The Death of the Recumbent Bicycle

written by JerseyJim on March 1, 2015 in Editorials with no comments

recumbent_tombstone_editTo echo an ancient Chinese saying, we are living in interesting times. In ancient China, stability was valued over change, so living in interesting times is not necessarily a good thing. For the recumbent bike, these times may be a bit too interesting.

Interest in recumbents have been declining for years. While one expects some natural attrition of companies over time, recumbent manufacturers have been closing up shop at an alarming rate. The death of the recumbent bicycle appears to be imminent. Why is this happening?

The global economic climate is a convenient scapegoat. It is easy to say that because of the economic downturn and the anemic recovery interest in all bicycles has diminished. Since recumbents are a tiny part of the cycling market, an economic downturn is potentially devastating to this segment.

OK, that sounds plausible on the surface. Recumbents are in mortal danger because of economic conditions. Case closed, right? I don’t think so.

We’ve had economic downturns in the past and the recumbent survived. In fact, you might say it thrived in spite of recent economic recessions. The number of recumbent bike models increased through the down markets and we even saw the emergence of new manufacturers. The economic climate can’t be the only factor affecting the recumbent bike.

When you consider the technology driven times we live in, the recumbent should be thriving. It has all of the hallmarks of something that should be trending on all of the social networking sites. It’s a bit strange, so there’s a novelty factor. It’s green transportation, so in an age of bike lanes and bike sharing programs in major cities all over the world, you would expect to see more recumbents tracking right along with the increasing numbers of conventional bikes. Between bikes and trikes, recumbents are cool. So why is the recumbent an endangered species?

After much consideration I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion. We are the problem. More specifically, avid recumbent cyclists are killing the recumbent bike.

OK, before you start plotting my demise, let me explain. The core of the recumbent cycling community is a passionate bunch but as a whole the group is pretty isolated. What’s worse is that there isn’t much new blood. This isn’t to say that recumbent cyclists as a whole aren’t a welcoming group, but there isn’t much in the way of outreach. The potential recumbent cyclist pretty much has to already know recumbent bikes exist and where to get one. At the point where someone has decided they want a recumbent there’s nothing casual about the decision. They’ve most likely done all the research about the history of recumbents and the different types of bikes available. We’re talking about a pretty motivated individual, and that’s great. They’ll probably be a recumbent cyclist for life.

If there was a picture of bad marketing, this would be it. The recumbent bicycle market pretty much relies on people stumbling upon a recumbent bike by chance and becoming interested in it. It seems that word-of-mouth is the primary method of recumbent bicycle marketing.

Now, word-of-mouth advertising can be quite effective and better yet, it’s free! The problem here with respect to recumbents is that we seem to be a pretty silent bunch of folks. We’re not out there shouting from the rooftops about our bikes. We seem to be content talking only to each other and preaching to the converted. As a result we find ourselves witnessing the slow death of the recumbent bike. Just like any endangered species, as the population declines there’s not enough genetic diversity to create healthy offspring in numbers required to continue the species. So goes the number of recumbent cyclists.

Luckily, we’re not quite out of time. We can still turn this all around but it will take effort on the part of recumbent manufacturers as well as recumbent riders. Avid recumbent cyclists need to consider themselves ambassadors for recumbents, reaching out whenever possible to inform and educate people about the joys of riding a recumbent. If the recumbent is going to survive, we have to get rid of complacency. we can’t take it for granted that the remaining manufacturers will continue to build and sell bikes to us. Recumbent manufacturers and retailers can’t take it for granted that current customers will continue to buy bikes. They have to seek new customers and inform, educate and escort them into the world of recumbent cycling. If we don’t take collective responsibility for the health of the recumbent market and, more importantly, take action, the death of the recumbent bike is imminent.