Blue Ocean Trilogy
By Mark Sanders © 2011
1. Stop fighting each other for enthusiast sales and focus on non-cyclists If you are reading this are probably a bicycle ‘professional’ or ‘enthusiast'! Whilst it is easier to see the world from this point of view, we must try to see it from the point of view of a ‘non-cyclist’. The non-cyclist market is mostly untapped and is THE biggest opportunity for the bicycle industry. As an industry we tend to fight each other for a share of the limited, but known sport and enthusiast market – like sharks fighting in a small ocean – turning the water red with blood. Yes this ‘sporting enthusiast’ ‘red-ocean’ market is profitable, and it is fun to sell to fellow enthusiasts who have big budgets looking for the latest sporting kit. It is also a market with limited growth – we fight each other for a share of this market. In contrast, the market for bicycles for noncyclists is almost unlimited – like a vast ‘blue-ocean’ of potential sales.
Red vs Blue Ocean ©Mark Sanders 2011
As bicycle professionals our world tends to revolve around people with similar views and values. It can be a ‘wake-up call’ when non-cyclists view our world. For example, A Journalist for TimeOut travel guides, was recently given 2 assignments back to back. The first was to update a travel guide to Copenhagen, and the second was to visit a cycle show. The cycle show was not even a trade show such as Taipei 2011, but a national consumer show – for potential bicycle end customers. She was amazed how totally differently bicycles were viewed on these assignments. In Copenhagen bicycles are simply a form of transport, for ALL. Not just enthusiasts or those who can’t afford a car.. but everyone all incomes, professions, ages, genders and for the majority of journeys !! They are not bicycles designed for speed and sport, nor are they cheap ‘supermarket’ bikes which emulate sporty bikes. They are relatively expensive, long lasting, upright bicycles. They are easy to use by anyone – young to old. They don’t have oily
chains, narrow tyres, or complex gears. They do not need special clothes – everyone rides them in the clothes they need at their destination. No racing, so no sweating – just using the same energy as walking, yet going 3 or 4 times the distance and speed. She was struck, in total contrast, by how 'sporty' and ‘macho’ and how LIMITED the Cycle Show’s target (bicycles and equipment) appeared to be ! Basically - enthusiasts selling enthusiast products to other enthusiasts! Almost ignoring her and the other 90+% of the population. From her point of view, and I’m sure the majority of non-cyclists, all she saw were rows and rows of almost identical sports bikes !
Although we, in the bicycle industry can see the many subtleties of bicycle construction, geometry, weight, bar type and position, gears, suspension – almost all of this was of no interest to her – she saw little innovation for her needs and nothing that would persuade her to choose a bicycle for personal transport. There may have been some ‘lifestyle’ bicycles as we condescending call them, tucked away behind the rows of sport and enthusiast ‘equipment’. There was little or no enthusiasm to sell or even show them – “why would anyone want a bicycle that doesn’t offer competitive levels of speed and efficiency” or is “200 grams lighter than last years model”; has anything “less than 27 gears” – and, sin of sin – has an upright riding position! “so much less aerodynamic” all of which an enthusiastic sales person would say! She spent about 20 minutes in the show, felt unwelcome and out of place - suffocated by the whiff of testosterone! To help us (mainly male) in the bicycle industry, to understand how it feels to be a non-cyclist such as Anna, I encourage a visit to the cosmetics section of a department store. We will get an experience similar to what Anna’s at the bicycle show: rows and rows of bottles and tubes, all apparently the same. Now try and choose something for your partner, what is the difference between ‘blusher’ and ‘foundation’, ‘mascara’ or ‘eyeliner’? – Scary isn’t it !! This is how it feels for a non-cyclist when considering cycling. ‘Ease of use’ in Red & Blue Ocean ©Mark Sanders 2011
Huge Potential for Bicycle sales Another good analogy for how the bicycle industry operates is to consider how we use our legs and feet, which can be divided into 2 basic areas: 1. Running – an occasional specialist activity - for sport, speed, recreation, fitness. 2. Walking – an everyday universal activity – for transport, shopping, work, recreation, seeing the world, simply getting about alone or with friends.
