Sunday, March 10, 2024

Has A Wealth Of Technology, Choices, And Exit From A Pandemic Made Us Cycling Poor?

A unique set of circumstances with a paradoxical twist has created new challenges for cycling.

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

N.Y. Roll suggested an idea in the comments to this past Friday's "FN&V" which prompted me to respond in the comments. While I enjoy the comments on this blog, most of the time, most of you dear readers don't ever see them. Especially those who read the post before the comments were made. 

So, I decided to make a post showing those two comments in their entirety here for you to consider. I'll have some comments after that. But first, some context:

Our most recent "Guitar Ted Podcast" was covering this issue with the recent depressed bicycle marketplace. I also posted a bit on Friday telling you all that an inter-office communication from Trek Bicycles President, John Burke, revealed that the company was going to "right size" its operations by cutting back 10% overall. Furthermore; its offerings would be trimmed by 2026 (because that is as early as they can do this), by 40%. 

Later it was suggested that this inter-office communique was not "leaked" by accident. Now you can debate that, but it would be plausible since it was also revealed after the fact that the cuts to employees already were happening before the article was released by "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News", who were the ones who supposedly "obtained the information".  Again, whatever.... The fact remains that Trek did not publicly deny or refute any of what was "leaked". You can decide how that all actually went down if you want to. 

Now, here are the comments I referred to earlier in their entirety edited for spelling/clarity: First up, N.Y. Roll - 

Blogger" NY Roll said...

not a fully fleshed out thought but maybe the bike industry and the fast changing standards on BBs, Axles, Thru Axle, Hubs, gear ranges and disc brakes 6 bolt vs ISO has created customer fatigue on Durable goods, and the market has forgotten that. In fact they are treating their products as expendable? But the customer is (in a) complete opposite area? Why would they want to keep buying when the perception and current thought is constant change? Customer fatigue may have set in? Amongst other things.


Blogger Guitar Ted said...

"@ N.Y. Roll - File under: "We should be podcasting this!"

You definitely have a good point. As I read more and more about this inventory/soft sales epidemic affecting the bicycle industry, I also feel like the entire industry is a sort of Ponzi scheme where brands keep changing colors and styles slightly to entice new-to-the-market buyers so that they can create these halo products like 12K MTB's and gravel bikes for the nerds of cycling to drool over.

COVID prompted an unprecedented number of the lower end consumers to buy into cycling. They now do not *need* new product and likely will not for years. This has clogged up the supply chain which, in the past, required a certain number of these return sales or new sales to occur on a yearly basis. (See flat sales numbers all throughout the twenty-teens) Now that the "supply of buyers" has been spent all at once (COVID), we won't likely see anything close to the entry level purchasing we were used to seeing for many years. And even then, will those people ever come back?

Youth are not into outdoor activities. News and information is available now to everyone that tells us that we should be wary of business after COVID. And yes- that "fatigue" of the vicious cycle of more gears, new standards, and new designs is wearing quite thin now.

Added to this is the mechanic who is online grousing about how poorly the latest gear is from SRAM and to some extent, Shimano. I just now finished reading a mechanic's thread before posting this comment that had several mechanics explaining that SRAM 12spd NX did not work right out of the box and that GX worked, but was marginal. This is a world where as a company you cannot afford that sort of detail to be leaked out to the general public, but this is also not the 1980's. Companies need to adjust accordingly.

Take John Burke's internal memo to his minions that was - planned, or unplanned - a defacto public statement that Trek was laying off employees. (which has been confirmed by social media postings from recent fired employees.)

It's a mess out there!

Comments: I often have lamented the fact that the cycling industry has taken the simple bicycle and tried to turn it into a "device" full of technology, batteries, and with a resulting increase in complexity, prices, and failure modes. Shouldn't cycling be seen as the antidote to rampant technology and complexity? Why should we buy bicycles with batteries that may burn down the house, adding anxiety to an already anxious existence? 

Why should we keep making all these things that cost more and more, getting service harder to come by, and increasing frustrations in a world that is rife with frustrations? Why should we keep ramming new product into a marketplace with mountains of product sitting around unused? Isn't that a waste of resources?

