We were talking about sub-$500 bikes, whether independent bike shops (IBDs) need more of them on their floors. How much business do IBDs lose to big box stores? Is that business they want? Is there even enough margin in bikes at those price points to make them worth flooring?
In many ways, it’s the perennial question of how to bring more people to cycling. Product managers, advocates and urban planners have all done better thinking about it than I ever will, but this question of just what the entry price point for IBD customers should be gets at the very heart of how we think about bikes in this country.
How many times have I had another parent at school drop off tell me they couldn’t believe how much bikes cost, that they remember when $100 got you a nice bike? I try to remind them that that was the ’70s. They ask me if the bikes at Walmart are any good. They ask me what to do.
The problem, I think, is a loss of context. All those teenagers of the ’70s haven’t even looked at cycling since the day they turned 16. Cigarettes were south of $2 a pack then. You could add a six-pack and still get change from a $5. In the meantime, the entire economy of cycling changed, roads have become more trafficked. Paint is, too often, what qualifies as infrastructure.
I tell people that big box bikes are dangerous, badly assembled, cheaply made, and that if they want to put themselves or their kids at risk, then go cheap. I tell them that everything has gotten more expensive, and that if they really intend to ride, just figure out what three months worth of gas runs them and spend that. That’ll get most folks I know onto an $800 bike, a starting point.
There is so much that goes into solving this “problem” that the sub-$500 bike only really serves as a canary in the mine, a retail hurdle at the end of a line of hurdles that would-be cyclists have to clear. The recent passing of James Oberstar won’t help. That’s why I think how I answer bike questions at school drop off is so important. Anywhere there’s a willingness to ride, good, simple answers to basic questions are required.
I think the industry needs to find a way to make cycling attractive for families rather than simply for individuals. We don’t need sub-$500 bikes that look like $2000 bikes. We don’t need to sell the carbon fiber dream to the aluminum budget. We just need to make cycling as a family palatable, practical and even cool. This is a big ask from a marketing sector that leads with racers from the pro peloton. Grant Peterson has some thoughts on this. I’m sure you do, too.
This week’s Group Ride asks what the attractive, budget bike looks like and is it enough to draw in the millions who could, would or should benefit from having a bike in their lives? How do you answer these questions when people ask? And do IBDs need cheaper bikes?
Image: Matt O’Keefe