CHAIN REACTION: Urban is in - BikeBiz

CHAIN REACTION: Urban is in

‘Cityburban’ bikes were everywhere at Interbike and Eurobike. Cyclocross bikes were also big. Gary Boulanger believes these categories are breaking out into the mainstream...
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Interbike, fresh on the heels of Eurobike, was the usual showcase of the latest road, mountain and hybrid bikes. Ultra lightweight carbon road and mountain bikes stole the media thunder, but the two underlying trends I noticed throughout the Sands Convention Center were a large influx of 'cityburban' and cyclo-cross bikes.

Maybe the cityburban trend reflects the greying of the industry’s product managers, or the greying of the targeted consumers? Perhaps, but if the collective bicycle industry wants to get more people riding, the cityburban effort could pay big dividends.

The aisles of Interbike were certainly chock full of fine examples from Felt, Masi, Schwinn, Giant, Fuji, Specialized, Swobo, Jamis, Batavus, Breezer, Kona, Sycip, Civia and others, running the price gamut from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. The most intriguing models resembled the porteur bikes of French builder Rene Herse.

Perhaps there needs to be a new definition of high-end bicycle that refutes the stigma of spendy road or mountain bikes for the serious racer only? In this day and age of expensive housing, automobiles and a university education, it’s time for the bicycle industry to shoehorn the cityburban lifestyle into the bike-buying psyche.

And lifestyle is just part of the equation. Fashion plays a major role in this effort; think Puma and adidas have swollen coffers because their shoes and clothing are technically superior?

Hardly. It boils down to perception versus reality, and the companies that dig deeper (either creatively or financially) to reach a particular demographic will win the customer loyalty.

Cases in point: Schwinn dug deep into its rich heritage to reintroduce its venerable steel three speed, this time as the Coffee and Cream models for men and women; QBP, the world’s largest bike distributor, added the Civia transportation brand to its stable, and plans to launch four drivetrain platforms based on the Hyland model by spring 2008.

Certainly, the urban hybrid thing has been done before.

But this blending of simplicity, beauty, attitude and universal appeal is a first for the bike industry as a whole. Hydroformed aluminum frames, integrated drivetrains, chain guards, titanium racks and baskets, lugged and fillet-brazed stems and cork grips are seeping their way onto magazine pages, so it’s now up to the dealer network to take the next step.

In the often-overlooked department, kickstands and inexpensive baskets are just as important. Why shouldn't mudguards be fitted at the OE stage? Would that really dent aftermarket sales?

Like the hybrid category, cyclo-cross has been hashed
and rehashed, but with the explosive growth of cyclo-cross racing in the US and abroad,

it’s no wonder so many brands are taking the ‘cross phenomenon seriously.

What is it about ‘cross that’s so appealing? For starters, the festival-like atmosphere, patterned after Belgium races, stirs up an emotional involvement with racing that’s been ebbing slowly from road racing the past few years. The simplicity of the machinery, coupled with the fluid steeplechase-cum-ballet on wheels, has more than piqued the curiosity of spectators: a recent ‘cross race in Portland, Oregon, attracted 1,078 racers.

Of course, not every brand can afford to sponsor an international ‘cross team to promote its products. There’s also the issue of compromising the design to straddle the
fence of ‘cross/touring, which satisfies some customers and frustrates others.

While Bianchi and Redline have led the way with providing affordable and smartly spec’d ‘cross bikes over the years, Colnago, Ridley and Kona have been winning world and national titles consistently. Cannondale, Trek, Specialized, Scott USA and GT have stepped up their ‘cross efforts, and all have the marketing muscle to make a big impression.

So how does a shop capitalise on these trends? Read as many Interbike and Eurobike reports as possible; read intuitive bloggers with credibility (many are embedded in the bike business and really know their stuff); spend time with dedicated bicycle commuters; Google the bicycle scene in Amsterdam and other metropolitan cities.

Cityburban and cyclo-cross bikes have been popular for decades, and just like corduroy pants and skinny neckties, if you wait around long enough, fashion is bound to come right back for a second look.

Gary Boulanger is US editor for Future's BikeRadar.com. He owned an Ohio bike shop from 2002-6 and has worked in the bicycle business for many years, with stints at Rivendell, Waterford, and Airborne. He has also done product and PR consultancy work for Huffy, Pacific, Trek and LeMond.

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