Of these two activities, it is obvious that walking is a universal activity which applies to the whole population. Whereas only a small percentage of the population are runners. However, the bicycle industry is currently like the ‘running industry’ (1) – focusing on the tiny proportion of the market ‘the runner’ almost ignoring the much bigger market of everyone else ! From a business angle – imagine the enormous sales potential of selling ‘shoes’ to the whole population, as well as just selling ‘running shoes’ to enthusiasts ie Bicycles for 100% population as well as the ~10% of existing enthusiasts.
2. Its ALL about Image Even casual conversations with people who are not cyclists are SO illuminating, especially when you get past most people’s indifference. This is where we start to hear some home truths …. and a core, catch all word is ‘image’. Many people simply want to keep their own identity, normally expressed by clothes, cars and all the subtleties of modern life. My 18 year old daughters’ main reason for not cycling is image: she likes wearing ‘everyday’ clothes, and not being a slightly weird ‘odd one out’ in fluorescents, lycra or mud …. all the same reasons society uses to stick with the non-cycling crowd.
There is a sort of ‘which came first – chicken or egg ? ‘ about the uptake of bicycles by noncyclists. For example; bike lanes, perceived safety, weather, etc. most of which are beyond the control of the bicycle industry. Even advocacy, and bike lane sponsorship are important but hardly core industry activities. ©Mark Sanders 2011 That leaves the bicycle itself which we do have influence on. We are fairly good at the engineering side of bicycle design - almost obsessing over sporting enthusiasts’ craving for efficiency, gram weight savings, and saving 0.1 seconds in speed – some might say Nerds !! But the other side of design, the image or ‘cool factor’ needs a closer look. Not in isolation, as we so often see in some student and competition CAD renderings, but in conjunction with the best of bicycle engineering - focused towards people like Anna, rather than enthusiasts. Crude (but clever and efficient) engineering, plus a 'paint job', and this years’ branding campaign will soon no longer be enough - just check out that is happening in other product areas. How would Apple approach bicycles?
iF Mode by Pacific-Cycles
This could be the ‘egg’ from which a wider use of bicycles reaches a tipping point necessitating more cycle lanes, which in turn makes cycling safer, which in turn attracts more non-cyclists.
GoCycle by Karbon-Kinetics
For glimpses of what the world could be like with a large proportion of the population using bicycles, see places like; Copenhagen, Milan and Amsterdam and other cycling cities in Europe; Portland, Davis and Boulder in the USA. Then see products which appeal to non-cyclists like Gocycle, iF Mode, and other folding bicycles, e-bikes, covered bikes, cargo bikes, recumbents and velomobiles, even some other personal transport products which to quote Star Trek are ‘Bicycles Jim, but not as we know them’. These may not suit traditional enthusiasts but products such as these, and the designers’ dream of an ‘Apple Bicycle’, may well appeal to Blue Ocean and car dwellers. iF Mode by Pacific-Cycles A paradym shift from being a hobby for enthusiasts, to being mainstream transport for all would make the mountain bike ‘revolution’ be more like a small hill ! Most fascinating is that since presenting these views, I expected the industry, (who are largely made up of typical sporty males) to be pretty anti this message. But on the contrary – they agree !, but face a double bind that most margins come from ‘red ocean’ markets, and depend on us core enthusiasts to provide much needed business, leaving little resource to push into pink thro blue oceans. iF Mode by Pacific-Cycles
3. Grass roots trends – Cycle Chic Almost under the radar of the bicycle industry, and our obsession with sport, speed and serious enthusiasts is the relatively new movement of ‘Cycle Chic’. There have been several bicycle movements such as ‘fixies’ thro’ to ‘mountain-bikes’ but most of these are separatist, predominantly male and usually a tad elitist – you must have the ‘right’ frame, forks, wheels, bottom in the air posture etc. or the ‘bike snobs’ will sneer!
