Was at one of the big national big box mass merchant chain stores over the weekend. Of all the large chains, it’s the one I tolerate the best because of their tasteful sense of design and style and general (perceived?) quality of the merchandise. Unfortunately, that well known sense of style has not generally extended to the bikes they sell. So I was surprised last night to see a bike that transcended the typical mass merchant offerings of triple crown-equipped full-suspension downhill racing-inspired tanks and Barbie themed kid’s bikes last night.
The usual path to the Star Wars (sorry, Clone Wars, according to our 3 year old obsessed fanboy) section leads past the bike aisle. We don’t usually stop in there, but with our daughter’s birthday coming up, and a new bike high on her list, I was curious about her opinion of BMX vs. beach cruiser bike style (about all that’s available in 20″ wheel bikes for 7-year-olds), so we took a detour.
I casually followed an online discussion recently about the role that mass merchants like these could play in getting more people on bikes. For a while now, I’ve felt that the mass is the perfect channel to introduce the non-cycling population to cycling by offering the right bike in a non-threatening environment that they are comfortable in. A fairly practical, easy to ride, sharp-looking bike in a store they already feel comfortable in. It would follow the same lessons that Shimano learned in researching their Coasting project on why 161 million Americans avoid specialty bike shops: They’re apparently intimidated by the perceived complexity of the bikes, the crowded technology-laden merchandising and oft elitist staff.
Here’s what caught my eye:
It’s a “just a bike” bike. With some added style thrown in. The Schwinn Tourist is a decent sporty-looking bike with light 700c aero-profile, paired-spoke wheels; flat bars; linear-pull brakes; tapered straight blade fork; quick release skewers; tasteful satin metallic gray paint. Didn’t really look into other component details, but at a quick glance it’s not exactly your typical department store bike. I know some of you are thinking “yeah, but it’s not a 3-speed internal hub.” Or it’s not a single speed, or have wide enough tires, or have fenders, or dyno powered light or a rack.
Curiosity piqued, I poked around their website when I got home to try to see full specs and how they describe the bike. I was surprised to find a number of other “urban” styled bikes and even two that approached full-on commuter status.
Check out the Schwinn Gridlock with fenders, rack, transparent chain guard, aluminum frame and Amsterdam-esque all black paint scheme:
Or how about the Huffy Commuter (bet you never expected to see those two words together)? Also with fenders and rack and simplified 1×5 drivetrain.
According to the website, these models are only available online and not in stores, which is a shame. It would be great to have models like this in front of the non-cycling public. Still, I think it’s another sign of the organic growth of the bicycle as a means of transportation that we’ve been experiencing over the last few years. (Though with most of these big box stores located in suburbia, you would expect the demand for this category to be weaker than if they were in urban areas.)
But alas, back at the store, I was jerked back to the reality of my surroundings and reminded of one of the top reasons why independent, specialty bike stores are by far the best choice for your next (or first) bike purchase. Just down the aisle from the Tourist was this beauty of a build:
It sort of looks like the curved down tube was designed to actually accommodate the occasional improper fork assembly by store staff, huh? With our litigious society, shouldn’t this scare the heck out of mass market suppliers like Magna? (If you’re new to cycling or didn’t notice, the fork is mounted backwards).
Any other examples of general merchandise or mass merchants starting to catch on to the growth in transportation/utility cycling?