Bike Shops share the blame in the slow growth of bike commuting

While at Frostbike last weekend I had the opportunity to sit in on a brainstorming session with Salsa Cycles and several of their dealers. What I witnessed was both disturbing and exciting.

The session began with Salsa general manager, Jason Boucher, introducing the Salsa vision and staff. He went on to give updates on the popular products in terms of sales for 2007 and projections for 2008. In that report he gave two very telling statistics:

  • Their top selling frame of 2007 was the Casseroll, their only commuter specific frame.
  • Their top selling complete bike of 2008 will be their two options of the Casseroll.

Salsa currently has six mountain bike frames, five road bike frames and just one commuter specific frame. They have no commuter specific accessories or components.

If you were asked where Salsa needs to grow their line of products, what would your answer be?

I know the folks at Salsa are looking hard at their line to see what they should be releasing next and I also know they have some commuter options in mind, however they wanted to get their dealer’s input on this before final decisions started being made. So they opened up the room to discussion and simply took notes as the dealers made suggestions.

A couple of the first suggestions given by the dealers in the room included a mountain bike stem in 5mm increments and changing the model name of one of their handlebars. Nothing was said about their commuter specific line until I raised my hand and asked where they were expanding it.

Also, later in the discussion the question was asked to the dealers if they saw commuting by bicycle growing in popularity in their area. Almost every person in the room raised their hand. Yet I would say the dealers only spent 5% of the time discussing and suggesting commuter specific bikes and products.

What’s the deal?

The independent bike shops are often what drives the cycling culture in their city. Everything from the attitude of the staff to the products they carry makes a big impact. These decisions directly impact the local bike culture direction and growth.

These bike shops see the growth of bike commuters and saw Salsa’s top sales figures on their commuter specific bike… so why is their focus still on abstract details in the stagnant sport section of bicycling instead of the thriving and growing commuter section of the industry?

We often like to list off road conditions and government apathy as reasons why more people aren’t using the bicycle as a source of transportation. However, I wonder if a good portion of this guilt shouldn’t be placed on the local bike shop. Why aren’t they changing their business to push people out of the cycling-as-a-sport mentality?

That’s the disturbing part, so what’s the exciting part?

Even with the majority of dealers lack of focus on the bike commuter, sales figures for Salsa’s (and most other brands) commuter specific bike is sitting at the top. Not to mention that all of the dealers in the room had noticed an upward trend in people using their bikes as transportation. And these were dealers spread out all over North America.

I thoroughly believe more and more people are dumping four wheels for two and this movement is going to continue. More bikes are being sold. More people are using them. This is an exciting time! I just hope the independent dealers will jump on board and help propel us faster than ever into a bright future that includes more people on more bicycles.

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