What Is The “Bicycle Industry” Anyway?

written by JerseyJim on February 22, 2015 in Editorials with no comments

In a previous editorial I stated that the mountain bike would have been a huge success with or without the bicycle industry. This prompts the question that if a bicycle type can be successful without the bicycle industry then what good is the bicycle industry at all? For that matter, what exactly do I mean by the “bicycle industry”?

Addressing the second question first, I see the the bicycle industry as all the entities performing 3 main functions; Marketing, Distribution, and Support.

Hold on, what about manufacturing? Yes, manufacturing is part of the bicycle industry. However, the way that I see it, the force that drives manufacturing is demand. One of the functions of the bicycle industry is to create demand through marketing. No demand, no manufacturing.

That demand is satisfied by getting the goods to the market through distribution networks. The market is sustained by supporting the consumer, distributor, and manufacturer.

So when I say the “bicycle industry” I mean all of the organizations and entities that promote bicycles and cycling with the purpose of creating a sustained demand for the sale of bicycles and cycling accessories.

When a bicycle manufacturer has the support of the “bicycle industry”, that means that the bicycle industry will actively participate in the promotion of that manufacturer’s product. For the manufacturer, the doors open up to a wider market via larger distribution networks.

This answers the first question “What good is the bicycle industry at all?”. Support from the bicycle industry allows a manufacturer access to more potential customers.

If this is the case, then how can a type of bicycle be successful without the support of the bicycle industry? The answer has everything to do with demand for the product. I maintain that the mountain bike would have been successful even if the bicycle industry didn’t catch on to it because people wanted it. They wanted it partly because they identified with the story surrounding the product. The success of the mountain bike would have happened more slowly without the bicycle industry, but it would have happened.

Strictly speaking, once the number of mountain bike riders and potential riders reached a high enough level, that is, once the market demand was high enough, keeping the bicycle industry out of this market segment would have been impossible. Manufacturers saw sales potential. With such a high sales potential a manufacturer of racing bikes would have switched to mountain bikes or added the type to the production line. In fact, this is exactly what we saw in the 1990’s. The bicycle industry’s marketing machine informed potential customers of the manufacturer’s product. Sales were¬†sustained by making certain the product was available to any potential customer around the world via distribution networks. Today you can get a mountain bike in any big-box store.

All that being said, my main point was that the recumbent has somehow become stuck in a place where demand is flat or declining and this has nothing to do with lack of support from the bicycle industry. If there were more demand, no one would have to ask the bicycle industry to get involved. It would smell sales and jump all over the market.

I think I know why recumbent demand is low and how we can address it. Before we can turn things around, we have to face some harsh truths about ourselves as recumbent cyclists and change the narrative around recumbents.