Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

26 May 2017

Are Bike Share Programs Cutting Giant Down?

For most Americans, a "traffic jam" consists of throngs of cars and other motorized vehicles crawling or standing still on major streets or highways.  In many places, they are a regular feature of what is called--without irony--"rush hour": the times of day when most people are going to, or coming from, work or school.

Until two decades ago, Chinese cities also had traffic jams.  Instead of cars, though, their streets were lined with bicycles.  About the only way an American cyclist could experience anything like it without going to China was to participate in a large organized ride like the Five Borough Bike Tours, where there are sometimes "bottlenecks".

Then, as China became more prosperous, people who used to ride their bikes to work started to drive--to work, and just about everywhere else they could.  Now China was experiencing American-style traffic jams its their cities.

So, a few years ago, some Chinese went back to commuting and getting around by bicycle, as it is faster, especially in the central areas of many cities, than driving.  Once again, there are bikes all over Chinese streets.

It sounds like things should be really good for bicycle manufacturers, doesn't it?  I mean, can't you see Giant, which now makes most of its bicycles in China, just raking in the dough?  

Believe it or not, Giant's stock has more or less flatlined this year.  Its price is now just about the same as it was in December.  Two other major manufacturers, Zhonglou and Shanghai Phoenix, both experienced surges in late 2016 but are now worth less than they were at the beginning of this year.

Giant's listlessness, and the tumble the other two companies have taken, can be blamed to some extent on the China's economic slowdown, which is part of the reason why the Chinese are buying fewer bikes than they did in 2015 or 2014.  More to the point, though, is something that is causing bike sales to shrink in other parts of the world.

In China, as in much of the West, more and more people are riding bikes.  Yet fewer and fewer are buying them.  That doesn't make sense (I am really, really trying not to use the word "counterintutitve"!) until you realize that many new bike commuters and even recreational riders in Shanghai and Hangzhou, like their peers in Paris and London and New York, are riding bikes from share programs.  

Is this cutting Giant down to size?

According to industry analysts, one of the reasons manufacturers like Giant aren't benefiting from the growth of bike share programs is that their production and marketing have been oriented toward bike shop sales, which have been falling--in part because of share programs, and because the ones who have traditionally spent the most money in shops, namely bike enthusiasts, are doing much of their shopping on-line.  

What that means is that companies like Giant didn't, until recently, produce bikes with the apps and other accessories demanded by bike share programs.  Other, smaller manufacturers--including a few start-up companies--have stepped in to fill the gap.  For example, the bikes in New York's, Toronto's and Montreal's share programs are made by Quebec-based Devinci.  While the brand has a following, mainly for its mountain bikes, it is not nearly as well-known as Giant, whose website lists 25 dealers in the five boroughs of New York City, and as many in the surrounding metropolitan area.  Devinci's website, on the other hand, shows only one dealer in New York City (Brooklyn) and one other across the Hudson, in Bergen County, New Jersey.

One of the reasons why smaller companies can fill those voids is that they don't have as much invested in manufacturing facilities as the big companies.  As a result, they don't have to spend as much time or money re-tooling in order to meet changing demands.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, one of the reasons Schwinn is now a shadow of its former self is that it was slow to adapt to the changing demands of cyclists.  One of the reasons for that was that Schwinn had so much invested in an aging factory and equipment that couldn't produce the lighter bikes adult cyclists wanted.  Paramounts were nice, but most people who took up cycling during the '70's Bike Boom were looking for something that was agile and functional, but wouldn't break the bank:  In other words, something like the Fuji S-10S or Nishiki International.

Could it be that bike-share programs will turn Giant, Specialized and other "giants" (pun intended) of the bike industry into dinosaurs--or Schwinns of the future?

25 May 2017

I Will Tell You More...

Today I am going to explain something.

No, not the conspiracy Great Girl Conspiracy in yesterday's post.  Or quantum mechanics.  Or, for that matter, why the other line moves faster.

Instead, I'm going to talk about something far more mundane--at least, to almost everybody in the world but me.  I am going to tell you, now, about Helene.


Last week, I stripped her.  And shipped her.  Soon she will be in her new home, with a rider who will, I hope, appreciate her more than I did.

There was nothing wrong with her as a bike.  In fact, I liked her quite a lot.  I just didn't ride her much, at least after the first year or two I had her.  

You see, when I ordered her from Mercian, they had stopped making mixte frames with the twin-lateral "top" tubes because Reynolds--which makes the tubing used to build most Mercian frames--stopped producing those skinny frame members.  So, wanting a ladies' Mercian to go with my other Mercians, I ordered the "traditional" style frame, with a single top tube that slanted downward.

Then, about a year later, I came across Vera--an older Miss Mercian with the twin tubes.  Women's and mixte frames tend not to have very high resale values; even so, Vera's price was less than I expected.  

Vera--a Miss Mercian from 1994

The rest is history, as they say.  Vera became my commuter when I had a longer commute because she has a stable and comfortable, but still responsive, ride.  Also:  Who doesn't like the look of a twin-tube mixte?  If I do say so myself, it is a stylish ride--and, of course, style is one of the reasons I wanted to have a nice mixte (or ladies') bike.

Not that Helene doesn't have style.  But Vera has more of the style, as well as the ride, I want from my mixte.  Helene, in contrast, rides a bit more like a road bike.

