The recent women’s cycling summit I attended was a hotbed of discussion about female cyclists and the bicycle industry. The perceived chasm that separates women from what they want and what the industry thinks they want is as wide as ever.
Last summer, I met the person who several years ago was in charge of putting together a line of women’s bikes for a major bike brand. I asked her why that brand recently stopped offering 650c wheels on their smaller bikes. “Pushback from the dealers” she said. “They just didn’t want to stock another tire.”
How strange. Dealers have no qualms at all about stocking “29-er” tires, the “new” 650B tire which has morphed from its randonneur heritage into a mountain bike tire, and tubeless tires. And this on top of the standard tires they already offer.
At the Summit, another industry employee, was queried about her company’s abandonment of 650c. Her response? They didn’t make a profit on the 650c bike. Different fork, different geometry …
When in doubt, punt. Don’t get me wrong — if a product doesn’t contribute to the bottom line, it’s hard to make a case for it. But my question is: does their complete women’s line make a profit? If, in the aggregate, the women’s segment is profitable, what’s the problem? Wouldn’t it better to offer a properly designed, complete line of bicycles that fit correctly rather than compromise the line just for the sake of a couple of sizes?
This corporate “doublespeak” does such a disservice to our wonderful sport. In a grab for market share, marketing blather has been permitted to prevail over design, not only with respect to women’s bikes, but all bikes. “Stiff is out. Comfort is in.” “Stiff is back in.” “Narrow tires are faster.” “Wider tires are faster.” ” Aluminum is harsh.” “Aluminum is no longer harsh.”
Wasn’t it a former executive at GM who said, “By God, they’ll buy what we build”?
Hmmm…this sounds uncomfortably familiar.