Friday Group Ride #471

Friday Group Ride #471

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

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  1. Jay

    I see an e-bike in my future. Perhaps in fifteen or more years when I am closer to my 80s. Sooner if my health declines rapidly and unexpectedly.

  2. TomInAlbany

    1. Not putting off purchases. Looking for that ‘do-it-all’ bike. I like to get my speed down hill as, i’ve never been able to pedal very fast.
    2. No ebike for now. Maybe, when I need one.
    3. If cities in the U.S. can be convinced to make safe places, it’ll grow. Otherwise, same, miniscule percentage of adults that ride

  3. Pat O'Brien

    E bike for errands? Perhaps a substitute for a car. Maybe in the near future. But as a replacement for a bicycle, nope.

    The bike business will recover. The climate crisis requires it. Europe gets it. Other countries are starting to, quickly.

  4. Aar

    1) For the first time I can remember, I’m not shopping for bikes or bike goodies. It’s not tariff related. I’m just happy with my current stuff.
    2) Not in the e-bike market for now. Might not ever. Nothing against e-bikes nor those who ride them. Just doubt that I’ll feel the need to keep up with others as I age. I already like slower riders better than faster riders, just find faster group rides safer.
    3) Yeah, as other forms of personal transportation become more expensive and the novelty of e-scooters wanes, bikes and e-bikes will rebound. As millennials get old and fat, fitness/group cycling will rebound, as well. However, indoor cycling options will siphon off a huge percentage, especially as the globe continues to warm.

    If I were to start shopping for a bike today, it would be for an “everyday bike”. No drop bars, no knobbies, paniers, possibly integrated lighting, internal hub gearing with belt drive – perfectly suited for a quickie jaunt in every day clothes for whatever purposes. I currently use my car for this kind of thing because my neighborhood is too far from amenities for walking and my current bikes all require cycling shoes and a chamois is more than recommended. I mention this because a bike like this is really hard to find at a decent price in the US. I think a lot of Americans have similar needs but there’s no supply. I mean one model of bike like this from a mainstream manufacturer hits the market about every three years at a high price, sells slowly and disappears. If the biggest 5 brands would put this product on the market at prices from $750-$3K (depending upon component kit) for three years, I bet they’d take off. They could all use the same frame and just product differentiate with paint/decals.

    1. tominalbany

      That last piece is so true! I had some friends that had moved here from Switzerland for work. After they settled in and got to know the area, they asked me where they could go buy a bike for errands and the like. I had no idea what to tell them. All they wanted was a few speeds and a basket in a frame who’s weight didn’t matter a hell of a lot. I was lost for an answer…

    2. Jeremiah

      Your thoughts about availability and price of the target components is what led me to Canyon, and got a nice belt drive commuter for $2k.

  5. Brad King

    I purchased a Cervelo R3 in 2016 and I’m glad I did back then. It looks like the same model (Ultegra Di2, rim brake) is over $1,000 more expensive that I paid. I don’t know if that is tariff related or just the new, better, stiffer tax from but that seems quite a bit more for basically the same bike. I won’t be in the market for a new bike for a long time, electric or otherwise.

  6. Steve Courtright

    I recently asked a retired urban planner what would he change about his work now that he better understands the importance of the desire for people to connect with each other and how active transportation works to that end (vs. e.g., the isolating experience of driving a car).

    He was thoughtful for a moment and said that it was a good question.

    So, I fantasize about a future where bicycling is normalized into a part of our everyday life in ways that enhance a sense of community and connection, makes economic and environmental sense (the same thing actually) and supports a diversity of expression. Like I thought about blue jeans in the 60s…

  7. 32x20

    1) No.
    2) I recently bought an e-cargo-bike (Kona E-Ute) from the shop demo fleet. It is fantastic for running errands with kids. We live ~400ft above town 2 miles away. While I enjoyed riding to town for leisure/errands, I’d often take a vehicle if I needed to haul the kids or groceries. Not with the E-bike. I have no plans to replace any recreational bikes with e-versions, however.
    3) Agree with other responses: It has to grow if we address climate issues in any meaningful way. I think the younger generations understand that.

  8. Ron

    1) No. I’m more focused on a european-based drivetrain company so the tariffs aren’t affecting me.
    2) I don’t think so. I specifically WANT to only be me-powered. I grew up riding mini-bikes, motorcycles etc and got tired of them at a certain point. If I wanted a motor to help me along, I’d be more likely to get a full-on motorized bike, without the semi-pretend pedals.
    3) Shrinking alarmingly, and then slowly rebounding a bit but never fully recovering. I predict that in the future, non- e-bikes and parts for them will spur about as much further development and growth as 26 inch wheels for mountain bikes do now. Not entirely gone, but devastated as the ‘bike industry’ follows the money like bloodhounds, sniffing further and further into motorized vehicle land. Pretty much a recapitulation of the motorcycle birthing process a century earlier. When all the birthing hoopla has died down, bicycles will continue as the minor means of conveyance for the self-selected few that they always have, thankfully without the marketing gaslighting that has tried to force us to believe that e-bikes are just bicycles after all. Bikes will be second-class citizens on the ‘e-bike lanes’ placed throughout every major city, lanes crowded with e-bikes, e-scooters and e-skateboards.

  9. Jeff R Dieffenbach

    1. I haven’t cut back spending. In fact, I just upped it … picked up a cargo van that I’m converting to a bike hauler/camper. My fleet’s in great shape … maybe a new full suspension XC-trail bike at some point, and a CX bike when I wear my current one out.

    2. I’d love an e-bike. But not until I need one. My commute/errand landscape is flat flat flat and my legs still turn the cranks.

    3. Contracting? Expanding? Contracting then expanding? No idea. But contracting might help with my ONE GOAL … winning the 2044 CX Nationals when I turn racing age 80. My Dad’s 80, and I could see him getting around the course. And I’ll be better prepared. Also, FWIW, the last few years, there’s only been one guy in the 80+ field. I plan to be that guy.

  10. Lyford

    Thinking about this again. Reading the stories from the local mountain biking clubs, it seems that there’s real growth among middle-aged folks looking for a way to get outside with friends and enjoy the scenery. high-school racing is also booming. So why does most MTB marketing feature dudebros doing extreme stuff that the vast majority of riders can’t identify with and will never do?
    The other thought came from this documentary where Boardman says “I didn’t see any cyclists. Just lots of ordinary people on bikes”. I think you did a column on this — that we may be inadvertantly discouraging some potential riders by zooming around in full Lycra instead of dressing like ordinary folks and doing ordinary things on bikes.

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