Monday, June 30, 2008
Note: This is the third in an ignorant eight-part suggestion of some measures the bike brands could take to better appeal to the majority of Americans, who have little or no interest in cycling.
Part 1 described the situation, the challenges, and some important caveats.
Part 2 examined the importance of cosmetics, and our lack of visual differentiation.
In this part, we will discuss approaches to designing bikes with broader appeal.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Part 1 described the situation, the challenges, and some important caveats.
In this part, we will examine cosmetics and visual differentiation.
If you've ever browsed the listings at match.com (and yes, you have, quit lying), there were probably quite a few perfectly dateworthy men or women you passed over in 7 milliseconds. Entirely because of appearances, of course.
Is it any different with bicycles? Yes. But no.
Those of us who have been riding our bikes for a long time, whether for commuting, racing, touring, or whatever, probably take a good long look at a spec sheet, or take a good long test ride, when making our bicycle purchase. We think practically, because we know what works for us. Cosmetics still matter, but they face stiff competition from fit, features, and function.
When somebody comes into the store who is new to cycling, we tell them about the warrantees on our bikes. The quality and serviceability of the running gear. The relative merits of different frame materials and geometries. The luxury of having multiple sizes to choose from. But, for somebody who may still be in the "dabbling" phase of their cycling journey, is any of this compelling? Do they come through our door seeking these things, recognizing their merit?
I think style will hold greater sway over the novice cyclist's purchase decision. It hurts to say that. We want every new cyclist to immediately adopt our practical, utilitarian view of how to pick a bike. It validates our expertise, borne out of our many hours in the saddle. But a pretty face goes a long way, longer than we would prefer.
To test this crackpot notion, I sent the picture below to a bunch of friends and family who don't care a lick about bicycles, and have so demonstrated by making fun of my bike collection, and occasionally, my vocation. Two of these bicycles are sold in big-box discount retailers, retail in the $150-200 range, are only available in one size, are built by somebody wielding a plumber's wrench and a hammer, and feature the finest in craptacular breakomatic parts. One of these bicycles is sold in our shop, retails for over $350, features nice serviceable components, a frame warranty, is built up by a pro who builds safe bicycles for a living, and is available in a range of sizes.
I offered my guinea pigs a few options -- If they were throwing down for a bike like the three pictured this weekend, they could select one of these bikes based on what they see in the picture, or some other non-visual criteria they would find important ("the cheapest one", "best warranty", "most comfortable", "the one sold by my favorite local bike store," etc).
I got 24 responses. ALL (100%) made selections based on aesthetics. Commence attacking my research methodology, but I'm ready to conclude that style matters. A lot.
So, since I am concerned with getting people onto a correctly-fitted, reliable, quality bike-store bicycle that they will enjoy riding for years to come, did my sample end up on the "right" bike? Well, 17 out of 24 (71%, eek!!!) liked Bike #1, the one all the way on the left. And you guessed it, Bike #1 is sold in a big box retailer whose name rhymes with Malwart, and was the cheapest one of the three.
That's a huge problem for the bike store, and the bike brands who produce our offerings. If we want to appeal to non-cyclists, this little experiment convinced me that we have to do it with a greater helping of style. We shouldn't dispense with all those practical things that make a bike-store bike the best option. But we'd better start recognizing that while some will pay twice as much (and more) for all those necessary things on a cosmetically-similar (or cosmetically-deficient, if you believe my 24 jurors) bicycle, there are a bunch more that will look at some pictures online, see our visually-undifferentiated bike, and never come in our shop doors to listen to our compelling and rational argument.
People will even pay a premium for style. And pretty needn't cost a lot more than homely. So, I vote for pretty. But, what is pretty? We'll hash through that in the next installment.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Well, there's no reason to believe that any plans have changed, but the County finally worked out the land-swap deal with a developer that is allowing the Long Bridge park project to plow forward. The nice bit (for local resident me, at least) is the planned connection someday to the Mt. Vernon Trail that will run through the area. No more dodging Gravelly Point zombiedestrians. No more trying to block out the stanky porta-potties. No more near-collisions in the tunnel under the train tracks. No more of any of that, beginning.... Oh.