What makes ‘cycle chic’ fascinating, and an important direction for the bicycle industry is that it is inclusive. It celebrates bicycle use for everyone; Young, old, male AND female – anyone who uses a bicycle as a sensible, fun and relaxing way to get from A to B. It celebrates Blue Ocean Bicycles and cycling for Non-cyclists. Cycle Chic websites are antagonistic towards traditional sport and male orientated, elitist cycle culture. Some of the well read cycle chic blogs go as far as saying “No lycra here” in their mission statements. They make the point very clearly by using masses of beautiful photographs of city folk going about their daily business, using bicycles as transport. This is very seductive to the wider ‘blue-ocean’ audience. An audience I believe our industry should be focusing on. Take London Cycle Chic, which poses the question “Is it possible to cycle in London and look good? “ and answers “As a London lady who cycles and refuses to be another Lycra clad anorak...I think the answer is YES” . Copenhagen Cycle Chic claims to be the “the original” cycle chic site. Founded by Mikael Colville-Anderson in 2006, it advocates normalising urban cycling again and to increase trips by bicycle. He uses statements such as “Style over Speed”, “Elegance over exertion” and the cool (and risqué for bicycle folk) “Hold my bicycle while I kiss your girlfriend”. Amsterdam’s Marc van Woudenberg’s Cycle Chic Blog ‘Amsterdamized’ (“100% Lycra™Free, Guaranteed”) states "Imagine a world where cycling is not seen as just recreational, a sport or in which you have to showcase your 'tribe membership'. Oh, and where there's absolutely no need for a so-called 'bicycle helmet'."
Rebecca Nicholson, of The Guardian Newspaper wrote “.... slower machines good for leisurely rides – think riding home with flowers in your wicker basket, and you'll get an idea of the pace. You're far less likely to work up a sweat .... than you are on a zippy racer, which means you're far less inclined to reach for the dreaded Lycra”.
It goes on to say “This hatred of clichéd cyclewear unites bikestyle bloggers across Europe and the US. They share a belief that the stereotype of an aggressive cyclist in Spandex shorts and wraparound shades does a great deal to harm the concept of cycling as simply a normal, everyday means of getting from one place to the next. ‘There are two major misconceptions,’ explains Caz Nicklin, founder of cyclechic.co.uk, an online store and blog for fashion-conscious women on bicycles. "One is that cycling is a geeky pursuit for which you have to be dressed from head to toe in Lycra. The other is that it's dangerous."
The ‘Upright’ movement So far I have suggested that for the bicycle industry to grow, we need to attract more of the 90% world’s population who choose not to cycle. If we can look beyond cycling as a sport & enthusiast activity, this vast 'Blue Ocean' of potential cyclists is a huge opportunity for the bicycle industry. Like most decisions in the bicycle industry, cycling posture is heavily influenced by cycle sport, but is this appropriate for everyone? Bicycles are designed for people to use, so like chairs and most things we sit on, they need to be comfortable and healthy.
Upright – good posture ©Mark Sanders 2010
For racing and sport cyclists, speed is more important than good back posture or the view ahead, so riders crouch down and the spine is unnaturally curved to avoid wind resistance. Unfortunately when bicycles set up for sport and racing are used casually for leisure and transport, bent spines unsupported by muscles are vulnerable to strain. Although more upright than racing bikes, mountain bikes and hybrid bikes do not give good posture for everyday, and city use, the sporty, lean forward posture, still strains the back, neck and wrists. Only the upright posture is really suitable for a pleasant journey by bicycle, and not a fitness training session. Sports equipment is the most appropriate when carrying out a sport, BUT for a whole industry to pretend it's also suitable for everyday use is lazy, patronising and absurd.
