How To Save The Recumbent Bike From Extinction: Part 5
When I was growing up there was a natural progression when learning how to ride a bike. It started with 3 wheels, then 4 wheels and finally 2 wheels. The 3 wheels was the tricycle, which took the balance issue out of the picture. Steering and pedaling skills were the main focus…well maybe just having fun was the focus with skill building being a secondary result. The bicycle with training wheels was the next step. Finally, the extra wheels were removed and the training was complete.
A quick glance at the bike racks in any department store shows dozens of children’s bicycles and tricycles to choose from. The cost of these bikes can be found in every range, but they are mostly affordable and readily available.
When kids learn to ride a bike, they also learn what a bike is. This image is set in their minds and the activity of cycling is forever linked with the image. Later, when these kids grow up and become consumers, this image of a bicycle is what they’ll be looking for when they are ready to make their own purchasing decisions.
This leads me to ask the question, If the recumbent market wants to remain viable and expand the number of potential buyers, then where are all the kid’s recumbents?
Cost can’t be the issue. Kid’s bikes are much less complex than adult bikes and use less material because they’re smaller. If the recumbent manufacturers can’t design, build and market a sub $100 kids recumbent, there is something wrong here.
Now, tricycles are an easier lift. The Big Wheel, Green Machine, and other kinds of kid’s trikes have been very popular and are arguably recumbents. It seems like recumbent trikes are a natural fit for a child-focused product. I’m aware that KMX created and sold a kid sized trike, but where are the other manufacturers?
And where are the kid’s 2 wheeled recumbents? Whenever I ride my bike anywhere within the eye line of a young person, I get excited pointing, incredulous stares, and a “Hey, cool bike!”. Their heroes may ride BMXs, and they buy into and aspire to that story but, as I’m sure most parents can attest, kids can love and want more than one thing. Having a skateboard won’t keep them from wanting a snowboard. There are all styles of child-sized conventional bikes, BMX, mountain bikes, choppers, cruisers, road…there should be a recumbent in that mix.
Through this series I think I’ve established that the current tactic of converting road bike riders will not sustain the recumbent market. By focusing on the audience of road bike riders to the exclusion of other potential buyers, the recumbent market has committed itself to a course of action that at best ensures obscurity and at worst will lead to it’s eventual extinction.
We can begin changing this by offering a recumbent trike and bike designed for kids. The key here is that the recumbent market needs to be smart about doing this. If every recumbent manufacturer designed and built their own unique kid’s bikes, this would just compound the error and likely result in a bunch of $500 kid’s bikes. Instead, recumbent manufacturers should take a page out of the automotive industry playbook.
In order to reduce costs, automotive manufacturers have adopted the platform method of design. An automobile platform is a framework in which a car’s structure and mechanicals are standardized and shared among product lines. When a car is designed it is not designed from scratch but starts from a platform. A particular platform can support multiple types of cars. For example, a platform used to build a 4 door sedan can also be used to build a station wagon or mini van. The exterior body panels are styled to match the brand image so that a Chevy and a Buick model can be based on the same platform but be styled to fit the brand.
If recumbent manufacturers collaborate on shared design of a kid’s trike and bike, they could reduce the development cost and make sure that the resulting design is easy to manufacture. Parts could be interchangeable between brands and therefore the resulting product will be easier to repair and maintain. It would be the equivalent of the BMX bike. BMX bikes are all very similar with respect to mechanicals but also support minor variations in the frame structure to reflect different styles. You can take 2 kid’s BMX bikes of different brands and swap most of the parts between them.
If manufacturers won’t take up this task then the the DIY builder part of the recumbent rider community should. It seems like this is a natural fit for a collaborative, open-source design project. The result may be even better because recumbent riders and potential customers would be designing the product. There’s no reason why kids can’t be involved in the development of the product. They’re the ones who are going to be riding it after all. These same kids could not only keep an ailing industry alive, but expand it. While they’re at it, maybe those kids can come up with a better name than “recumbent” too.