Cycle Show 2016 in review
The cost of cycling’s mid-life crisis
Having just visited the 2016 Cycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham and walked around the numerous stands selling bikes, clothing, accessories and “all things cycling”, you would think that we would have come away with a new wish list for the latest in shiny bike loveliness.
Unfortunately, it was all a bit…well…you know…the same
Over the years, the bike industry has flirted with material differences, shapes and techniques to craft the latest must-have machines. With the introduction of carbon and the ability to form almost any shape in the design of a bike frame, road bikes, in particular, have become stiffer, far more aerodynamic and lighter to boot. The problem, though, is that every manufacturer now has a similar looking carbon frame, or frames containing bizarre shapes for the sake of standing out. But these steeds vary wildly in price, based on what seems to be little more than the brand they are associated with. This is further exaggerated by the fact that high-modulus frames are pretty much all painted now, so you cannot see the workmanship that has gone into the layup of the material in making the frame. One exception we found was the Colnago C60 MHRD, where glimpses of the material show through the paint scheme and the obvious joins in the frame make-up are made a part of the frame design rather than hidden underneath yet another layer of carbon.
Cycling is big business in the UK
This is a good thing. But as cycling’s popularity grows, the range of products available needs to grow and adapt accordingly. Not every cyclist is going to be joining the local club to get a race licence, but every cyclist needs to ride a bike and wear clothing that is comfortable for their needs and shape. The term MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man in Lycra), is bandied about in the media a lot these days. Middle-aged men have, on the whole, more disposable income than younger people. They want to spend it on their hobbies, to get the best. And the cycling industry seems to be responding to this. I have been riding seriously for more than 20 years and, while I appreciate that the better kit costs a lot more, I simply cannot get my head around the cost of the modern items on offer. There are helmets that cost upwards of £200, jerseys at £150…all seemingly designed for the army of “I must have the top of the range at any price” riders. It is just completely bonkers!
But although these manufacturers are responding to the demands of high-performance clothing and perhaps the bragging rights of those who like to flash their cash, is this really what is needed? Few middle-aged men are going to look like a pro rider in skin-tight Lycra. And few need to. Neither are they going to look “cool” in mountain bike clothing designed for late-teens and early 20s young men. But this seems to be, on the whole, what is offered. There is little else that stands out.
The growing women’s market is where the real revolution seems to be going on
For a number of years, women cyclists were restricted to smaller-sized men’s apparel (which did not really offer padding or give in the right areas), or what the mainly male-oriented brands decided women would want, ie clothing that was pink, purple or with lots of flower motifs on. After the London 2012 Olympics, Halfords teamed up with Victoria Pendleton, the gold-medal winning track cyclist, to design a bike range. The Pendleton range comprises “sit-up-and-beg” shopper bikes, with a basket on the front and no nasty top tube for when the ladies want to cycle in their flowing skirts. Obviously there are women who want to ride bikes such as this, but it seemed such a waste of an opportunity not to design a reasonably priced women’s bike, backed by a top sportswoman, to encourage more women to take up cycling as a sport. In contrast, Evans Cycles got the male Olympic track cyclist Chris Hoy to put his name to range of performance road bikes.
But things changed. LIV is Giant’s women-specific bike brand and other manufacturers such as Specialized also create bikes with geometry and components designed for women. Women wanted women-specific clothing that was not always pink and some women started to design their own ranges. For example, FINDRA clothing was set up by a female fashion designer and keen mountain biker who wanted to create a range of clothing that looked good on all women (not just the lean, professional, young riders), that performed well on the bike and that women felt comfortable wearing. It is stylish, practical and ageless.
One of the stands that really stood out from the others at The Cycle Show, was VeloVixen’s. It is a women-specific cycle clothing shop, selling everything from padded pants and cycle raincoats for the commuter cyclist, to high-performance cycling kit for the avid roadie. There did not seem to be an equivalent for the male cyclist. All the male clothing on offer seemed either to be casual T-shirts and sweatshirts to be worn off the bike or stands offering performance Lycra. There was nothing different.
There is hope
After looking around for a helmet that would protect my head for a little less than the cost of a flight to Moscow (including champagne), we spent some time on stand with Met helmets discussing their pro-level helmet range. They were light, well designed and manufactured and come in a good range of colours to suit kit and tastes. We are talking about the helmet that the MTM Qhubeka professional team wears all year on the Pro Tour. So there is a great product that has been well thought through, functions to the highest level and retails for just north of £100.
There were also a couple of bike manufacturers that seem to have an inspiring and sensible approach – notably Boardman. Both the men’s and women’s ranges had frankly amazing value-for-money bikes that were well designed, with a specification that suited a range of performance needs that riders might want. Of particular note were the Women’s Road Team Carbon and the non-gender specific CX Comp. Both represent fantastic entry level performance at a great price – even before their current discount!
The long hard stare
The cycling industry as a whole seems to be having a bit of a mid-life crisis and, in our opinion, needs to take a Paddington-esque “long, hard stare” at itself. Yes, there were some interesting items such as a bamboo fat bike and companies offering traditional knitted jerseys, but the majority were showing nothing new. Hopefully more brands will come forward with a similar approach to that of FINDRA for both men and women…designed for function, comfort and feel with a price that matches the real value of the product being offered.