Historically, when the bicycle emerged over 100 years ago as affordable personal transport for everyone, comfort and good posture was more important than outright speed. The upright riding position (as seen above, on the right) evolved as the optimum posture for everyday cycling in everyday clothes. Since then in countries and cities where cycling has continuously been used as personal transport (Holland, Denmark, India etc Cambridge, Bergen, Paris, Milan etc), the upright posture is still preferred. But in countries where cycling is just re-emerging as ideal city transport (USA, UK, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, ©Mark Sanders 2010
etc.) the history is more idiosyncratic. Cars took over from bicycles very early in the USA, although there were periods when bicycle sales were higher eg racing bikes in the 60’s, BMX in the 70’s and mountain bikes in the 80’s. These trends were followed by other countries, even against a back drop of local (upright) bicycle buying trends. The knobbly tyred mountain-bike-style and its cousin the road tyred Hybrid, was a success in many countries because apart from bringing back ‘kids fun’ to adult riding, it also released the ‘strangle hold’ that ‘drop-handlebar’ racing bikes and their ‘bottom in the air’ posture held on the market. Riding a mountain bike with flat handlebars around town is much more comfortable than a racing bike. Taiwan and China emerged as the bicycle factories to the USA and the world. This led to lower costs and many bicycles becoming commodities. Mountain-bike-style bicycles, sold cheaply through supermarkets, have replaced the traditional upright roadsters in many cities (even in Beijing, and other Chinese cities), in spite of having inferior ergonomics for urban use (bent back, bent neck, and pressure on wrists).
©Mark Sanders 2011
Amazingly, with more bicycles being produced than cars, the bicycle industry still continues to fuel trends towards using unsuitable sporty and racing bicycles around town, this is crazy when there are much larger opportunities to sell bicycles to the other 90% Blue Ocean.
The bicycle geometry and posture a new cyclist will be forced into will most likely be chosen by a cycling ‘expert’: A salesperson, a marketing manager or a buyer/specifier. As part of the industry, probably an enthusiast, a long time, long distance bicycle user, someone well versed in all aspects of cycling; sports, leisure, culture and especially cycle racing. Many bike brands even boast of using famous racing cyclists to design their frames, and some even become brands good for racing but totally inappropriate for town bikes. Some bicycle shops even have a ‘fitting’ service using an adjustable frame, this sounds very positive, except that the most obvious fact is usually missing – this equipment is to fit a bike for sport or racing, not for casual everyday use. An ergonomist matches products to the human anatomy and needs. They match; chairs, handheld tools, aircraft controls, etc. to users’ needs and anatomy. Significantly an ergonomist's guidance is unbiased... They are not interested in 'converting' someone to do the same hobby as them, nor encouraging a user to race. For city, casual everyday use, ergonomists recommend that a bicycle should have handlebars close to and above the saddle. The ‘bottom in the air’ bent back, bent neck, poor view ahead is a TOTALLY wrong posture for everyday cycling. Just compare the x-ray pictures above, and also see the postures of other riders, for example scooter riders – scooters, another cool Italian export that made motorcycles mainstream. But, I hear the industry respond – “there is an exciting trend that sporty fixie riders are fashionably cool” , true, this is cyclings equivalent of 1960's motorcycle 'cafe-racers'. However this is ’cool derived from exclusivity’. ‘Natural cool’ as Cycle Chic espouses, takes standard elements available to all and with style, elevates them to special. As seen in places like Milan – Italians in suits, gently riding upright bikes are effortlessly cool (even in 30 degC heat). They demolish a huge myth and objection to cycling: that it makes you sweat – BUT this is only if cycling fast, racing against the clock. Natural Cool, Cycle Chic can be mainstream – and making cycling mainstream, attracting the other 90% ‘blue ocean’ folk, wearing normal clothes, is surely the way forward for the industry?
Mark Sanders is an award winning and multi-million selling, Product and Bicycle Designer. He is also visiting lecturer at Imperial College and The Royal College of Art, London. www.mas-design.com
The unedited, original version of 3 articles published over days 1, 2 & 3 of the Show daily, at Taipei International Bicycle show 2011. Pub...