No schedule yet.
Anyway, here's the backdrop. In the past few years, the industry veteranati have come around to the hard truth that our little corner of the world (bicycle retail manufacturers selling through independent bicycle dealers) is eating it's own tail. Besides our steady/falling sales, and sharp declines in the number of bike storefronts, a big call-to-action was the market research project undertaken by Shimano for their Coasting project. That research told the sad tale that very few Americans were cycling even occasionally, and laid out many of the reasons that people just are not interested.
A further study, commissioned by the BPSA, described how the industry has focused too hard on the enthusiast cycling culture, which makes up a ridiculously small proportion of the total US population. We spend most of our resources clubbing each other trying to bag a bigger share of the static population of longtime hardcore enthusiast cyclists, who are also the most apt to go online to do their bike shopping.
The flipside of this is the opportunity, especially amid our obesity epidemic and the rising cost of energy, to take a fresh approach to the business of bicycle retail, and put a whole lot of new people on bicycles. A lot of folks are taking the message to heart, even within the industry Cosa Nostra, and are committed to knocking down some of the barriers that turn away the casual or potential cyclists.
IMPORTANT qualifier -- One of the most compelling barriers cited in these studies was the shoddy in-store experience. Bicycle shops are considered intimidating places, full of unfamiliar merchandise and sullen unwelcoming employees. I'm not going to delve into this aspect, because it's both obvious, and well-covered. Every bikeshop who is serious about this new mission knows what they need to do. City Bikes decided a few years ago that creating a more welcoming instore experience was a necessity, and while there's still a lot of ground to cover, hopefully progress has been made, and real action is definitely underway.
But what if a whole bunch of bikeshops embrace this challenge, like the folks at Bike Gallery in Portland, Oregon have? They invest in signage, they train on customer service, they hire employees who smile, they stress a welcoming inclusive atmosphere. What if they do all that, the customers come beating down the doors, and what they get from the bike brands to sell are the same bikes we sell now, at the same price, same conditions, same everything?
I see a lot of product coming down the pike that strives for this broad appeal. And I see a lot of marketing and PR muscle being applied to the chore at hand. But I wonder how much of this represents real structural change in the industry, and how much is bringing to bear the same old approaches to pursuing new market niches?
So, in the next seven (7!) subsequent installments of excruciating insider bore-fodder, I will suggest some ways that the industry -- or at least those in the industry serious about broadening their appeal -- can approach this new mission. I am truly sorry to any/all regular readers, as this blog was conceived to get people excited about cycling. This business-case dissection of the industry will probably read like a cue-sheet to Sleepyland. But I'll try to sprinkle in some lighter fare from time to time.
Credit where credit is due -- many of my opinions on this were formed (consciously or unconsciously) by talking to Jay Townley and Elliot Gluskin of the appropriately-named Gluskin-Townley Group. Ironic that a true industry veteran like Jay has very much been the canary in the mineshaft on this whole situation. More clarity came through a rather intense email brainstorming session with our ex-merchandise guy Mike. He was approached by one of our vendors, who (motivated by our falling orders, of course) wanted to know what they could do better. Rather than providing the usual feedback ("deliver faster," "better availability data," "bigger margins"), we started reeling off all the big things that any and every bike brand could undertake to better align with our desire to broaden the appeal of cycling.
So, with all due apologies and qualifiers out of the way, I'll start later today by looking at the products themselves....
Friday, June 20, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
...riding on the sidewalk?
...with big ole canister earphones?
...on a bike a size or two too small?
No, no, no, no. Gil, please let us hook you up with a helmet. And once you get that fat new contract signed, we have a ride far more appropo for a max player, in stock, much closer to your size. Caron knows bikes, bring him along. gwadzilla likes it, and may be sad to see it go, but it's our shared civic duty to get Gil in shape to rain buckets on those lousy Celtics next season.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I have an eight-part rant on what the bike brands could do to better appeal to the general public. One of those points is to make better use of different brands for different audiences. The folks at Specialized are obviously on top of it, see below for presser on their new Globe sub-brand for their enhanced lineup of commuter bikes.
