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The sociology of making and marketing bicycles - BikeBiz

The sociology of making and marketing bicycles

Dr Paul Rosen is an academic who has spent a lot of time in the archives at Nottingham library, digging up facts on the history of Raleigh. He has also interviewed a great many of today's bike trade execs, IBDs, journos, PRs and manual workers for his just-published book, 'Framing Production' (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press). This is sociological history as seen through a bike trade filter. Dry in parts yet highly stimulating in others. A must-read for anybody who wants to know where the bike trade came from, and maybe even where it's going...
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Dr Rosen is Research Fellow in the Science and Techology Studies Unit at the University of York. He's a regular reader of this site, gets the mag each month and credits BikeBiz for its coverage of the decline of Derby and the last days of Sturmey Archer.

'Framing Production' is his magnum opus and has been cooking since the early 1990s.

Once the dry and academic sociology background is flicked past, the book becomes an entertaining trip down memory lane for industry stalwarts, and an eye-opener for newbies.

The book jacket says 'Framing Production' "explores the complex ways in which product design, production methods, industrial organization, and the cultures of cycling have interacted to create a succession of sociotechnical frames for the bicycle."

But don't let that put you off. There are some great tidbits about working methods at Raleigh and how the once paternalistic company changed into a corporate-managed company when the Bowden family sold to TI. There are also many instructive examples of what lowly-paid labourers thought of their bicycle company bosses.

Rosen's 224-page book "reflects on [industry] changes by setting them within a sociological and historical context. It focuses on the British bicycle industry in the interwar years and in the 1980s and the 1990s - periods characterized by modernization of production and of industrial organization, by changing relations among players in the industry, by new developments in labor relations, and by changes in interactions between markets and product design. In particular, it traces the fortunes of the Raleigh Cycle Company from its beginnings as an innovative young firm, through massive expansion of its products and markets and the assimilation of many of its competitors, into further innovation amid market contraction and management inertia, and finally into a phase of global restructuring that has transformed and reduced its role within the industry."

There are some illuminating passages on the time when Raleigh marketing execs realised they were making luxury goods rather than bits of light-engineering and how Raleigh sales managers viewed IBDs. Many had to be "weeded out" and replaced within the "Raleigh family" with dealers more closely linked to the brand, hence the creations of Five Star Dealerships.

Raleigh's run in with the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in 1980-1 is well covered in Rosen's book. Raleigh was slapped on the wrists for trying to keep its bikes away from multiple outlets and protecting its existing dealer network. The investigation into Raleigh's claimed 'anti-competitiveness' was a test case for the Competition Act of 1980.

Raleigh had, in fact, been supplying Halfords (which started out as a single bike shop but soon grew into a multiple) since 1936. But Raleigh's reliance on protecting its main independent dealers is also shown to be a weakness in the Rosen book. A new IBD which opened in York in the early 1980s was refused a Raleigh account so the nascent York Cycleworks went with 'upstart' American brands, and never looked back.

The book costs £20.50 and can be ordered from the BikeBiz bookshop thanks to an affiliate deal with Amazon.co.uk. Buy from the link below and BikeBiz gets a wee cut.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/.../026-4256806-0618022

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