Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Selling An Image vs Reality

Albert Einsyein, 1933, California. Showing us how it is done.
NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

The bicycle could have been the most revolutionary machine in the United States of America, and it still could be, but the cycling industry seems bent on keeping things under a lid defined by a certain image instead. 

This is of particular interest to me on a few levels, because part of my reasoning for a 'gravel bike', (NOTE- Not my idea for that name to be used, but it is what it is), was that many bicycles being sold at that time, (2000's) were the wrong bike for many people. Secondly, bicycle racing and the accompanying equipment is all you really see pushed forward by the brands and cycling media, for the most part. 

Finally, due to over a century of infrastructure centered around automobiles, we have almost nothing for safe routes to cycle on. We have catered to the car so much that everything from land usage to our own health as people has been sacrificed (literally and figuratively) on the altar of car worship. 

Now we have a situation where you cannot turn around and not see a 'gravel bike' and cycling is making a tiny bit of headway, but have we really gotten anywhere? In my opinion, sadly, we haven't really made much of any headway. 

The cycling industry took the 'gravel bike' and turned it into the same bike we were selling in the 2000's, just with more tire clearance. The consummate 'gravel' rider is now seen as a Pro rider, and one that goes fast as all get out, winning races. The industry thinks you all want to be that person, apparently, so do most buyers, and the bikes reflect this. Same 'not the right bike', different decade. If you click that link, you'll read about the physical requirements to attain an 'aerodynamic' position on the bike and I think it will quickly become apparent that even the bikes that the Trek representative mentioned in that article says should work, won't work. 

Of course, these bikes that they market and talk about are also very expensive and cater to a certain crowd that wants the 'image' and the reality is not even on their radar. Meanwhile, a huge chunk of the masses are ignored, or have to settle for poorly spec'ed lower end hybrids and department store bikes. The Hybrid Powered Cycles, (eBikes) are nice, and many represent what kind of bikes are practical, but they are also quite expensive. They may be the right bike, but at a price-point that excludes many who would cycle if the prices could be less and retain the nicer spec. 

And even if they could be made affordably with high quality parts, where could you ride them without fear of being killed? 

A Tweet from Surly Bike's social media account.
Of course, there are bikes out there and places to ride them that do make sense, but you have to admit that this is in a vast minority compared to what is given for people using automobiles. And things are so crazy-unregulated that we seem helpless to do anything about distracted drivers, speeding, or aggression behind the wheel, even if it kills people. 

And the cycling industry does what? Little to nothing. Our brands and marketing don't typically push practicality, or activism when it comes to places to ride, (unless it is off-road trails- then yes.) Most of the cycling press follows suit with the latest break away win at the Belgian Waffle Ride, the latest Pro MTB enduro news,  or who is lining up for the Giro. Headlines about cycling in cities and towns? Not their beat, they would tell you, and so it goes..... 

And the people who follow these publications will eat their young when you show them anything that doesn't line up with "The Rules" or how a bicycle 'should be set up', and if you ride for practical reasons with civvie clothing and no helmet? 

The Horror! 

Nope.... Things have hardly changed a lick in the last 20 years. I don't see it changing much for the next two decades.


Bruno said...

I love this article and your thoughts. The joy on Albert's face should make people want to air up their tires and ride!
Bikes are revolutionary, but they fit a certain niche of people. Bikers need a certain level of fitness to enjoy it more. The weather, and wind, somewhat limits the fun at times. Seat fit can be a drawback. All of these things can be dealt with if we have the right equipment and clothing.
You are right about the lack of infrastructure, but gravel roads can open up whole new vistas. They are safer than the highways.
Automobiles also glamorize racing and expensive machines. However biking does not need to be that expensive. I think we need more bike cooperatives to help people fix and improve their machines and I know you are involved in that. Thank you!
If we can promote rails to trails, improve city bike paths and get people involved in group rides we can maybe get more people cycling.
Thanks for promoting the sport non stop like you do.

Joe said...

I agree!! Great post and that LHT in the photo is so nice!

Guitar Ted said...

@Bruno - Thanks! I appreciate your comments.

Guitar Ted said...

@Joe - I gotta admit- When I first laid eyes on that Surly I thought it was a mid-1990's Trek ATB! They painted so many of their models in a similar fashion back in those days.

NY Roll said...

I will counter your bike riding location with this article from New York. Infrastructure is happening, but then again, one has to have proximity to it.

Gary said...

Bike advocacy is not sexy.

Nooge said...

Right on GT. All one has to do is look at any place where cycling is really prevalent to see how wrong we do it in the US. In Japan and Amsterdam most bikes are designed for utility and convenience, not speed. Just like the most popular automobiles. You see fenders, racks, locks, comfortable riding positions and geometry tailored towards stability at low speeds. This makes cycling more fun and convenient. Which makes it more popular and enables the really key change: society acknowledging cycling as a first class transportation method and investing space and money into it.

Now there’s no denying that higher population density plays a role. But that still doesn’t explain how bad the infrastructure is in major US cities.