Ask the Trade: Are cycling products built to last and be repaired?

In the latest instalment of CI.N’s regular Ask the Trade series, we ask our panel of retailers whether product is built to last, or whether we are on a pursuit of overconsumption through ever changing standards and model year additions.

Our panel:

built to last

To what extent do you believe product is built to last nowadays – has the overall quality improved over time?

Pete Owen, Rat Race Cycles
Sadly, I don’t think a lot of modern stuff is built to last. Two things seem to be driving a lack of durability: weight and profit. New stuff is only well-reviewed if it weighs less than the old stuff, and it is hard to easily quantify durability, so that goes out of the window if you can make the thing lighter. Like Keith Bontrager’s maxim, “strong, light, cheap: pick two”, light and cheap sells quickest.

I know I’m sounding cynical, but we’ve seen more companies make spare parts either prohibitively expensive, or just unavailable, so if a 30p piece of plastic breaks inside your shifter you have no choice but to buy a whole new shifter; or even a pair most of the time!

Like Apple was believed to be doing, lots of manufacturers seem to be actively discouraging repair, so they sell more product.

Ceri Dipple, Twenty3c

This is such a broad question, there are many brands who build quality products but there are also 1,000s that supply product that is likely to end up in the bin very quickly. The industry is starting to make some noise about sustainability, but I would question how sustainable the product/retail side of things actually is when it’s all about unit sales and consumerism.

John Clark, Velospeed

Quality bikes do last, but at the lower end though there are still reliability issues. In our business we decided to forget about cheap Chinese goods as we want to give (well, sell) the customer a quality bike that will give them good service.

How do you feel about the pursuit of model years and the necessity to keep redesigning bikes where only marginal gains can be made?

Pete Owen, Rat Race Cycles
We stopped selling bikes a few years ago to focus on being a workshop, but we used to find it frustrating, especially when customers would wait until the “new” bikes came out to buy the “old” bikes, even though there was practically no difference. These days we still custom build bikes, but I favour brands like Bowman, Cotic or Kinesis who don’t have model years and only bring out a new bike when it’s significantly different from the previous one.

Ceri Dipple, Twenty3c
Ultimately it drives the price down. Do you really need to change a model in a year if there is no change in technology.  It just confuses the consumer and devalues stock. It comes down to whether brands are chasing market share or profitability, ultimately it’s the business with the stock that loses out, the brand wins on market share/units increase, the consumer wins on the discount, but the distributor or the retailer loses out in most cases.

John Clark, Velospeed
It follows other industries and maybe is necessary to force progress. I’ll admit, it’s a pain in the arse to have to keep updating the website.

Integration of parts tends to divide the trade’s mechanics; what are your thoughts on how far this trend can and should go?

Pete Owen, Rat Race Cycles
Making things neater, of course, makes the bike look smarter. Some integration is superb, you won’t find many cyclists requesting separate road gear and brake levers these days. But, as I mentioned above, if it makes the components less repairable, or prohibitively expensive when they do need repair, it makes mechanics’ jobs a lot harder because we enjoy fixing stuff and making things work better. We don’t like telling customers that the tiny thing that’s broken means they have to replace a whole component when we should be able to repair it. We also like upgrading stuff for people, and if the parts are too integrated and you can only upgrade everything in one go, fewer people are likely to want to (or be able to afford to) do that.

Ceri Dipple, Twenty3c
Mechanics are hugely undervalued.  Ultimately their time is worth X and the more integrated the product is the more time it takes.  I believe the brands have some responsibility in communicating with their customers how technical the product is and how a trained/ experienced mechanics time is valued.  The reverse is true, it is suggested it’s easy, as brands can ship it direct to the consumer for home assembly; that’s giving off the wrong message, in my opinion. I’m not saying you can’t ship direct to consumer but some emphasis has to be put on how much is involved in getting it to that stage and why ongoing support IS necessary.

Want to learn more about product sustainability and whether things are built to last in the cycling industry? A new book dubbed Circular Cycling has taken on the subject in depth and is available to buy here.

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