What’s on Cycling’s 2017 agenda?
As we start 2017, it seemed an appropriate moment to look forward to some of the things the world of cycling has to offer us. In this post, we have picked 6 things that we are going to be looking out for – 3 are technology related, 2 are industry related and 1 is just our highly subjective opinion. Neither are they in any particular order. Of course, we could have picked 60 and still have had to limit our selection. That’s the beauty of cycling – there is so much going on all the time! You may have a completely different list to us. Indeed, you may strongly disagree with what we have put down here. If so, let us know what would be on your list. The debate will no doubt run and run……
We realise E Bikes seem to have been on everyone’s “what to look out for this year” lists for the past few years. However, there are reasons to believe 2017 could see a tipping point. Why is that when up till now the UK has consistently lagged behind other European countries? In Germany for instance, Europe’s largest bike market, sales of electric bikes were over 500,000 in 2015, an increase of over a third from the previous year. In Holland, sales were over 300,000 units. Yet in the UK sales have been slow with only 35,000 or so in 2016.
Partly this is because of the cheap garbage that came out of the Far East in the early days of E Bikes and it certainly put people off. However, that’s the same for the rest of Europe surely? Yes, but the response in the rest of Europe has been more proactive with a great deal of investment in technology and R&D backed up by manufacturers and distributors more prepared to promote these advances to consumers. They have been repaid with surging sales.
There are signs the UK is changing though. The 35,000 or so last year is estimated by the Electric Bike Company to be an increase of 20% from the previous year. Whether for general commuting or for more specialist applications such as E MTB, the products now available represent improving value for money and excellent reliability. We have seen motors repositioned away from rear hubs to the cranks, as well as battery technology, life and reliability improving in leaps and bounds. Firmware upgrades are now easier to apply and support from dealers is becoming more consistent. The result is more E Bikes are appearing on our roads and trails all the time.
When Tracy Moseley visited Criterium Cycles recently, she was asked her views on E MTBs. The audience were perhaps expecting a negative reaction from the multiple world champion. What they heard instead was a very sensible response with Tracy saying she really liked the Trek Powerfly she had tried – it enabled her to keep up with the kids when out on training rides plus it was loads of fun! If someone with Tracy Moseley’s pedigree is saying there’s a future, we all have to listen.
We had many squeals of protests from some in the Pro Peleton that the presence of “spinning blades” would bring about the end of the world as we know it. Riskier even than electing Donald Trump as President of the United States. Or at least that’s how it felt in 2016.
It’s true that they add a bit more weight but they also improve braking performance. And away from the Pro Peleton and back in the real world where the majority of us live, that’s really important. With disc brakes, especially hydraulically actuated ones, the braking is smooth, progressive and does not fade. Do you remember brakes on cars in the days before ABS? Can you imagine buying a car without ABS in 2017? Maybe that analogy breaks down a bit when talking about rim brakes because in the dry, the differences are small and the weight benefit is useful. But in the wet (and let’s face it, we’re in the UK so it’s wet for a significant percentage of the time), braking performance in wet conditions is really important, especially if you are using your bike every day for commuting.
Disc brakes are very much here to stay and we’ll see more and more bikes with them in 2017. Furthermore, Disc Brakes will not bring about the end of the world. We wish we could be quite so positive about Donald Trump.
On Road Bikes, one of the biggest benefits of disc brakes is getting rid of the constraint of a brake caliper around the wheel rim. Gone are the days when 23mm was the largest you would ever be seen riding with. Now 25mm is increasingly the norm with 28mm regularly spotted. The benefits? First, a 25mm tyre will have less rolling resistance than a 23mm tyre at the same air pressure thanks to a wider but shorter contact area. This requires less energy to deform the material and that means you put more energy into going forwards. Plus it improves comfort and handling.
There are inevitably some drawbacks. A 25mm tyre is heavier but even so, it doesn’t appear to negate the improvements in rolling resistance. There is one thing to be aware of though – the reduced rolling resistance in the 25mm tyre occurs when comparing it to the 23mm at the same pressure. In reality, some people will reduce the tyre pressure in the 25mm tyre to gain comfort benefits, somewhat offsetting the rolling resistance benefit. It is really a matter of personal choice but that’s what the advent of bigger tyres gives us – choice. And that’s surely a good thing.
On MTB’s though there are signs we may see a slight trimming back of the really big Plus tyre phenomenon with its proliferation of high volume tyres in the 2.8″ – 3.2″ range. The principle benefits of these tyres is undoubtedly grip, with big increases in traction for minimal rolling resistance penalty. All good one might think but the penalty is more sidewall flex under hard cornering with tyre pressure even more crucial than normal in getting the balance right between performance and puncture resistance.
