Why Speed Records Won’t Save The Recumbent Bike

written by JerseyJim on February 24, 2016 in Articles and Editorials with 4 comments

It just happened again. Another record was broken on a recumbent bike.

Kevin Gambill broke a distance record that stood for 10 years during the 2016 Bike Sebring 12-hour on his Cruzbike Vendetta. It is with sincere respect I say that what he has done is truly remarkable and I am in awe of his athletic ability. Congratulations, Kevin.

If I have an issue it has nothing to do with Kevin. I don’t even have an issue with the Cruzbike Vendetta, which is an extraordinary machine. My issue has to do with using this achievement to market recumbents to road bike riders.

The Cruzbike Vendetta is fantastic. As a passionate recumbent cyclist I want one. I wanted one when I first saw a photo of it. I wanted one even more when Maria Parker set the 12 and 24 hour records in 2013. This latest record doesn’t make me want it more but that’s only because I couldn’t have wanted it any more than I already did. A performance like this is further confirmation of how formidable the Cruzbike Vendetta is. However, that should all be taken with a grain of salt as I’m already a member of the recumbent tribe. My cup of Kool-Aid was gleefully downed a long time ago.

This probably affects me so deeply because once upon a time I was in the road bike tribe. In my teens I even aspired to being a racer. As a result I am susceptible to the story that is being built around the Cruzbike Vendetta. It’s the same story that would make me want Fabian Cancellara’s TT bike. I can see myself as the hero in this story and it works as a marketing device for me because of my personal history with cycling. The assumption is that it would also work as a marketing device for the average road bike racer and convert them into recumbent riders.

Speaking as a road bike convert, the reason I moved to riding recumbents had nothing to do with speed records. I suspect that this is the case with many other road bike converts. My conversion had more to do with comfort. Now it’s great that if I buy a Cruzbike Vendetta I can be comfortable while going extremely fast, but it isn’t the speed that would sell me, its the comfort. That’s what I was looking for when I first tried a recumbent. Upon finding that comfort I enjoyed cycling more than I ever did before.

There’s probably an extremely small number of potential road bike converts that are primarily seeking speed, and don’t mind facing potential ridicule from their road bike peers. They also don’t mind the high price of entry. This group is unlikely to move the market share needle.

Since the Cruzbike Vendetta and the Cruzbike Silvio are squarely aimed at the road bike convert in concept and design, it is appropriate for Cruzbike to create a road bike racer-friendly story around these machines. They have a clearly defined profile of the potential customer for either bike.

The problem is that we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen the same story and multiple recumbent manufacturers going after the same exceedingly small population of speed hungry road bike converts.

The highracer was conceived with this market in mind. They created bikes with ultra-light 700c wheels, road bike components and gearing, and marketing literature explaining how you could ride in a paceline with your road bike buddies – all in an effort to get those road bike racer-types to see the recumbent as just-as-good-as-if-not-better-than the road bike they’re currently riding.

If effective, this tactic could save the recumbent industry by wooing scores of road bike riders over to recumbents and increasing recumbent market share to unheard of levels. After well over a decade of this experiment, I think it’s safe to say that it’s not working.

Like all good missionaries, passionate recumbent riders believe that all we have to do is share the good news with road bike riders – that comfort and speed can coexist on two wheels. We’ve found out for the most part that they aren’t interested. As impressive as all of the recumbent speed and distance records are, the whole pile of them won’t save the recumbent bike industry. When manufacturers and dealers focus on attracting the right new riders in the right way we will see a major shift. Until that happens, we’re only fooling ourselves.

If you’re interested in some ideas about what I think is the proper approach to attract new recumbent riders and expand the recumbent market, have a look at “How To Save the Recumbent Bike From Extinction” series of articles here on ComfyBike.