Saturday, July 20, 2013

Going Dutch, Des Moines Style

On one of my morning commutes this week, I espied a woman who was the very epitome of that Americanized-Dutch-vaguely hipsterish cycling commuter style that magazine ads are made of: Electra Townie bike pimped with fenders and wicker baskets, and the (requisite) Nutcase skater-style helmet. She wore human clothes, just a sundress and casual sandals, and was making perfectly acceptable time through the traffic without being in any sort of hurry (Des Moines had swamp weather this week, so I can't blame her). We exchanged the requisite "I'm-on-a-bike-and-so-are-you" hello at a stoplight and were on our way.

(Aside: You know you're a happily married, 40-year-old bike nerd when the sight of an attractive woman on a bike makes you think, "I should write a blog post about marketing!")

I didn't grab a photo because, well, that's creepy even for me. So for the purposes of this blog post, the role of Anonymous Woman Cyclist will be played by Julia Roberts in the film Eat, Pray, Love (never thought I'd reference THAT, did you?)

You'll have to imagine the helmet.

I am of two minds when it comes to this whole new Americanized-Dutch thing that Electra (and others) have glommed onto in recent years. On the one hand, there's a very commodified "uniqueness for sale" about it. You go to the bike shop, pick out the bike you like, and Electra has designed an entire range of designed-to-fit-perfectly, color-matched-to-the-hilt accessories to go with it. Sure, the end result is unique to you, but unique in the same way that your Subway sandwich is unique because you had the Sandwich Artist put pickles and onions on it.

On the other hand, Electra has finally come up with a sales model (and more importantly, an image) for that person who walks into the bike shop and says, "I just want a bike to ride around on." When I think back to my days as a shop rat in the 90s, we didn't have that. It was either a knobby-tired EXTREME (guitar solo) mountain bike, a skinny-tired road race bike, or the much-snorted-at hybrid, the bike-shop platypus. Assuming the "just ride around" customer even stuck it out long enough to buy a bike (and I'm sure many didn't), he or she usually got stuck with a low-end mountain bike, wore a backpack, and maybe got some clip-on fenders. The end result probably worked about the same as an Electra, but style-wise, it was pretty hodge-podge and certainly nothing for a magazine ad or Julia Roberts movie.

My cynical snark-meister rears his head again here and says, "Well, sure, somebody had to come up with that because the sales curve had flattened, so they needed to find a new market." Yeah, true, snarky guy. But that new market is people who weren't riding before. Pulling them in might be a purely money-driven thing from the bike companies, but it also puts more bikes on the street, which is good for those of us out there already. Given the choice between riding with a bunch of Electras or a bunch of Chevy Tahoes, I think I'll take the Electras, thanks.

(Note: Before there was The Cycle, there was an Electra Townie in our proto-test-fleet. For the sake of the equipment nerds out there, I'll see if I can dredge up the memory neurons to review it at some point and explain why it's no longer in the fleet -- beyond my usual fickle-ness.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not often that I see the phrase "pimped with fenders".... however, given that hammered Honjos and wood fenders exist, I guess fenders have officially become fashion items.

Are Electras and other "just ride around" bikes part of a natural cycle of the bike market?? I'd like to think so. Every so often, bikes return to usefulness and simple pleasure. I'd like to think that this is the center point of the bike market pendulum. There's a natural human & marketing tendency to take something useful and go over the far end with it. Maybe cargo bikes fit that description?

Anyway.. count me as someone who is glad to see folks toodling around on basic upright bikes with baskets & fenders.

Steve in Peoria