Utility is the new carbon; an industry veteran reports from Interbike

Joel and his wife Barb at the
2007 Cross Crusade Prom.

This guest article was written by Joel Grover. Joel is a 20-year bike industry veteran and the head buyer for Bike Gallery, a locally owned shop with six locations in and around Portland. He recently attended Interbike, a large bicycle industry trade show held each year in Las Vegas. In the article below, he shares a few thoughts on industry trends and bikes that caught his eye.



Interbike 2008 will go down as one of the more exciting shows in recent history for me.

“…many of our industry suppliers still seem infatuated with $3,000 full suspension mountain bikes or $5,000 carbon road bikes.”

The Lance Armstrong-era shows were exciting with all the new road bikes, carbon fiber widgets and technology advancements; but this yearís show was different. Many of the conversations — both at the Outdoor Demo and on the show floor — involved the growing trends of bicycle transportation, utility bikes, value priced bikes, and electric bikes. Portland and a few other cities used to be the only ones talking about this, but now, the rest of the country is getting on board.

One dealer (and good friend) I talked to from Asheville, North Carolina told me about a recent gas shortage in their hometown where buying gasoline was impossible or involved waiting in long lines.

However, despite the obvious writing on the wall and geo-socio-political trends, many of our industry suppliers still seem infatuated with $3,000 full suspension mountain bikes or $5,000 carbon road bikes. Not that there is anything wrong with either of these two categories of bikes, but I canít help but wonder if the bicycle industry is significantly over capacity in these two areas while neglecting the obvious opportunities in the areas of bicycle transportation, utility bikes, value priced bikes, and electric bikes.

After being in Vegas for a few days, I am more proud than ever of our community and how we are leading the way in the bike transportation sector. Everyone I talk to knew about what is going on in Portland and recognized that many of the trends that start here may spread to the rest of the country.

The new Madsen Cycles cargo bike.

One trend I must acknowledge is the adoption of utility bikes and long-bikes here in Portland. Most of this can be attributed to the folks over at Clever Cycles for importing and embracing new products in this niche. As this niche grows, I expect to see new entrepreneurs and old industry mainstays like the big bike brands become inspired to develop even more options (like the Madsen Cycles utility bike covered here a few weeks ago and the 2009 Kona Ute).

Torker’s University District.
(Photo: Joel Grover)

Another bike that I was excited about comes out of Seattle with the Torker brand. They were showing a very value-priced ($350) singlespeed/fixed-gear bike called the University District. With its stealthy, matte-black finish, fender-able brake calipers and rugged cro-moly steel frame, it seems like a very Portland styled bike for the budget conscious.

Another trend that bodes well for Portland is disc brakes on urban and hybrid bikes. When having conversations with product mangers from various suppliers and comparing notes of hot trends I am surprised that our neighbors in wet climates to the north and south do not share the same bike commuting solutions.

Kona Dew Plus ($550).

Compared with industry averages, Portlanders buy a much higher percentage of disc-brake equipped urban bikes than the norm. I think many Portlanders like the added benefit of the superior braking performance in wet weather and the greater brake pad and rim durability that disc brakes provide over rim brakes. Kona, our somewhat local brand (based in Bellingham, Washington), has embraced disc brakes on urban bikes. Their Dew Plus hybrid ($550) and Dew Drop road bike ($800) are a screaming value for those looking for all-weather performance while commuting in our wetter months.

(Give credit to Eric Tonkin at Sellwood Cycle Repair for Konaís addition of the Dew Drop model into the 2009 line up.)

The Raleigh Rainier.
(Photo: Raleigh Bikes)

A fabulously fun bike I saw at the Raleigh booth was a singlespeed cyclocross bike with graphics in the scripted font and same color as the Rainier Beer brand — a popular brew distributed here in the Northwest.

The word on this Rainier-Raleigh ($750 for frameset) is that one of the marketing guys at Raleigh was inspired to create it after attending last Novembersí inaugural Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships held at Estacada Timber Park just outside of Portland.

Looking to next year’s Interbike show, I expect to see even more products that cater to the transportation demographic and less attention to the high-zoot carbon road bikes and full suspension mountain bikes that have dominated the market for so long.