Anyway, aside from disuse, there is another reason I stripped and sold Helene:  I've ordered another Mercian.

Why?, you ask.  Well, if you've been reading this blog, you know I'm something of a Mercian aficionado.  I don't believe I can have too many Mercians; I know I can only have enough time to ride but so many of them (or any other bike) and space to keep them.

Still, you may be forgiven for asking why I've ordered another.  Well, the exchange rates have been favorable to the dollar for a while, and I don't know how much longer that will hold.  When I ordered Arielle, my Mercian Audax, during the time I waited for it, the exchange rate had become about 25 percent more favorable to the pound than it was when I placed the order.  So, this time, I've already paid for the cost of the frame.  When the frame is ready, I will only have to pay for shipping and, perhaps, some small additional charges for things I've requested that may or may not be included in the base price.

Now, the money I got for Helene doesn't come close to paying for this new frame.  But I wanted to sell her while she's still very clean:  There's barely a scratch on her.  Also, I am going to use some of her parts on the new frame, along with a few parts from my other bikes, and a few more new parts I've collected.

Mercian's website says there's a 10-month wait for new frames.  I don't even mind that; in fact, I'm rather happy about it.  Why?  Well, next year will be a round-number birthday for me, and that frame will be a gift to myself.

Peter's Vincitore Special

And, given that I've ordered it for such an occasion, I've ordered what seems the most appropriate frame of all:  a Vincitore Special made from Reynolds 853 tubing.  Its design will be very similar to that of Arielle, so it will be a bike that is capable of both comfort and speed on long rides, and can accomodate 700 x 28C tires--as well as fenders and a rear rack, should I decide to add them later.  It will also have a nice, traditional quill stem and downtube shifters.

Arielle, my Mercian Audax

In addition to being a birthday gift to myself, I see the Super Vincitore as the sort of frame that hardly anyone makes anymore.  I am guessing that Mercian will make it as long as they can get the materials and they have framebuilders with the necessary skills and passion.  Still, I figure it's better to order such a frame sooner rather than later.

Now, all I have to do is find ways not to think about it all the time--for the next ten months.  That's, what, March?

Oh, in case you were wondering:  I have chosen Lilac Polychromatic (#17) as the main color.  The seat tube panel and head tube panel will be Deep Plum Pearl (#56).  All of that will be trimmed with white lug pinstriping and Gothic-letter transfers.  And a 1950's-style metal headbadge, if it will fit into the lugwork.  I've even found the handlebar tape--Newbaum's Eggplant--I'm going to wrap around the handlebars.  Finally, the new frame will get a well-aged honey Brooks Professional with copper rails and rivets, as well as one or two of the bags Ely made for me.

24 May 2017

Into, And Out Of, The Chaos

Now I'm going to tell you a secret:  You see, there's this place where we all meet and it's gonna change the world.

Someone told me I should write about a conspiracy or two--or at least hint at them.  According to that person who is an expert on what, I don't know, conspiracies and conspiracy theories draw viewers to websites the way free food draws, well, just about anybody to any place.

So...about that place and the meeting that will shake the earth--or modern society, anyway--to its foundations:  I'll tell you about it.  In fact, I'll even tell you who "we" are.

No, we're not the Illuminati or the Carbonari.  We're way more secret than that.  In fact, we're so secret that we don't even know who we are, let alone where we're meeting or why--let alone what the outcome will be.

But we exist, and we're holding such a meeting because, well, people who know better (or should) say that we are.  To wit:

The "they" in this snippet are female cyclists.  Specifically, it referred to the women on wheels who had emerged from whalebone corsets and hoopskirts some time around 1897, the peak of the first Bicycle Boom.  Now we were wearing shorter skirts or--shudder--bloomers with--gasp--socks!  Worse yet, we were setting new standards in fashion.

Now, all of you women who are reading this know that when we dress, we are doing it for each other.  I mean, when the Duchess of Cambridge wears one of those beautiful dresses for a gala or whatever, no man (well, OK, almost no man) pays as much attention to it as any of us.  I recall now a holiday spent with my brother and sister-in-law a year or two after they had their first child.   It was around the time Wheel of Fortune became one of the most popular game shows.  Watching Vanna White slink across the stage, my sister-in-law exclaimed, "I would love to wear that dress!"

The funny thing is that the bicycle, in a way, abetted this attitude.  When women started riding bikes, they weren't seeking approval from men.  If anything, they got scorn or derision from their husbands, fathers, pastors and other males in their lives--as well as some of their female elders.   We were riding and dressing for comfort and (relative) ease of movement--and to impress each other.  Since the men weren't going to approve (well, most of them, anyway), we sought encouragement from each other. 

Equally funny is that as we were mocked and scorned, we were also commodified.  At least a few businessmen saw that as we got on our bikes, we had more mobility--which meant more freedom to do all sorts of things. Like go to work and earn our own money.  And we could buy all of those outfits we would wear as we rode to our "grand rendezvous" where we got the "wobbly old world to wake up" and "adjust itself"--if, perhaps, not in the way the writer of that editorial intended. 

(At least they're not meetings of this organization.)

If you want to see a wonderful graphic story about how the bicycle changed women's history, check out Ariel Aberg-Riger's piece, posted yesterday on Citylab.

Speaking of late 19th-Century urban America, Aberg-Riger says, "Into this chaos came the bicycle."  And out came the modern woman.

Does that sound like a conspiracy, or what?