How To Save The Recumbent Bike From Extinction: Part 4

written by JerseyJim on March 29, 2015 in Editorials with no comments

recumbent_fossil_800In part 3 of this series I suggested that the recumbent market could benefit from a training program for prospective recumbent cyclists. This program would teach people how to ride a recumbent using a consistent, systematic method.

Some may think teaching aspiring recumbent cyclists how to ride one of these machines is a crazy idea. I would offer my experience with another industry as a rebuttal. Despite having spent most of my life being very comfortable on 2 wheels, when I decided I wanted a motorcycle I signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is supported by motorcycle manufacturers, motorcycle insurance providers, motorcycle magazines, motorcycle dealers and motorcycle clubs. In short, it is supported by the motorcycle industry. Their primary purpose is to provide a systematic and safe method to enter the world of motorcycling and provide continuing education for the motorcycling community. In every beginner’s course, all over the USA, the methods are the same. No prior knowledge is assumed. The only prerequisite, ironically, is that you have to pass the “bicycle test”. As long as one can ride a standard bicycle and demonstrate that skill before the class begins, you may participate.

Students do not need to own a motorcycle. In the beginner’s class the motorcycles are provided by a local motorcycle dealer. Can you guess what kind of motorcycle you might buy and where you might buy it if you learned to ride a particular make and model in an MSF course? In my class we used the Honda Nighthawk 250. It’s a nice bike. I’ll bet that dealer sold a few of those after the class was over.

I took the class in the early 1990’s. At that time you still had to take the State’s written and road test to get your motorcycle license even if you took the MSF course. That has changed. In my state today, completion of the class satisfies all the requirements for a motorcycle license. If you successfully complete the class, you walk out the door with your motorcycle license. Could it be any easier to get started in motorcycling? Students show up with nothing but a desire to learn and a team of instructors, supported by local motorcycle dealers, guide the student through the process of learning to ride and obtaining a motorcycle license.

The motorcycle industry was in a slump. What the motorcycle industry figured out is that they needed some kind of mechanism to get more people to buy motorcycles. They also figured out that if those riders had the skills to stay safe, they would probably enjoy motorcycling long enough to maybe buy more than one motorcycle over their lifetimes. They also realized that there is a skill barrier to operating a motorcycle and that without some way to address this skill barrier many people who might otherwise be interested in riding a motorcycle would never do it.

Does this sound familiar? The recumbent market faces a similar situation. A version of the MSF course model is one that can work for the recumbent bike market. What would be better for the casual cyclist than to show up to a class with bikes and instructors ready to show them how to ride using a consistent, systematic method? What would be better for the recumbent market than making immediate sales as a result of people taking that course?

Support and Education is step one to saving the recumbent from extinction. We need to support casual riders who would otherwise choose a comfort bike. We need to give them an opportunity to experience riding a recumbent. I realize I said this is step one, but actually this is step two.

The real first step is to define the recumbent bicycle story. That is, we give up everything about our story that has anything to do with being displaced by the road bike. We need to give up that story and admit that it wouldn’t matter if recumbents had been allowed in world competition over 100 years ago. We have to stop missing the point.

Then we need to recognize that the casual cyclist needs support in order to choose a recumbent bike. The recumbent isn’t so good that it’s an inevitable choice. However, there are people out there who have been looking all their lives for something like the recumbent bike but they’ll never find it if we don’t provide the opportunity.

Speaking of opportunities, there is one that the recumbent market has been missing from the beginning. Can you guess the reason why? We’ll look at that next.

Continue to Part 5 –>