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.

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