A guy asked me, what is going on in the bike industry? What do you see in the immediate future? I liked this guy. He seemed like he wanted the answer. He seemed like he thought I had an answer. I’m not sure I do have an answer, but I did start talking. It’s probably in my nature to do so.
The bike industry is in recession I said. Big swathes of this business are rooted in China and there are 25% tariffs on all the stuff coming out of there. Companies are panicking, raising prices, trying to reroute their supply chains through countries that aren’t being hit with tariffs. That rerouting raises costs and uncertainty. So, the economy as a whole is not in recession, but no industry just absorbs a tax hit like this and doesn’t contract.
The single, consistent growth category is e-bikes. The aging cycling population doesn’t love to pedal for its speed as much as it used to. Millenials don’t love bikes. Electric skateboards are cooler. They might even get you laid (no, I doubt that).
At this point in the conversation I can’t be entirely confident that I was still speaking audibly. What you’re reading now might have just been in my head. My interlocutor was smiling and nodding like you sometimes do with a person who speaks a language you studied when you were much younger.
I went on.
Traditional cycling categories are over. Like a dying star that has shrunk under the weight of its own gravity, we are all just standing by waiting for it to go supernova. In this metaphor, things turn out well, because after the contraction the industry explodes. Everyone rides bikes. Maybe the oil is all gone at that point, or robots have freed us from the need to work, and we need something to do with our newfound leisure time.
This is what I meant before about not having answers but not hesitating to talk. It leads you down poorly formed metaphorical lines, most of which end in darker places than you’d intended.
“You seem really pessimistic,” my friend suggested, “in a nihilistic way.”
My mind capered. No, I answered. It’s not nihilism. It’s an ecstatic truth that I’m channeling, that most humans are too lazy to ride a bike, that growth in cycling as a pastime is more a spasm of fashion than any consistent and rational upward trend, but also that it’s all ok. Some few of us zealots understand the pleasures inherent in dancing with gravity on two wheel. We will convert some few, but lose most, and one day humans will marvel at these odd propulsion machines and wonder what we were doing, and it will be like a joke we played on physics that no one understands.
I stopped. It occurred to me that this was NOT what he meant when he asked where I saw the industry going. I stopped and considered what I’d said. Yup, sounds about right to me.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what’s next for cycling? First, are you putting off any purchases based on tariff-inflated prices? Are you shopping for discounts more? Second, do you or will you own an e-bike? Third, do you see a future in which cycling participation grows in meaningful ways, staying about the same, or shrinking over all?
Image: Wesley Fryer