August 4, 2015

The Wrong Bikes for the Wrong Reason

An excerpt from an important piece by Walter Angell in streets mn:


Why Are Bicycle Sales Declining (for the 14th year)?


In 2005, 67 bicycles were sold per thousand people and in 2014 this had fallen to 57 per thousand.  …. The number of bicycle shops has fallen by 18% over the past decade while combined sales floor square footage has remained stagnant.

None of this is new. It’s been the number one topic of conversation for over a decade among bicycle shop owners.

I often wonder if the major impediment to sales growth is that U.S. shops are largely and often exclusively focused on recreation rather than transportation. U.S. shops are selling something that isn’t very critical nor even very useful for many people, instead of selling a valuable necessity. …

Our current recreational focus has resulted in people having a garage full of bikes that aren’t very durable, go out of adjustment quickly, are uncomfortable to ride, and can’t easily be ridden in ordinary clothes.

So, we have millions of bikes hanging in garages, collecting dust and rarely ridden. Who wants to change in to shorts, search for wherever they put their helmet last year and struggle to get their bicycle down from the ceiling before trying to find the pump for the now flat tires and all only to then ride a bicycle that’s uncomfortable and has out of adjustment clackity-clacking gears? And this is the simple process for those who don’t load them on their car to drive to some place that they feel is safe enough to ride (I’ve always found it fascinating how many more bikes on cars I see in the U.S. than The Netherlands).

Worse, because people don’t want to ride their uncomfortable pants-leg eating bicycles, they are missing out on what may be the best source of routine activity available and they become overweight or obese. If you’re overweight, you’re even less likely to want to ride your out-of-adjustment bicycle ….

Plus, we’re also ending up with bikes that either can’t carry anything or get squirrelly when more than a loaf of bread is squished on the rack. So much for useful transportation.

Time for a new bicycle? Hardly. If you already have a rarely-used bicycle collecting dust in the garage, you’re unlikely to want to spend more money on another for fear that it, too, will do nothing but hang in the garage, collect dust and it remind you of this every day it hangs there. That’s not good for sales. …


What if we turn this around? Give people a good reason and purpose to ride often — transportation. Build safe and comfortable places to ride — protected bikeways. Provide people with proper bicycles that are simple and durable.

1) Sell the idea of riding for transportation. Give people a reason and a purpose to ride every week or every day. Plant the seed that a bicycle is much more than a recreational toy. Someone who rides frequently, like to dinner once per week, is more likely to want to invest in an upgraded bicycle in a few years and more likely become interested in other bicycling, like racing or off-road.

2) Do everything you can to make bicycling in your neighborhood and sales area comfortable and safe for normal average people. …

3) Sell bicycles that work for average people. KISS is important — don’t make bicycling complicated. Start each sale with a good city bike. Sell them something that will always be easy and ready to ride and they are more likely to ride often rather than just a couple of times per year. A bicycle that can be ridden in any clothes, that won’t eat their jeans, and that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.

4A) Hide your inner cyclist (and the associated accessories). Don’t appear to be part of the fraternity. Don’t use buzz words. Don’t try to impress customers with how much they don’t know about The Fraternity. …

4B) Put bicycle fraternity accessories in a corner or separate room, if you carry them at all. This includes clothing, shoes, helmets, nutrition, and parts.


Imagine if car dealers only sold recreational cars. Cars for racing and off-roading. Cars not really suited to daily use. If part of every sale included a lecture on the need to buy and wear a helmet and safety vest and take a class on repair and maintenance? If your car came without lights or locks or fenders or anywhere to carry anything home from the store. …

A bike that’s easy and comfortable to ride is more likely to be ridden, less likely to collect dust, more likely to result in a healthy fit customer, more likely to be replaced with an upgraded model, and more likely to result in people seeing others riding and want one themselves.


Full article here.


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  1. Interesting and a bit concerning that he puts helmets in the category of “bicycle fraternity accessories” and not a requirement for every cyclist.

    1. Concern trolling over helmets is exactly the kind of thing that keeps bikes hanging up in the garage instead of out on the road.

    2. The writer is not from BC. It is worth remembering that there are very few places in the world with a mandatory helmet law for people riding bikes.

  2. I was on board with the article until the “city bike” link to an article promoting Dutch city bikes.

    These are massive, boat anchor heavy and completely inappropriate for Vancouver terrain. A Vancouver cyclist that starts with one of these will certainly give up before one that starts with a road bike. I’ve seen it happen.

    Companies like Linus are taking some of the Dutch city bike innovations and applying them to lighter, higher quality bikes. I haven’t tried one myself, but this seems like it would be the more successful form than traditional dutch bikes.

    1. I agree. The Dutch bikes they have over there last for years without maintenance but tend to be heavy and can be a turn off to someone used to lighter bikes. I much prefer the North American bikes inspired by classic roadsters and maybe visually looking like Dutch bikes but using more modern materials like aluminum and chromoly and having V-brakes like we’re used to here. Brands such as Simcoe, Linus, Brooklyn, Bobbin, Mozie… even Norco has a line of such bikes now.
      I think the trouble comes when someone who isn’t too familiar with it all, thinks they’re getting something like a roadster but ends up with a cruiser. They can look sort of the same but they don’t handle at all the same.

    2. Elaborating further, every person I know in Vancouver that uses a bicycle as their primary form of transportation rides an 80s era chromoly steel Japanese made road bike either largely in its original form, or with minor changes to make it more of a city bike (ie. cruiser bars for a more upright sitting position). Anyone who bought anything different eventually abandoned it for a light chromoly steel road bike. They’re cheap, light, common and easily repairable. If one was to make a “Made in Vancouver” city bike I’d probably take this form factor as the starting point.

      I see the same thing in the bike room in my building. The bikes that are clearly being used every day are of that same steel road bike form, whereas the hulking dutchbikes gather dust waiting for their owners to one day take them out on the seawall, which is the only flat part of the city where they’d be pleasant to use.

    1. Amen to lights, they should be mandatory.

      Tiktaalik’s comment makes an interesting point regarding trying to extrapolate one geographic area’s reality to another.

  3. Oh boy –

    Sounds like the bike industry wants to become the next apple and impose some sort of planned obsolescence.

    I thought the bike industry was about getting back to basics, rather than pushing a consumerism agenda?

    A bike can last for many years, even if it is used often.

  4. I always struggle to buy bikes in North America. Or to recommend people what bikes to buy here. Last Christmas I got my son a bike in Germany because I simply could not find a suitable bike here. A couple of years ago we bought my wife’s bike in Europe because we could not find anything matching the features we wanted here. I have gotten my bikes mostly here, but spent lots of money afterwards to properly fit them to my needs.

    The biggest issue I have boils down to lights. In my mind a Vancouver bike for daily use needs a hub generator and good lights. If you just use that criterion that narrows down the selection that’s available in North America to only a few models. If you then discard the ones with really low-end generators and the ones with crappy lights (the ones that don’t stay on when stopped or have a terrible beam pattern), you are pretty much at zero.

    There are a couple of shops in town that will build you a wheel with a good generator and that also stock good lights. But adding that after market is a lot more expensive than getting a pre-assembled bike off the shelf. So it’s quite a bit cheaper to just buy the bike in Europe and bring it over — at least if you are going to Europe anyway.

    In Europe I have a large selection of bikes with IGH, front hub generator and good lights, full fenders, rack, not too heavy, good breaks (but not disk breaks to avoid the hassle) to choose from. So I can still decide if I want a sporty one or a more upright one or something in between, 8 or 11 speed, what quality IGH, what quality generator. Belt drive for Vancouver weather or cheaper chain drive. Maybe a USB charger plug in by front light.

    None of these options are readily available here.

  5. I suspect that a bicycle shop in Holland or Denmark looks very different from one in North America.

    I don’t know if Dutch bicycles designed for relatively flat Holland will work in Hilly cities like here in Toronto Canada. Doesn’t mean we can’t borrow some design aspects from it.