The fact that really wide cross-section tyres have not been readily adopted on the race scene is probably because in order to get a tyre that’s able to withstand the punishment on the race circuit, the weight penalty would be just too great. So the market is changing. Some manufacturers believe 2.6″ may become the compromise wth narrower rims to match. This could create the happy medium of a bigger tyre with excellent traction and cornering but, allied to improved rubber compounds and sidewall technology, a tyre that weighs less but with great puncture protection. Looks like 2017 may be yet another year of continual change in the MTB world.
Segmentation and the need to stay relevant
Once upon a time not that long ago, if you wanted a bike you chose between a road bike, a hybrid bike or a Mountain Bike in Hard Tail or Full Sus variants. Not now. Nowadays you can have so many variants of things it’s become a little confusing. Now when you buy a road bike, you need to know whether you are looking at a Cyclocross Bike, a Gravel Bike, an Adventure bike, an endurance bike, a climbing bike, a bike optimised for aero, a combination of some of these or an all rounder.
To be fair, some of the segmentation is really important. For instance, the difference between the geometry and set up of a endurance / sportive bike as compared to a more aggressive aero machine is fundamental to the rider’s enjoyment and comfort. At Criterium Cycles, we always qualify exactly what kind of riding the customer is looking to be doing. And as a result, we have been able to gently guide many a buyer away from an aggressive geometry bike such as a Trek Madone to something more appropriate for the lengthy club rides they are looking to do such as a Trek Domane.
Could this proliferation of segments and sub-segments be going too far though? Roadbike.io wrote a thought provoking blog piece in November 2016 about the increasing number of Niche builds and the fact that the trend is set to continue. We suspect they are right but there is a reason to be concerned and to understand the concern, check out this article in BikeBiz a few days ago – all about Marketing to the Majority. A number of prominent cycling industry figures have long argued that we are increasingly in danger of marketing to just a small part of our potential market, not to the millions of people who are potentially convertible to some form of cycling.
We think that some bike shops are starting to get this and becoming much better at understanding not only what their customers want but what people who could potentially be their customers want as well. We think the shops that adapt to this in 2017 (whether it’s for commuters, E Bikes, women cyclists and many more big, big groups besides) will succeed whilst the ones that don’t will struggle.
Cycle Retailing – big change is coming
One of the few things certain about Brexit is that it hasn’t happened yet. Article 50 has not yet been triggered so the starting gun for the divorce hasn’t been fired. The Leavers all say the Remainers were clearly wrong to predict the end of the world because the economy has done just fine since June 23rd. The Remainers say the Leavers are living in cloud cuckoo land and the worst is yet to come. Truth is, no-one knows who is right (probably neither side), and we won’t really know for many months yet. The only thing that is certain is that worst economic influencer of all – uncertainty.
We have already seen this uncertainty hit currency markets. Some of the collapse in the pound following June’s vote was down to traders speculating on the outcome then having to unwind their losing bets. Some of it was down to the fact that Sterling was probably overvalued anyway. But Brexit was and is a big factor. In the UK where we manufacture very little cycling gear and instead import a great deal of product that we have to buy with US Dollars or Euros, that means bad news. The larger distributors have currency hedges in place but they will eventually unwind and the consumer will inevitably take some if not the majority of the hit. Even the Leave campaigners accept there will be some transitional costs of Brexit. As sales of more ‘luxury’ items are impacted, many wholesalers and retailers will resort to the “tried and tested” (though ultimately short sighted) method of clinging on to market share – i.e. deep discounting.
This will lead to significant margin pressure and when that has occurred in other sectors, three things usually happen. First consolidation – the big retailers get bigger as they look to leverage the value of scale (and take out the competition). Second, the really good smaller shops with a strong brand, a detailed understanding of their income and cost drivers as well as a clear strategy actually find they thrive as many customers continue to place value on excellent service. And third, the rest struggle sometimes with adverse consequences. They often get taken over or simply close. We’ve already seen this begin to happen with a number of high profile closures in 2016. The signs are this will accelerate in 2017. The good news is that in the UK, we have a large number of Independent Bike Dealers in Category 2, the really good shops, and for them, the future can be bright.
Froome to win the Tour de France
It’s really hard to see how Team Sky won’t go into the Tour de France as the team to beat. Fair enough, there’s a lot that can happen between now and then but the rider line up looks superb as usual and attempts by race organisers to limit Team Sky’s dominance by limiting team size numbers have so far failed with the UCI overruling ASO, RCS and Flanders Classics.
Notwithstanding Team Sky’s strength, this does look like it could be a cracking year for road races generally. We have the 100th edition of the Giro and some really interesting changes amongst the pro teams. Does Contador still have it in him to win another Grand Tour for instance (Trek Segafredo certainly hope he does) and is 2017 the year Quintana really gives Froome a run for his money in France?
One things for certain – we’ll be following it all with great interest!