Interbike Blog

Urban Cyclists and the Outdoor Retailer

I’m always on the look out for coverage of cycling in the non-endemic media, and am especially interested in non-endemic trade media mentions, which are rare. Well, I just had one of these rare sightings and it’s an valuable read for bike dealers.

SGB Magazine Cover

The September/October issue of SGB (Sporting Goods Business) magazine has an interesting article by Kate Siber entitled, “The New Morning Commute – Thrift, Gas Prices and Urban Style Make Cycling Hip Again.” The point of the article, given the reader audience of SGB–sporting goods and outdoor retailers–is to enlighten them to the evolution and growth of transportation and utilitarian cycling of the last few years that we in the bike industry are well aware of, AND the business opportunities they present to the outdoor retail channel. The article causes a lot of questions to be raised about what the existing bike retail channel is doing to serve or not serve the new cyclists’ needs.

“The take away is that now is an excellent time to tap the burgeoning bike-commuter market.”

The logic seems solid: who among us cyclists doesn’t also frequent outdoor goods stores? REI and, recently, Canada’s Mountain Equipment Coop have very visibly figured this out. What’s happening now is that the growth of the non-enthusiast urban cyclist means that potentially even more of the outdoor stores’ existing customer base are cyclists and in the market for gear and apparel to meet their new riding and style needs.

Is this a warning to the bike industry that someone else is looking to take advantage of a cycling segment that, as we’ve discussed in the past, we’re not adequately serving? Or, conversely, would the prospect of wider availability of cycling related goods help to broaden the “brand awareness” of the bicycle? That would help grow the pie for all of us. And make the world a better place. Right?

SGB Magazine

This opportunity is being missed by many outdoor stores, the article states. Despite the growth in urban cycling, “many outdoor stores do not identify the bike commuter as one of their core customers.” Upon calling a downtown Portland, OR, outdoor store, the author was told that they “weren’t involved with bike commuters.” I love her response to that:

“No bike commuters in an outdoor store in downtown Portland? Perhaps they were in disguise as regular old customers.”

The article goes on to say that many independent bike dealers are on to this trend and have begun to take advantage of this market. It’s good to hear that what had previously existed mostly outside of the manufacturer-to-retailer-to-cyclist ecosystem has started to move to the dealer channel best equipped to service the cyclist. Boston’s Wheelworks and Denver’s Salvagetti are IBD success stories called out by the magazine. Personally, I’ve also noticed many new “urban-centric” and “fixie-centric” shops opening up over the last couple of years to serve this market, answering the question that Bicycle Retailer asked last year, “Are bike shops selling the bikes new bikers want to buy?”. And for anyone who visited the Electra booth at this year’s show and saw their new Ticino line of components, it’s clear that manufacturers are really starting to step it up with gear to help IBD’s serve these emerging and trendy categories better.

Ms. Siber also discusses the growth of fixed gear bikes and fixie culture and lifestyle. The importance of style to the category, she writes, could be very well addressed by outdoor retailers because of their experience with selling fashion and apparel. The perception of different store types’ strengths by casual and urban cyclists is critical to note. IBD’s are still perceived, for the most part, as purveyors of lycra and spandex. As apparel maker Sheila Moon is quoted in the article:

“These customers tend not to expect these types of duds in bike shops. Whenever they think of bike shops and clothing, they think of spandex.”

We definitely saw a noticeable increase in attendance by non-bike dealers this year at Interbike in the form of outdoor recreation and performance sports stores. Bikes continue to be sold in bike shops, mainly, but customers will look to a variety of other stores for apparel. At Interbike, we have tried to directly target this situation with the launch of the Urban Legend fashion show. The concept was to put these casual, urban apparel brands and styles and bikes in front of the industry and retailers to educate them on what’s happening out there.

Now I don’t necessarily take the knee jerk reaction that these new sellers of bike gear are bad for the IBD. As I mentioned earlier here and in previous posts, I think that we need to put bikes in front of the non-cyclists in the places they shop because that’s not necessarily in bike shops. I think we also need to continue to work to soften some of the enthusiast focus of retailers if we want to appeal to a broader audience. That’s not to say that there’s no place for our beloved pro shops. But as for taking advantage of new categories of riders (customers!), we need to address the aspects of our existing retail experience that may be intimidating, at best, or off-putting, at worst, to them. Maybe Shimano’s Coasting project uncovered the right challenges that we need to address, but ended up with the wrong solution. Instead of new displays inside of existing bike dealers, maybe they should have been placed in the habitats of the non-cyclists that we all want to reach. (Heresy?)

I’ll leave with a final quote from the article that is encouraging if only because it seems to equate bike lifestyle with that holy-grail of predominantly non-enthusiast customer categories: surf wear. Only a few short years ago, this statement would have been laughable.

“Much like the surf market, bike style appeals to a demographic far broader than just the enthusiasts. It represents an ethos.”

1 Comment

  1. “perhaps they were in disguise as regular old customers” Ha ha!

    Besides the ‘urban’ stores you mention, another specialty store that I see popping up are electric bike dealers, because the traditional bike dealers won’t touch ebikes.