Thursday, June 27, 2019

What "They" Don't Get

My Tweet from Tuesday night. (Click to enlarge)
 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Tuesday night I saw a press release about a brand new carbon fiber "gravel bike" that made me think. It made me think a lot about many things. Like most things in life, it's complicated. In the end, I Tweeted about this, but even though Twitter allows you 280 characters to express yourself, plus images these days, it really didn't, nor couldn't, impart all of what I had considered. So, I thought, since the Tweet garnered a lot of response, that I would elaborate here on some of those, (but not all) thoughts.

First let me say that I love bicycles, geeking out on bicycles, and technical stuff is cool. Angles, numbers, curves and straight lines all conspire to catch my attention. Bicycles are an art form, a utilitarian device, and a spiritual medium, and sometimes all at once. But there are things about the sport, the usage, and the lifestyle that get lost in marketing, making money, and being "relevant" that makes me sad sometimes. But that's what we humans often do- we muck up beautiful things sometimes. I guess I kind of felt that way Tuesday evening.

This was the bicycle I Tweeted an image of. It was seen at the Solstice 100.
I have to paint a bit of a picture here for you, which I hope helps you, the reader, understand where I am coming from. It has to do with a couple of gravel events I have been attending. This seems to be a Nebraska phenomenon, but I cannot say that it is limited to Nebraska folks. I'm sure good examples exist elsewhere. Anyway, I've noted an ongoing use of what I term as "gravel mutts"- bikes that have been re-purposed to gravel use that were.....something else. They may have been cheap, 1970's "bike boom" bikes, or old 26" wheeled mountain bikes, or what have you. Bicycles that, maybe, are not considered "worth anything", but find use on gravel and back roads, (or city streets, or MTB trails, I imagine), and are ridden well. You probably have seen bicycles like this. I have noted this almost anytime I have ridden an event in Nebraska. Gravel grinders using "gravel mutts".

But it isn't about the 6G carbon gravel bike, or the gravel mutt. Nope. It is about the reasons a person would choose one or the other. It is the reason one company would make such an expensive rig, and why choosing the unloved bike instead kind of flies in the face of all of that. It's about why a scene grew and became popular and what conspires to ruin it all, without understanding what it is "they" are doing to effect that.

Like I said, it is complicated. 

Can a person buy a carbon wonder bike and have their heart in the right place when it comes to gravel and back road riding? Absolutely. Can a rider that chooses a gravel mutt be a total dick? Again- YES. But it goes even beyond this.....

Once again, in my opinion, a lot of the cycling industry is complicit in a game of "getting all the hay in while they can", against any reasonable notions they may have about "why the scene exists" and who they should/could be marketing to. What I see is a bent towards the "racers needs" as opposed to making bikes that just work for the Average Human. I see things implemented now that I heard product engineers and marketing guys telling me were things "racers wanted" in gravel bikes two-three years ago. It is what ruined road riding for a lot of people, but yet here we are- doing the same damn thing again. In terms of clothing, gear, and yes- bikes. 

It seems it is all about racing, it isn't "inclusive", and it isn't grassroots. So, pretty much it seems to me it isn't about "gravel grinding" as I came to understand it. Because when I see a friend on a fancy bike I am happy for him. When I see the fat bike with the non-typical female rider on it smiling, I am stoked. When I see a guy in flannel rocking an old Schwinn Collegiate converted to a single speed, I smile broadly. That's the gravel scene I know. That's real.

That's my take. For what it is worth........



Big Woods Biker said...

This is why I support companies like Soma, Black Mountain Cycles, Crust, and Velo Orange. Good stuff, often beautiful, full of soul and the beauty of bicycling that hits the right spirit of cycling fun.

Phillip Cowan said...

What you're describing is the reason I drifted away from mountain biking in the early 90's. It became a money deal. You had to spend 3 or 4 grand a year to hang out with the cool kids. Then when motorless cycles hit the scene the trend only accelerated. I just got tired of it. I think I also got tired of washing up muddy bikes, haha.

Ari said...

Carbon frames with carbon forks and carbon hoops and electronic shifting and hydro brakes . That’s what they want us to buy.

RC said...

The bike I built for the "partner". Old school ti Dean 26" mountain bike frame, Carver carbon fork, Hed 700c Belgium wheels, 1x9 drop bar drivetrain. Not a Schwinn but way cool and otherwise unloved. And she rides the wheels off the thing. I can no longer keep up. Rock on GT!!

Tman said...

Where is Craig to chime in!?!? My first mutt if you will was when I jammed the fattest Specialized Tri-Cross' I could fit on an old road bike in 1990. I was waiting for my new mtb to come in and needed something to ride dirt. I have had many others and am currently refurbbing a 90s Slingshot for the same duties.

Slim said...

I am not sure I understand what your point is. When I read your tweet this I what I think you are saying: that bike companies don’t “get” gravel because they introduce expensive new bikes, while, at the same time, people are riding gravel on old, cheap bikes. Is that correct or am I misunderstanding what you meant?

If that understanding is correct, I don’t quite agree with you. (Bike)companies exist to sell things. Preferably as many and as expensive as possible. That’s capitalism. Plain and simple.

Guitar Ted said...

@Slim - Yes, that was what I meant and while you are free to disagree you are missing the point here. While what you say is true, it doesn't reach those people that cannot afford those bikes. The industry ends up selling to the same small group of people over and over again.

If that doesn't make sense to you, then we'll have to agree to disagree on that point.

Slim said...

@Guitar Ted,
I don’t think it’s a matter of disagreeing, but more of missing the point. That is why I asked for clarification. (And why I don’t like Twitter)

I thought your point (in your tweet) was that bicycle companies don’t understand what gravel riding is, but In your reply above, you point out that this (introducing high end bikes) does not grow the cycling numbers. I entirely agree with that point.

Whether or not that is a good business decision, or whether they would make more money introducing more affordable bikes, to grow the market, I have no idea, I have zero knowledge about sales and business.

Although, the number of more affordable gravel bikes HAS increased a lot in the last couple of years.

Slim said...

About the focus on racers needs, vs regular riders needs, could you give some examples of what industry people told you?

I totally agree on that point in regular road riding/racing, the design/engineering choices of pro racers is very different from normal road riders. Pros who ride with full support, and on cleaned roads end up on super thin tires, which are too puncture prone for normal riders.
Gearing for road racers is way to tall for most normal riders.