Monday, March 31, 2014

Job security or death knell?

The Internet brings me word of the proliferation of 11-speed drive trains and hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes among the many technological bounties showering from the broken sewer pipe of the bicycle industry and its chief driver of costs and complications, Shimano.

As if ten-speed chains did not wear out fast enough. While I chuckle on my own behalf as I ride my 8-speed steed (24, actually, with its hideously outmoded triple crank), I also tear my hair as I consider that most of my time is spent helping customers who have no intention of replacing their old bikes keep them going.

It's like working in rehab. The poor riders come in addicted to their conveniently-located shifting. It used to be state-of-the-art. Now it's relegated to the cheap models. The bike industry wants these dupes to buy newer bikes with more speeds. But they can't afford the stronger drugs you're peddling. And they don't need them.

If you get tagged by some irritable idiot in a pickup truck, does it matter whether your bike had 11 cogs or eight in the rear? Does it matter whether you had electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes or barcons and old cantilevers? Will the new bikes ride any better over potholed road edges than the old ones did?

Component manufacturers shove their innovations down through the price points because they need a lot of suckers to buy in to finance the few people who really benefit even slightly from the capabilities of the new machinery. I guarantee that racers will race on whatever they can get. THEY don't drive the innovation unless you can tell them one of two things: it's an advantage other competitors won't be able to get or it's what everyone else has, so they need it to start from an equal footing. But if everyone has it, everyone has it. That was true when it was toeclips and downtube shifting on steel framed bikes and it's true now with exotic frame materials and far more expensive and temperamental drive trains. No one has the technological edge for long. Meanwhile, the innovations warp values throughout the industry and cycling in general.

Now we need another shelf facing in the parts department for 11-speed chains. We have to stock 11, 10, 9, and 8-7-6-5, as well as a few models of 1/2"X1/8" and a 3/16" for good measure. The poor schmucks who want a nice bike and get stuck buying an 11-speed swell the ranks of the Chain of the Month Club even if they've never heard of it. And most people haven't.

"Got this great new bike! Of course my genitals still get numb on a long ride, I still breathe hard and huck up a lung on steep climbs and angry motorists still try to kill me, but thank heaven I have that one more cog!"

Riders may love cycling and still not want to shell out for a new bike very three years. Even among racers -- a small percentage of the cycling population -- there are many who may lust for the newer stuff but simply can't afford it. They'll get the best they can and thrash it and themselves to death.

Far more numerous than the real racers are the citizen riders with their myriad motivations, who buy the best bike they can, with every intention of using it for many years. The bike industry betrays them with its constant debatable "improvements."

As far as I can see the bike industry divides the customer base into two broad categories: the exploited and the neglected. At this they're no worse than many other industries, but when will that stop being the basis of acceptability?

Where's the big noise about improving riding conditions on every road in the country? Where's the huge investment in public image and education that would really increase consumer demand? Does the bike industry believe that will take care of itself or do they actually believe it's not worth the investment? They'll just keep throwing ideas at different rider groups and aim for the center of the biggest flocks until there are no more. As a rider I don't feel supported by them. As a professional mechanic I don't feel supported by them. As a small retailer I emphatically don't feel supported by them.

No comments: