Stable Owners vs New Riders

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Trek Bikes | Bikes | Road. to get full effect of slide show click forward button as fast as you can. Multiple frame styles are an engineers dream and a buyers nightmare.

Gary Fisher was asked in an interview recently what the next big thing was in bicycles. He replied and I paraphrase, educating dealers and mechanics to better serve the public. This is code for sell more bikes. Then he went on to say safer places to ride. This is a narrow scope admittedly and  good public relations. This insight also could shed some light on dwindling bicycle ridership in America. The first big thing is the overwhelming use of “technology” that bicycle designers employ to sell not to the first time buyer but to the consumer with a stable of bikes and the second is the idea or myth that to ride a bike is unsafe. Where it is unsafe Mr. Fisher doesn’t say.

Putting the emphasis on educating dealers and mechanics to learn new technology is very good for the repair business. You want to be able to repair what you sell. But, that is not a Big Idea, that’s business 101. Dealers and mechanics are overwhelmed not by the technology that proliferates, but by the risk and gamble every season on what bikes to stock. Bicycle wholesalers like Trek for example have a dizzying array of bikes that total over 450 model and style combinations. Again, the technology is something we expect every bike dealer to keep abreast to do quality repairs. Unfortunately, bike repairs do not pay the bills, new bike sales and accessoires have been and continue to be where the profits are. But, what does an industry insider like Mr. Fisher suggest? More of the same thing which is doubt about his dealer qualifications to sell his bikes and fear pushed onto the very customers that will buy his bikes.

The dearth of new riders is stagnating to an industry that continues to be mired  in a seventies style recreational pursuit rather than 21st century utility. Who looses is the smal business person trying to be all things to all people. The winner in this game of risk is the usual white male dominated demographic that wants to add to their stable of bikes. But, even these dollars are drying up this year as too much in this current economic atmosphere can be interpreted as enough.

I was in REI last weekend surveying the 100’s of bike choices on the floor and dozens hanging upside down from the ceiling. First, anyone trying to look up at this type of display could be easily turned off and walk away. Do bicycles clustered like bats and out of reach make me want to touch this forbidden fruit even more? Stable owners love this sort of discovery, like knowing the best stuff is always in the back room. So, what about the first time buyer or someone window shopping, all these choices out of reach are a turn off.

I asked a floor person for help to explain the features and benefits of 3 similar looking bikes. The bikes all featured bar ends, and flat handle bars at first glance. It was hard to see beyond the top tube with bikes displayed bunched together.  One had a front suspension for comfort. The other had a carbon fork for performance and the third had an internal rear hub that was “bullet proof,” which if I were to assume one thing might actually mean another. So, I started by asking why the bar ends were so dissimilar.  I’ve asked this question before and always hear, “because people want different things in a bicycle.” To the uninitiated seeing three styles of bar ends might be enough to move on to another bike, which is what the seller wants you to do. They will tell you that you can have any one of these styles on the bike of your choice. True, but the question is never answered which one is the right one for me? How do I know? Moving on to fork type. The heavier suspended fork is billed as comfortable. It is supposed to dampen road shock in the handlebar. But, it does so at the expense of weighing more. Would a pair of 15 dollar gloves that weight a few ounces be better than adding 5 or more pounds of steel to your ride?  The next bike had a carbon fork that is supposed to be performance rated and is you solution to weight savings. It also cost twice as much as the suspended bike! But, it also is an investment that cost more than steel. Not a bad thing but could be a deal breaker if you have not established a budget from the get go. So, coupled with a flat handlebar, this style of bike is marketed as a fast commuter or flat bar racer.

If I’m to understand this better, flat bar and carbon equals performance and light weight while a suspended fork equates to comfort and heavy. These choices are what’s keeping new ownership down and is spelling trouble ahead for the bicycle industry. There should not be a compromise between comfort and performance or heavy and light. Especially when categorizing a bicycle is nothing but a marketers’ dream. So, there we are wading through choices. More money? Twice the bike? Heavy and slow. Less money. Too much compromise, too many choices and no sell.

The third flat bar bike with a bullet proof internal hub features a steel fork. It also is heavy and is billed as a commuter just like the fast carbon forked bike.  I asked, why if these bikes are a commuter there are no fenders. Well, if you are like my young sales person, you don’t need fenders. I guess if your bike is bullet proof you too are bullet proof. If I really want to see another bike for commuters with fenders there will be that choice as well. The catch is deciphering all the jargon coming from the undereducated dealer or mechanic. Gary Fisher is right that education is important, but it is to educate bike dealers to stop leading with a left foot when trying to sell a bike. Until the bike suppliers like Trek, Specialized and Giant pare down the choices into something manageable  the uninitiated buyer will still feel like they are getting their toes stepped on when visiting a big bike shop or retailer like REI.

As I have said in other post, the flat handlebar on the pavement is to be avoided. Bar ends are gimmicks. Look for comfort and performance in your choice of bike. Pavement bikes for utility for most people have a rigid fork and not a suspended fork. Finally, I emphasize the value of a bike is the broad range of utility it offers. The more that one bike can do for you the greater return you will get when you increase your activity. Which, brings me back to Gary Fisher again, talking on safe places to ride. A myth or reality?

There is no escaping the reality where you live, work and play and so it is with biking. There are always places to avoid riding. That is not a myth. But the reality is there are more places to ride as you get out and discover these places for yourself. A helpful start is to use tools at hand like Google satellite imagery if you are unsure of a route. Rule of thumb is your awareness and the sense of safe and unsafe places increases with bike use. As the warmer weather comes this Spring be safe.

There will be some new riders just the same who may feel unsure of themselves and sense of place who may read this post. Biking is moving more and feeding your car less. Do motion and ride a bike.

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