Regardless of how the products turn out (and no, I don't know how this new Globe line of commuter bikes differs from the existing Specialized Globe City line), it's good to see that Specialized acknowledges that a big red slasher "S" might not play as well on these downtubes as it does on Tom Boonen's, and that both will be the better for the change.
Stay tuned for bike details, I'm interested to see what they come up with. That little pic down there would suggest something that resembles the existing Globe Centrum, but with 700c wheels. Details should be available at their big dealer shindig in July.
June 5th, 2008
Specialized Launches Improved Globe Line of Bikes
To aid in the development of Globe bikes and marketing, Specialized worked all year with a group of dealers who have achieved great success in the transportation and utility bicycle segments. These dealers clearly communicated what their consumers were asking for and what Specialized could do to help them sell bikes like these. “Dealer focus groups and other research informed us that commute and utilitarian riders have different sensibilities and motivators than enthusiast riders”, says Ben Capron, Specialized Director of Global Marketing. “We created the Globe line with distinct branding to connect with this different rider group, similar to the way BMW redeveloped the Mini Cooper or when Apple developed the IPod branding. The result is a diversified line of Globes built around clean design, high functionality, great durability, light weight and tires with puncture resistance technology like Armadillo."
Because there are different types of commutes and utilitarian purposes for bikes, Specialized has developed four families of Globe bikes, each named after a city that typifies that form of riding. These bikes will begin shipping to dealers in early July.
All four families are very light for their class and feature appropriate geometry for the application, along with ergonomic contact points everywhere the body touches the bike.
Later this summer, Specialized will launch a several-pronged promotional effort around the Globe to drive consumer awareness and demand. Efforts will include cooperation with local advocacy groups, extensive PR, a stand-along Globe catalog and partnerships with dealers through SBCU education and full in-store promotions, including window display, floor display and other unique pieces.
"This is the right solution for wellness, the environment and the fuel crisis, but this will also be a huge factor in the future health of our industry, " Sinyard concludes. "First it was the mountain bike, then the road bike, and now transportation bikes will be the third wave to stimulate growth in our industry over the coming years."
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Well anyway, it is definitely open to pedestrians now. Huge milling herds of pedestrians pose with cardboard cutouts of Dubya, dart around like nervous 800 pound hummingbirds on their rented Segways, and squint at their surroundings through their viewfinders. Wait, how is this an enticement to bike to work?
The protesters. They are simply wonderful. Primarily liberal, at least in my experience, often kooky, always passionate, sometimes completely incoherent. Exhibit A. I couldn't work out exactly what this guy was for or against, but he has obviously put a lot of thought and work into it. Regrettably unseen behind the "Wheel of Death" is the 4-foot-tall Kermit the Frog stuffed toy he had sitting in a lawn chair.
Then there was bizarro Austin Powers, who was trying to convince a pack of corn-fed middle schoolers that in the eyes of God, any less than unconditional support of Israel was akin to supporting the terrorists."Israel has mojo, baby, yeah!!!" No, he really said that. Agent Powers' sign reads, "I (the Hay God of Israel) will bless America if America blesses Israel. I will curse America if America curses Israel."
Then there's this encampment, which has been in place for months. Anti-war, they sometimes have a four-wheeled bicycle contraption with speakers and signs that does a few laps of the promenade, blasting protest music.This guy was wandering around the other day. Here's his myspace page. Take a minute to scan his platform. It addresses everything from the war and Israel, to gas station restrooms and landscaping practices on Federal property in DC.Odd that all this nuttiness can take place, and be photographed, within a few hundred feet of the residence of the President and the Executive Office Buildings, but couldn't in the cubiclehood of Crystal City. Anyway, the most cringe-inducing was probably this pack of semi-clothed bicyclists.Anyway, if you are driving or taking Metro to work, you are probably missing all this fun. Besides the two-block respite from riding in traffic, the White House stretch of Penn Ave provides a daily reminder of how the First Amendment is, "smashing, baby, YEAAA!!"
