Letter From America – February 2020

It’s fair to say that most of North America is deep into winter, but winter across this vast continental mass is an iffy calculation. Temperatures in Southern California and across that broad sweep of territory that includes southern Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and into Texas have been generally mild. Good for business.

A friend of mine, age 71, who lives along California’s southern coastline just spent US$3,500 or so on a spanking new Giant e-road bike. He promptly fell off on his maiden voyage. No damage unless you consider his ego.

As for weather throughout the rest of North America, it’s been chaotic. And Australia’s citizens need no primer on chaotic weather. Still, warm weather drives sales and cold weather drives consumers off their bikes and into the warm embrace of their digital companions.

All the print and digital advertising, social media madness, so-called ambassador programs and other murky consumer outreach pales in comparison to a warm sun and a blue sky to make sales hop.

But I fear for the future of the casual family cycling segment of the market. It’s hard to parse what meagre numbers we have, but it’s not hard to parse the industry’s lack of enthusiasm for that casual cohort. At the moment three categories seem to have energy here in the USA:

  • Gravel, which is nothing more than riding fast on dirt roads and appeals strongly to the committed cyclist who adds another bike to an already overloaded quiver.
  • E-mountain bikes and high-end electronic products. Consider Fox’s new US$2,000 e-shock sensing system. Again, big push for big dollar sales that attracts the committed cyclist.
  • A renewed push to put some life in a badly deteriorating road bike market. Hence the zippy e-road bike. Think of them as a luxury sale for cyclists who have to have the latest and greatest and the money.

Most families just can’t dig up the cash to jump into any of these categories. We have lost the families and this is no small problem for the future. And despite the ongoing drumbeat for commuting by bike, it’s mostly a pipe dream in most of America’s cities. Overall, the  commuter numbers are tiny. Yes, advocates like to cite New York, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and a few others as a success. But all still choke on cars every day.

The brightest segment of the market, I think, is the one we spend little time talking about—cargo bikes. Every transportation company—FedEx, UPS, DHL and others—are experimenting with cargo bikes, most battery powered.

And then there are the food delivery companies and other delivery services turning to bicycles to speed delivery in traffic choked cities. But I’m not sure how this helps IBDs long term.

So how do I sum this up? The U.S. market will continue to focus on the high-end consumer, families be damned. On the other hand, we will see a fast growing move to make the bicycle an implement of industry. That’s not a bad thing.

What’s New in Consumer Electronics

Thinking about technology: The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) closed its doors in mid-January. Another Las Vegas extravaganza. Visitor numbers pushed 200,000—foreign and domestic. They poked around some 170,000 square metres of floor space. They checked out products ranging from the good, the bad, the weird, and the very weird that 4,500 or so exhibitors could conjure.

And as the show closed each day The Strip became a roving bacchanal as the tech-twisted partied into the night and spun fables of a techno-future during the day. Or so daily show reports would indicate.

A big theme this year was gadgetry for health, fitness and wellbeing. And robots. Boring. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The big story, on the other hand, was a decision by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) to sanction sex toys for the first time as part of fitness, health and wellbeing. Think sex tech. Ironically, though, the CTA also banned sexually revealing apparel, whatever that constitutes. Go figure.

Last year, it seemed, cycling websites and magazines paid gobs of attention to CES—e-bikes, e-scooters and other e-related nonsense. Not so much this year, it seems.

But the Segway S-Pod, a self-balancing wheelchair with a maximum speed of 36 kph, wascrashed into a wall driven by a journalist, his reflexes perhaps stunned by the tom foolery he witnessed at the sex tech center.

Besides ‘smart’ BBQ grilles, talking showerheads, bathroom mirrors that brighten upon command or that will turn your shower on or off, I was quite taken with the Withings ScanWatch. Think of it as a cardiologist on your wrist. 24/7 heart scanning for ‘peace of mind.’ Give yourself the joy of an instant electrocardiogram anytime anywhere. Sleep apnoea a worry? Check out your oxygen saturation level at all hours.

Heart rate, GPS, VO2 max, altimeter, swimmers can wear it, and more. What’s not to like? And the price is right: $249 to $299.

Now could someone project all that data onto your cycling eyewear in real time? Don’t know. The next big thing? Maybe.

Marc Sani is the Publisher of the leading USA based bicycle trade publication, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

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