use... and most of the lower end bikes come with a suspension fork (heavy), non-dutch / non-euro upright position (sit up and beg uncomfortable), no fenders, no rack, no lights, etc. etc. etc.

what to do?

Guitar Ted said...

@bmike: Nice- You have no clue how much I do at my own cost to get everyday people on bikes, but since you didn't ask, I guess it wouldn't matter, eh? Some other time.

Now that having a certain number of bikes and having fun with bicycle design makes me unqualified to comment, I suppose you will see the rest of this as having little to no impact, but here goes....

My point is that the cycling industry has way to much emphasis on the high end. (Automobiles do too, but that's an entirely different subject), and gives lip service to bringing the Non-cycling American in, but has no substance to back it up, as your closing comments so clearly illustrate.

So, uh....thanks for agreeing with me in your convoluted manner.

bmike said...

hey gt, i'm sure you do plenty to advocate and get folks out on bikes. thanks. sorry i didn't ask.

yes, a $5k commuter seems pretty silly. so does the custom IF i have sitting in the garage, along with 3 other bikes.

and reading and commenting on cycling blogs seems pretty silly too in the grand scheme of things.

my point was - yes, its pricey, but man, its bikes. if someone can shell out $65k for a loaded luxury SUV to drive back and forth to work and snag some milk on the way home - there is certainly a (limited) market for a $5k commuter. and yes, real people need realistic transportation options. decent bikes would be a good start - but better conditions out there to get to and from work / school / store would be a bigger help. the more folks out, the more will follow, and hopefully we'll end up with some homegrown transportation style bikes as iconic as a bakfiets or euro city bike... until then - its walmart and the lower priced tiers at the ski / sport / cycle shops across the land.

the rapha stuff is over the top. but they are plugging into a pretty high end market. they've got tours, gentlemen's rides (where are the ladies?), overpriced (but seemingly nicely done) kit, etc. etc.

i don't think you should walk into a bmw or lexus dealership and be ripping on the fact that there are no chevy aveo's for sale, which seemed to me what you were doing.

Guitar Ted said...

@bmike: Thanks for your comments. Listen- Your auto reference is not working for me. Here's why- The auto industry isn't making a push, (or giving lip service to such an idea), that non-automobile driving people need to get into a car. Why? Because it is assumed that everyone will have to get a car. They don't speak to a "non-driving America", because we all drive.

Cycling doesn't have that luxury.

See what I mean?

bmike said...

I guess I don't see why different companies can't work on different ends of the market...

Where's the $300 commuter from Salsa? How many 'non cyclists' are going to run out and buy a Pugs or Muk? Or a Kona Ute? Or a Trek Soho or a Civia something? The $5k commuter and $120 shorts with padding in them may look odd to the guy or gal just trying to get to work on the late 90's MTB with milk crate attached... but there appears to certainly be a market for lots of stuff that not just about getting people on bikes.

I don't think 'the industry' is all pointed in one direction. Lots of niche markets within the bike world. Lots of ideas on how to make a buck, how to spread 'the culture', lots of ideas on what 'the culture' is (whatever it is), lots of ideas on what a bike should be. Lip service? Sure. But I don't think Rapha's mission statement (and many other company's) reads anything akin to a bike advocates manifesto. If you look on their 'about' page - they are all about road racing and suffering, performance, suffering some more, and 'discerning' cyclists (that usually means $$$).

So, if we don't like the auto analogy, what would work? Wandering into the food court at the local mall and wondering where all the non fried vegan food is?

Good thoughts though. Thanks for responding back... can't wait to see the Muk finished up and the custom gravel bike in action.