I say itís about time and, better late than never.

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Jordan
Jordan
14 years ago

I really like the Kona Dew Drop. The only thing is that it looks a bit lower end. I would love to see more road bikes with 105 or so level parts with disks. Or better yet, lets more road frames and forks with disk mounts and give us the choice! Riding my disk brake mountain bike spoils me when I get on my road bike when it rains.

Elsa
Elsa
14 years ago

Great to see. I agree that there is much innovation to be had in this category.

An integrated cover or lid system on that Madsen Cycles cargo bike would be cool. I can just imagine riding home with water sloshing around in back. I am sure you could drill drain holes in it easily enough, however.

brian
brian
14 years ago

Let us not lose sight of the true beauty of escapism that the bicycle provides.

Being a good little worker is important, but bikes should be for unadultered fun.

Sir Learnsalot
Sir Learnsalot
14 years ago

There was a point a few months ago when I decided to switch to a steel surly frame where I started to notice more and more steel, retro-classic and utility bikes on the roads here in Seattle. Then when interbike rolled around I realized that I wasn’t imagining the trend.

paul
paul
14 years ago

So nice to see the US bike industry moving back to the kind of thinking that will get bikes used again! I’m looking forward to the day when utility/city/practical bikes are the rule, not the exception. Now if I could just get a steel touring/commuting frame equipped w/ disc brakes and “nicely equipped” for < $750……

Ethan
14 years ago

I’ve been arriving at my son’s daycare for a couple of months in the Bakfiets . . . among a sea of Burley trailers . . . in the past two weeks a Kona Ute and Surley longtail started showing up . . . clearly the trend is catching on.

Andy B from Jersey
14 years ago

This is great to hear since I’ve been on the “utility bike band wagon” for many years now.

However, I’m still shaking my head at bikes like the Kona Dew Plus shown above: Disk brakes are standard for dealing with wet urban environments but fenders are an aftermarket only option?!?! COME ON!! Get with it!

If you’ve ever been to a typical bike shop in northern Europe you’d realize that even Portland (wonderful Clever Cycles included) has a long way to go with regards to practical bicycles and those built for utility.

todd
14 years ago

hey andy b, i resemble that remark about clever! well of course we have a long way to go, but if you’ve visited and found many bikes without fenders, kickstands, generator lighting et al, something was wrong. it might be that the most practical stuff is hard to keep in stock, leaving us with the dross of the merely pretty and/or cheap.

somebody but nobody
somebody but nobody
14 years ago

trend or economic reality?

Kernal Loose Nut
Kernal Loose Nut
14 years ago

i love to see all the new american steel rolling around town. Grandchildren of the 64 huffy i ride. Welded in Azusa, Ca., found in the Bend dump scrape heap six years ago

May this new steel still be rolling in 2052.

David Feldman
David Feldman
14 years ago

Great news! What a pleasure to hear of real-world bikes stealing attention from 12 lb. fantasy objects. Thanks, Grovers.

Old Timer
Old Timer
14 years ago

Eric Tonkin making his mark! and this time without urinating!

Byron
Byron
14 years ago

Nice article. After shying away from disc brakes I just brought home a new touring/commuter bike, an ’09 Kona Sutra (yes, with fenders). So far, so good. My back-up is an Azor Secret Service from Clever Cycles, better suited to really wet commutes (fender skirts, full chain-guard). Happy to see Americans starting to take utility cycling in all it’s variety more seriously.

Erik
Erik
14 years ago

This article reminds me of the Slow Bicycle Movement. Smell the roses:
http://theslowbicycle.blogspot.com/

Dave
Dave
14 years ago

It’s interesting and fun to see this new development here in the U.S.

Bakfiets or Burley trailers are the best way to carry little people around. Long bikes, etc. are better for cargo. Lemelson Foundation funded an inventor for Africa implmentation a few years back, I do believe.

TonyT
tonyt
14 years ago

I was talking to the guys at Surly a few years ago and begging them for a traditional road bike with disc brakes. They didn’t see the demand for it.

Hopefully that’ll change. And ideally, it’ll come from SOMEONE who can make a basic butted-steel frame here in the States.