A simple, reliable form of transportation which, with proper infrastructure, can be a way to alleviate a multitude of modern maladies. But we are hell-bent on a path to make bicycles something they were never meant to be.


Stud Beefpile said...

One of the biggest "misses" for me with the cycling industry is not promoting cycling infrastructure within our cities and towns and transportation systems. They say it's great with advertising in the shop, but it doesn't seem like there is the industry lobbying to support it. I realize trying to do political "battle" with the auto industry is David vs. Goliath.

That is the next frontier for cycling, in my opinion. Until cycling becomes a staple activity for transportation (with the necessary infrastructure to support it), it is relegated to disposable income and recreation for a large percentage of Americans.

Phillip Cowan said...

I for one am bloody sick of the "electronification" of the bicycle. I'm waiting for the day when new bikes come with a sticker that says "contains no user serviceable parts".

Guitar Ted said...

@Stud Beefpile - I agree 100% and have said that this is a shortcoming of the cycling industry for years. Pro teams? take that money and promote safer routes for cycling in highly focused efforts in certain cities. Make a difference to average cyclists.

Yes, the cycling industry is peanuts compared to the Auto industry, but that's an excuse to do nothing when even small successes would be stepping stones to further successes in the future.

That said, your last statement is regrettably spot on and will continue to be until there are changes made. I'm hoping grassroots level efforts, such as the one we have going on here where I live, will be the way forward to inspiring change on larger stages.

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowan - No User Serviceable Parts Inside? I think we are already there. Many newer electrified bikes require that only certified technicians work on them.

I've been inside these electric bicycles as well and they resemble appliances more than anything "bicycle". Circuit boards, wires, sensor units, etc. Much of which (if not 100% of which) is not serviceable and when it fails you chuck the parts in the bin and replace with new. The days of keeping a bicycle running for decades is over if the industry continues on this path of planned obsolescence and lack of support for older models. Same story as with other consumer electronics and appliances.

Many tout the eBike as being a "green alternative", but I would argue that point.

MG said...

I think you just convinced me to ride my single speed today…

S.Fuller said...

This seems to mirror the sales process of technology that has come to our lives. Constant upgrades, defined lifetimes for the "tools" purchased, whether the item is still usable or not. That sales/upgrade path worked for many years. Now, we're seeing yearly upgrades for laptops/phones because that's what Wall Street expects, but customers aren't buying into that process the same way that they used to. The value for the consumer isn't there. Slightly faster, or a slightly better camera isn't going to get me to purchase a new phone. This is being borne out in the sales numbers.

The bike industry has built their house on these constant upgrades and the disposable income of a small pool of people. That foundation is starting to crumble. Most of that pool has all of the bikes they want/need, and they've also priced themselves out of the market for anyone wanting to get into the market. I put myself squarely in that small pool and nothing that the industry has done recently has gotten me to consider buying a new bike. More gears or support for a slightly different tire or hub standard that provides 1% more stiffness? Meh. I'd rather take some of that money I'd put into the bike companies pockets and buy a round coffee or beer when I'm on a ride with friends.

Guitar Ted said...

@S. Fuller - Thanks for that comment. It makes sense to me - what you are saying. Marginal gains for a LOT more dollars and the stuff you already have is working.

I think that's what drives this "looking for the Next Big Thing" in cycling. Gravel was "it" and electrification is something the industry desperately wants to be "it", but both markets are either saturated or limited in appeal for reasons of access or infrastructure.

I should join you for that round of coffee soon.....

El Blog de Cesar said...

Fantastic and certain comment. You nailed ! . Bike companies just see their belly buttons and they have the real power and interes to push this to happen

El Blog de Cesar said...

The other problem I see is that bike companies pretend most users are racers in each category they land at, and that is a wrong marketing/commercial statement. In fact, I think this commercial approach deters regular bikers and beginners to turn our faces around to a the real essence of riding a bike.
And that's why gravel it's about, that comradery, grassroots, community that people enjoy before, during, and after a ride no matter your fitness, gender, age, etc.
As someone's comment above, bike industry should push for creating a real and strong bike life style, at least in USA. Therefore, it help no just riders but induatry as well