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Monday, June 9, 2008
Hypnowheel says, "Buy me!"It takes awhile, but if you stare long enough, you can see the jumping dolphins. Just relax your corneas. Other side of the same wheel:Classy, and deep, like Love/Hate knuckle tattoos.
Anyway, this cold has me pretty zapped. So just persuse the photos, I might post a few more here when I shake off the effects of the Hypnowheel, and add some descriptions to the photos.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Anyway. Things convened in MacPherson Square around 3PM. For Erik, the obligatory folding bike pic. They're just so darned useful.
I heard rumors that MPD or NPS or somebody was threatening to arrest anybody who went all-in. Plus, DC is just a low-key city. So, lots of socks. Eavesdropped quote of the day -- "OOOO, is that moleskin?" Lots of folks like me, who just wore shorts. Like these guys:A brief debate erupted over the permissibility of miniature Crown Royal bags as conforming attire. Legal rights were asserted, case law was cited, phone calls were made....But it was all good. The Honest Tea folks, who also cosponsored Bike to Work Day, popped up to hand out free drinks to all riders, so kudos to them for their apparent liking of biking. By the way, I have no scruples -- give me free stuff, I'll talk it up.And off we go, with police escort from MPD.Down 14th to Penn...Tourists REALLY got a hoot out of the whole thing. I think. Down to the Capitol....With a stop for a minute to conduct vital business.Then back down Independence. Appropriate, because while many of us were there mostly for a fun afternoon, the point of the whole shindig was to rally against our dependence on oil.Awkward.... We were urging other cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders, etc. to join us as we rode. We then pulled alongside a pack of rental Segways, moving at exactly the same speed, on the sidewalk. Nobody quite knew whether they were worthy of inviting onto our little caravan.They hummed along beside us for a minute or so, each party avoiding the other's eye. The Segway ride leader in particular had his eyes locked straight ahead. Just up the block, I think we ruined this lady's vacation.We then convened in front of the White House, where middle schoolers giggled at us, a surprising number of freelance photographers took pics, Laura Bush was no doubt taken aback, and we all got sunburned. Semi-official count was 40-ish riders, which doubled last year's total, apparently.Anyway. My favorite pic, I'll just link to it, as it's pretty questionable. A man backdropped by the White House, wearing an eerily realistic fleshy stocking on his stuff, proudly standing beside his bike, the "Softride" brand prominently displayed. There's a great joke there, just beyond my reach. Suggestions?
Saturday, June 7, 2008
On the way in, I ran into opposing traffic on the Mt Vernon Trail from the Arlington and Alexandria Community Bike Ride. The downside of all these people excited to ride, even on such a sweltering day, was the downright dangerous congestion on the trail. I had to come to an emergency stop, and even bail onto the grass, numerous times to avoid oncoming traffic. And a special swing of my frame pump to the guy who thought it prudent to pull out and blast past a slow group of 20 down in his aerobars. Seeing this guy doing the aerobar snake-charmer wobble straight at you, 25 feet away and closing, did as much as my iced venti americano to wake me up this morn.
It was HOT. [how hot was it?] It was so hot, the glue on my tubie tires was melting. Not a great punchline, but true.Anyway, enough grousing. A hearty crew of four joined Sol and I.......ladies are obviously made of tougher stuff. Away we went, down to the Rock Creek Trail.