    How about this:

    Start with a light weight Aluminum frame, which has integrated lights and rear rack, the lamps on the rear being integrated into the rack itself. There being two lamps on the rear and 3 on the front. The front lamps consist of two steady white low mounted lamps, these are lower because it allows for road debris and imperfections to be lit in relief, making them easier to see. The upper flashing lamp is amber, to be seen with. On the rear we have a steady red and a flashing amber lamp as well. All of these lamps would be powered by a generator hub, For the drive line, I think a belt or shaft driven 7 or 8 speed internal gear hub would be the ideal, along with hydraulic disc brakes. Tires would be armoured, smooth, but 35 minimum width. Another requirement would be full fenders with enough room to install 45mm wide snow tires for winter.

    I would like to see an odometer, as standard equipment, the reason for this is, that the rider could use it for maintenance schedules; this should be non reset-able and either mechanical or flash-memory based so that it doesn’t forget the distance travelled if it loses power. Pedals and saddle should be sold separately, as one user may prefer something different from another.

    Now we have a reliable, light, comfortable bicycle, that should last many years of regular riding with a minimum of maintenance.

    1. Light technology is much more advanced in Europe. Decent front lights come with a light sensor and two beam patterns integrated into the light. It has a wide pattern to be seen and a focused beam to illuminate the road, with a low-beam type beam pattern that does not blind oncoming traffic. Depending on light conditions it will direct appropriate amount of power to the beams. The diffuse light is on during daytime, but has less power at night when most of the power goes to the focused beam. Some front lights integrate a third beam pattern and come with a handle bar mounted button to activate a high-beam if needed. Some come with integrated USB sockets to charge your gadgets on the go. Flashing front lights are illegal in much of Europe for obvious reasons.

      The back light is not a single LED but a bar, which makes judging approach distance easier for cars. It monitors for drops in the AC generator frequency to detect the bike slowing down fast and will light up extra bright like a car brake light in case the bike slows down. Both front and back light have a capacitor to stay on when stopped.

        1. In Canada, cars have mandatory daytime running lights. It’s been proven that this helps cut down on accidents. So, why don’t bicycles use them in daytime too, right? It just seems to make sense.

          1. I see that some do. There’s a difference in that speeds are lower and a bicycle can’t do much harm to others.
            But they’re still a good idea. I’m against blinking ones though.

    2. “I don’t know if Dutch bicycles designed for relatively flat Holland will work in Hilly cities like here in Toronto Canada. Doesn’t mean we can’t borrow some design aspects from it”

      There is a bicycle company in your home town doing just this. The Simcoe (mentioned above by Adanac) builds on the Dutch city bike, but is adapted for Canadian conditions. The importer reported that they had rust problems, and the bikes they were importing were too heavy.

      For their North American version of the city bike, they used a cromoly frame, very good paint, a full chaincase, upright style, integrated racks and fenders, internal geared hub, available sealed brakes, and so on. They included a bracket designed into the rear rack for lighting, but don’t include lights or a hub generator as standard (which would be a good plan, as Jens notes).

      We have carbon sport bikes for recreation, and aluminum drop-bar road bikes with fenders and racks for transportation and wet weather. We got two Simcoes for urban trips. Ours have 7 speed hubs. They handle hills fine, but for trips to Richmond and Coquitlam from downtown I tend to use the aluminum Trek. I use USB rechargeable battery powered lights so that I can swap them between the bikes

      1. Yes, Simcoe’s are excellent bikes. They already have two product lines that have different features so why don’t they have a third line that includes a generator hub, lights and an 11 speed hub?

        Some stores are now carrying generator lights (Dream Cycles, Kissing Crows…) but that still means adding these things later and even knowing about them. There should be bikes for sale where all that comes with it.

    3. Funny. People here say things like “Sure it’ll work in flat places like Toronto, but not here in hilly Vancouver.”.

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