Adam
Adam
14 years ago

I agree that the Madsen should have a cover for it’s awesome rear tub. Better yet, make it have the ability to lock shut. Who wants to ride around all day doing errands leaving all their stuff open and free to walk off?

Whyat
Whyat
14 years ago

Man do I agree with tonyt. I have had my eye out for a reasonably priced road bike with disc brakes for the last two years and still can’t find much below the $1200 mark. Road bikes seem to be the only style that are not adopting disc brakes. At the same time, this influx of cargo bikes is AWESOME. Sure, some kinks need to be worked out, but the fact they are becoming readily available gives me great happiness.

brettoo
brettoo
14 years ago

Hey Andy B, I share the love of Clever Cycles (bought a sweet waterproof pannier there last month) but admit I’ve not been into a European bike shop. Can you give some specific recommendations for what else CC and other Portland shops should be doing to reach those standards?

Andy B from Jersey
14 years ago

Woops!!

First I must appologize!

My comment about Clever Cycles came off entirely wrong and was also abrupt because I was in a rush as it was very late on my side of the country. Clever DOES get it, and in spades! Todd and the gang at Clever have even taken it to the next level and I assure you they will be the first place I visit the next time I make into town.

What I was trying to point out is that what you see in a typical bike shop in the US (Clever excluded!) is maybe a handful of practical bikes built for people that don’t consider themselves to “cyclists”. This is probably still even true in places like Portland although I’m quite sure things are changing rapidly since I was last there.

In Europe most shops will have row after row of regular bikes (upright, fenders, lights, bell, rack, basket, chaincase – standard) built for getting from A to B in normal cloths while carrying a modest amount of stuff. Practical utility at its most refined. Most shops will also have a smattering of cargo bikes to boot! Even shops that specialize in higher-end racing bikes will typically still have about 80% of their floor stock in practical utility bikes. I love these bikes but it almost became annoying because it was hard to find a shop that carried anything else.

That’s all. Sorry for the mix up!

WOBG
WOBG
14 years ago

Hmmm. I recently got rid of a 29er/commuter bike with Avid BB-5 disc brakes, because my 180-pound self wore through the brake pads in just two months of summer commuting to OHSU (so yeah, hills). During that trial, the brakes needed almost constant adjustment to maintain stopping power–as it turns out, because the pads were wearing so fast. No thanks! I’ll stick with my rim brakes, and replace rims every few years.

I can only conclude that BB-5s are “toy” brakes meant for bikes that are rarely ridden, and I’ve been dismayed to see them spec’ed on even more, and more expensive bikes for ’09.

Pete
Pete
14 years ago

I’ve noticed more and more disc-based commuter/hybrids out there and just tried one but returned it – wasn’t impressed. The V-brakes on my winter commuter don’t stop me wet (and are a pain if I flat with 700x32s), so I looked into a front disc upgrade and also priced out a CX build with BB7s (~$850 min). At this point I’ll either try cantilevers on it or sell it and go back to my trust Gary Fisher Tassajara MTB (depending on the job situation). I’ve heard good things from disc-brake riders though and really dig the Fisher Mendota. The Trek Soho has cool innovations too. Our bike room at work is getting more and more full!

Saw a really cool (home-made?) long bike at the Blazers game Sunday, and love that this segment is growing. Have to say, though, that carbon fiber still turns me on… have ridden many different bikes/styles and picked up a Giant TCR composite that *screams* away from the lights. I guess I can fit everything into a backpack if I have the right incentive.

Oh, and Santa, that new Cervelo P4 might be a little too big for my stocking but I’m being reeeaallly good this year! (screw the backpack ūüėČ

Susan
Susan
14 years ago

I have had my Kona Dew Deluxe with Disc brakes for almost 4 years now. Even when I was carting around my daughter on her Burley Piccolo trailer bike in the rain, I had no issues stopping. The first month or so of riding it I had to take it in several times to get the brakes adjusted, but once it was dialed in it was great! Utility is good – though I do love my Giant TCR composit road bike too!

Evan
Evan
14 years ago

Check out the Raleigh Sojourn for a roadie (albeit for touring) with discs. Salsa also makes a steel ‘crosser with discs.