Plenty of other folks were out riding, despite the schvitzy weather.Rock Creek Park really is a beautiful place, it's nice to ride it at less than a time-trial pace (perhaps the Mt. Vernon Trail contre-la-montre champion will give it a try). It is just a little bit more uphill on the way out of town (no, really). So that, and some underinflated tires, meant we took our time making our way to Chevy Chase. After going under the trestle bridge....... we got to the Chevy Chase shop, where we sat down for some of Sol's baked goods. I especially enjoyed the gingerbread.Yum! After pumping up some tires, choking down lots of water, and convincing ourselves that the ride back was a lot less tiring, we set off.What a difference a litre of water, some gingerbread, 60psi in the tires, and a slight downhill will make. We were practically pacelining back.Back in town, headed for home. Come on out and join us, every Saturday at 11AM. That was my very relaxing morning. Stay tuned for the afternoon report, from World Naked Bike Ride DC.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Saturday morning at 11AM, I'll be tagging along on Sol's Cupcake Ride, leaving from the Adams Morgan shop.
Later that afternoon, I'll squeeze into my Cipo skinsuit (yum, still smells like cocoa butter) and be the guy who is dressed and makes everyone else self-conscious at the World Naked Bike Ride, gathering at 3 and leaving at 4 from MacPherson Square.
Sunday, Cirque du Cyclisme in Leesburg. If you see me around, please say hello.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Pic below is from the Velo Orange photoset.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Like using mass transit, for example. As you may know, Metro won't let you take a full-sized bike on during peak times. And the MARC and VRE trains won't let you take one on at all. But folding bikes in their folded state (and in a bag for Metro), are allowed any ole time you please on Metro, inside Metrobusses, on the VRE, and on MARC train. I used to Metro from Bethesda to Crystal City almost every day. It took a bit over an hour each way, but I could have trimmed about 15 minutes of walking time off of each leg of my commute with a folding bike. I probably wasn't alone, check out this great map showing the vast swaths of DC that fall outside a short walking distance from a Metro station.
Or maybe you're crammed into a 'cozy' 400 square foot efficiency in Dupont Circle. Which of the following will wedge into that sliver of space between your Murphy bed and your kitchen/bedside table? This...
...or this?Or perhaps you're a bit intimidated by the standover height of a full-sized bike. Not too fond of the sight of that unforgiving metal tube scant inches away from other far less resilient tubes, huh? Well, no worries here.
But they can't be easy or quick to fold, can they?
Neat. But there's so small. They can't be very fun to ride, can they?
I rode the Breezer Zag 8 shown below from our Adams Morgan shop to Clarendon, then to my house in Pentagon City, and back to the shop the next morning. And not only did I make great time, I had a great time. The gear range is fine for most riding, the tires soak up the bumps, and it handles pretty much like a regular bike. Ask our finance guy, Erik, he loves his too.
But come on, they look like clown bikes. Good gravy, if that's a concern, just don your best-fitting tweeds, and you'll turn heads for the right reasons. The line between 'eccentric' and 'individualist' can be as thin as a nicely tailored jacket, or a fresh shine on your shoes. Your bike can't make or break your style, it's just an accessory to the total package. Besides, check out the slightly similar looking and perpetually-coming-soon Smartbikes, you will be in good company really really soon (this month, maybe?). Ahead of the curve, even.
We proudly sell and stock Breezer folding bikes, and can order Dahon folding bikes as well. Like the Batavus Old Dutch city bike I highlighted a few weeks back (still in stock last I checked Friday), we would love to find and stock more models, but we're just not seeing a groundswell of interest yet.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
She asked if we would chip in with some accessories, which we did, thanks to Serfas who is exceedingly generous in stocking our schwag bag. Iris has a noble intent -- to support the Yellow Ribbon Fund's invaluable mission to fill in the gaps in the rehabilitation efforts of troops at Walter Reed AMC and the National Naval Medical Center.
Sound familiar? You may recall a handsome young man, who is not too fond of the French and has a man-crush on Matthew McConaughey, schlepping wristbands....
Yes, the WristStrong campaign, of course. Which did not seek to appropriate the likeness to another rubber-wristband-based charitable endeavor in any way. Stephen T. Colbert raised about $172K for the Yellow Ribbon Fund, with wristbands that, paradoxically, were not yellow. Here's the very funny check presentation:
I'm sure if you click through to Iris' site, and put a few dollars down to help her top the Colbert Nation's $172K, she'll sign a 10-foot-tall novelty check too.