Monday, April 30, 2012

in which i am vindicated

At last, someone with some money and clout in the bike retail scene is in agreement with me about 650b.

Over two years ago, I shared my experiences in experimentation with 650b, a result of my involvement with helping test the prototype of a 650b porteur style frame. In the end, while I could feel a difference in the ride quality, I stated that the difference was too subtle to be noticed by all but the most geeky and experienced bike riders; and that there aren't enough of them to support an entire industry making room for this new-again wheel size in manufacturing and supply. I also predicted that not all manufacturers would get on board with stcking enough tread variety in this size to make it cost-effective. In short, I'd said at the time, it's novel and interesting; but not significant enough to make lots of room for. And indeed, I noticed when customers, even well-heeled customers with money and space for dozens of bikes in their stables, began to question to sense of making space for 650b in collections that already included two other tires sizes:

With the advent of 650b entering the off-road fray in a bigger way this year, There has been not a little chest-thumping by some pretty big names in the industry, exhorting all of us to get on board and make room for this wheel/tire size. 650b is the future, they bleat long and loudly.

650b may be the wet dream of a handful of Randonneurs who envision making over a few select, soggy Northwest cities in the image of Amsterdam and Paris, but it's not the future. And David Guettler of River City Bicycles explains why, very eloquently:

"Is this really what the bike industry needs at this point in time? In these days of so many shops trying to scrape out a modest profit with so many things like Internet competition, mass sporting goods stores, REI and Performance stores fighting for our customers' dollars, we are supposed to embrace another wheel standard with its tire selections, tubes, wheels, forks -- all to answer a question not one customer (that I've talked to) has ever asked?"   (emphasis mine)

Since introducing 650b tires and rims in our store about 7 years ago, our humble shop -- less than a mile away from David's shop -- has sold perhaps two dozen pairs of tires, and we've built up perhaps a dozen custom wheels in that size. That is not a lot of customer demand in my book.
We've decided not to make a big fuss about 650b because most of our customers can't afford the higher cost of transitioing their lives to that wheel size, and the few that are intersted won't make up the difference for us financially.
River City, a much higher-end shop than Citybikes, isn't doing much with 650b because his customers aren't asking for it.

At what point does it become the job of retailers to push the agenda of the bicycle manufacturing juggernaut down customers' throats?

A tip of the sweaty cotton cycling cap to David Guettler for daring to point out that, when it comes to the 800-pound gorillas shoving 650b down the throats of retailers who can ill afford to make room for the size in their inventories, the emperor is bare-assed naked. Bless you.


lynnef said...

gee, are you sure you want to be seen riding with me?

orc said...

It might look different from a bicycle retailer, but as a customer I don't really see any 800 pound gorillas pushing 650b. Where is the Trek 650b offering, for example, or the Giant? What I do see is a lot of boutiques offering limited editions (or disk frames, which is a nice way to get on the tiny little 650b bandwagon while still selling 700c frames.)

I know a lot of randonneurs who adore 650b, and there's a tiny subset of the mtb world that adore that wheelsize, but the attention of a mystery cult and mtbers seems more like a bunch of tiny squeaky hamsters than 800 pounds of annoyed primate.

bikelovejones said...

orc: The hamsters you refer to include some notables like Kirk Pacenti and KHS. Giant is also testing the waters.
So they may be hamsters, but since they all seem to be in the manufacturing and R & D sector of the industry, they carry more clout than a retail shop will.

Lynne: I am speaking here as someone working in retail, and thinking about the supply chain and the cost of carrying products that few people ask for. Shops have only so much room for inventory, after all, and every square inch of stock has to prove itself or it will be closed out and replaced with something else that gets asked for more often.

While I understand individual riders' love for this wheel size, most retailers are hard-pressed to make very much -- if any -- room for it in their inventory. So as a retailer, I understand and empathize with the David Guettlers of the industry.

orc said...

I don't know how big the mtb market is compared to everything else, but isn't KHS the only big vender that sells 650b, and they have (at least according to their website) 5 models of mtb but nothing else?

And for Kirk Pacenti, didn't he have to basically run around soliciting preorders from individual riders to get enough money for a run of Pari-Motos? He's certainly a force to be reckoned with in frame design, but his 650b obsession looks more like a wierd little hobby to me.

As I said, I'm not in the industry (and I don't even use 650b anymore; I like the looks of 650b wheels under a 700c frame, but I never found any affordable 650b tires to be particularly comfortable or speedy) so it's possible that I'm missing some sort of full court press where KHS, et al, are telling independent bike shops that they need to buy their 650b mtbs if they expect to get any shipments from them ever again. That seems less than an 800 pound gorilla throwing it's weight around than a fairly spectacular public suicide for an esoteric french wheelsize. ("our favorite wheelsize is so crappy that we have to blackmail dealers into stocking it!")

lynnef said...

While it might be fun to pop into my LBS and buy tires off the rack :-), I really don't mind ordering them from elsewhere. I have long accepted that other than basic stuff like chains and cables, if I want a bike component, I order it.