Friday, March 27, 2009

reaching non-traditional cyclists

A-bike photo courtesy of SlashGear, which has an extensive review

As has often been noted, selling expensive fancy bikes to passionate cyclists is where the bike industry excels. Expanding the pool of customers by reaching out to non-riders is much harder to figure out.

The Sinclair A-Bike was discussed in Cyclelicious and VeloVision in 2006, when the product first went on sale. What struck me in reading about the A-Bike again today was that its U.K. distributor is Mayhem, a gadget and novelty company more akin to Brookstone or Sharper Image than a traditional bicycle retailer. A big part of marketing bicycles to non-riders may be realizing that we need to sell bikes in the places that they shop. People who don't think they want bikes don't go into bike stores!

Sure Walmart sells bikes, but Walmart is where shoppers trudge to buy diapers and toasters, not fun toys and not transportation equipment. In order to promote the image of bicycles as hip fashion accessories, as seen in Bikes and the City and sac cycle chic and Velo Vogue, we need Electras in Ann Taylor and Stridas in Old Navy and Breezers in Starbucks. In order to promote bicycles as transportation, why not convince car dealers to sell them? Maybe someone who can't quite qualify for a loan to buy a Prius would be interested in an Xtracycle instead.


  1. "Maybe someone who can't quite qualify for a loan to buy a Prius would be interested in an Xtracycle instead. I've seen the occasional promotion where a bike is thrown in with a car purchase, but I like your idea. Maybe even a Stokemonkey equipped cargo bike?

  2. Wow, a bike that folds into a walking stick.

  3. Might come in handy on those "No Bikes Allowed" hiking trails.

    At EvilMart I'm always looking for bike stuff near the automotive section instead of the sporting goods section. Maybe that would be a start?

  4. Hmmm... maybe start the culture invasion with folding bikes to be sold at the auto parts store - so when you break down, you've got options? They're not much bigger than those "emergency kits," after all.
    ... or, how 'bout at those stores where they sell fair trade stuff? Fair trade transportation... an enterprising bike shop owner could put some there on consignment, perhaps?

  5. I've been thinking about this topic a lot and it's true, there has to be a cultural shift of how we perceive bikes. For all the arguments about fixies, it's greatest gift to cycling was it's introduction of the bike to a wider audience. Cycling is seen as cool and not just the territory of The 40yo. Virgin.

    This has to continue if cycling is to become more widespread. It has to be portrayed as something that speaks to a persons self-interest. The bike has to be portrayed as something that will make them sexier, cutting-edge, more desireable...taking a page out of the automotive industry marketing.

    Perhaps pointing out economic savings in these tough times. The Bike as the ultimate Recession/Depression-busting vehicle.

    I think the traditional way of marketing the bike as often seen in Bicycling (carbon-uber-electronic-shfting-bike-shaped-object) is on its way out. It's capped out its market. There's only so many ways you can sell carbon fiber.

    If they (bike industry) wants to GROW the industry instead of just selling expensive toys to the choir, they better change their tune.

  6. I think it's up to us people who are in the market to help make that happen. I know I've had an effect on the local market myself, I suppose just by being visible and defying stereotypes.
    Of course, stereotypes can have a life of their own and defy defiance... so if one doesn't fit, people will find another; anything, to resist that cognitive dissonance that might invoke change.

  7. I love SiouxGeonz idea of keeping a bicycle in the trunk as part of an emergency kit. Imagine cycling 3 or 5 miles to refill your gas can instead of walking! In fact, a smart businessperson somewhere should develop a lightweight bike intended especially for the purpose of trunk stowage and use in a breakdown. What design and which features should such a bike have? The discussion is worth a separate blog posting.

    Three cheers for Russ Roca's observation that the marketing of cycling as an activity that's good for you is wrong-headed. I'm happy that cycling is good for me, but mostly I do it because it brings me joy, pure unadulterated bliss. For a long time, the environmental movement always opined in public about how mean and nasty polluters were, and membership and contributions declined. Finally someone figured out that, in truth, sensible environmental policies were about healthy, happy children. We need to change the marketing of cycling to tell the world just how damn fun it is.

  8. It IS damn fun, and more people need to know this. It's not JUST fun, but when I ride to work, I'm floating on a magic carpet of endorphins well into the afternoon. By the time I start coming down it's time to ride home. What a great stress relief! Keeping my head on a "Fire Fighting" day when I've driven to work is more difficult.

  9. Would they have fun the first time? Or would it be all stressful?

    Is our task not so much to market the bicycles, but to market the riding? Get 'em hooked?

  10. I agree wholeheartedly, SiouxGenz: market the riding! "It's not about the bike," as some guy once said. Somehow we have to turn childhood memories of cycling from a negative association ("cycling is for juvenile people") to a positive one ("I adored cycling as a child and will love it again now"). The reason I started this discussion is that changing the venues where bikes are sold is a start on changing the way non-cyclists think about them.

  11. In the book No Logo, Naomi Klein describes the shift of marketing from product to lifestyle. Instead of enumerating the different attributes of a particular product (while logical, doesn't cause as great a shift in behavior), you need to evoke some sort of primal emotional response.

    In this case...FUN.

    Just as a the Nike Swoosh = Sports, the same correlation must be made with Bike = FUN/Hip/Sexy/etc

    The bike is the vehicle (literally and otherwise) for the lifestyle.

    One great example of this, in my opinion, are the Fat Tire beer commercials that show the guy rebuilding a bike and taking his wife out for a ride...simply beautiful and makes me want to hop on the bike every time...