Friday, February 25, 2011

The Problem With the Bicycle Industry

Not too long after I started working in a bicycle shop, I realized that I didn't appreciate one of the predominant aspects of the bicycle business.  It seemed a bit too oriented toward the racer, and not enough toward the actual customer.

As I said to Scott, if the automobile industry ran like the bike industry, you would only be able to buy Rusty Wallace's NASCAR racer at the local Ford dealer.

This was well illustrated at a Shimano product clinic, when Shimano was introducing the "Rapid Rise" rear derailleurs.  Rapid Rise rear derailleurs are now referred to as "low-normal", which refers to the fact that the spring in the derailleur pulls the cage toward the large cog (low gear) if the cable breaks, which is opposite of the historical norm.

To me, this is not a good thing for riding in muddy conditions.  In many instances, on a muddy trail, the wet soil  between the derailleur cages and between the cogs makes it difficult to get the bike to shift to low gear.  In that instance, with a standard (high-normal) derailleur, you can force the shift to a lower gear by pushing harder on the shift lever.  For most of us, being able to get in low gear is very important.

On a bike with a low-normal rear derailleur, the spring in the derailleur may not be able to overcome the added resistance.

I mentioned this to the Shimano rep, during the course of the clinic.  He replied, "When we tested the derailleur with racers, they knocked off an average of 9 seconds from a 3-mile race lap."

"Ninety-nine point nine percent of out customers will never race," I said.  "How does this help them?"

The room was silent, waiting for an answer.

"Racers knocked nine seconds off of a 3-mile lap!" the rep repeated, as if this over-ruled my question.

"Oh, well...yeah..uh-huh.." heard from around the room.  Apparently, if you just keep repeating the company line, it makes the company line good.

Personally, I will never use one of those derailleurs.  And, for the most part, the market seems to agree with me.  While low-normal rear derailleurs might be of some advantage to an elite racer on a groomed race course, it has no advantage, that I can see, to a normal rider.  And, it might actually be a disadvantage.

Yet, Shimano still continues to try to make it the standard.  

Racing, as a platform for development, has its place.

Racing, as an end-all, be-all definition of the market?  Not so much.

This is my opinion, and yours may vary.  Probably depends on whether or not race performance is important to you.


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