Guest comment by David Meredith
I have been part of the bike industry for over 20 years plus racing pro-DH for 10+ years. Since being downsized from Specialized in 2018 I haven’t been able to get a job at all, almost as if I was blacklisted, it feels.
After getting the “overqualified” line over and over after I show up at an interview prepared with questions and solid numbers of ROI, KPI and all the other marketing jargon CEOs and HR people want to hear, each time I get passed up for someone (possibly less experienced, ergo demands a lower pay rate) who end up just leaving or being fired in a year or so. After working for businesses that dismiss my cost savings, legacy-building plans or ways to directly increase (measurably) market share with, no cost to the bottom line, time and again, and seeing this endemic throughout the industry I can only do so much before I lost my mind and desire to help.
I am tired of fighting for a low-wage, high-stress position with no future, no matter how much effort I am willing to put in. Putting work before family, work before self, all in the name of a product no one needs, other companies make for cheaper (and probably better quality) just because the CEO has an ego or is too young to even understand the human side of the sport that it was founded on. Watching people with heart and soul get passed up for a promotion they genuinely deserved, or worse yet, seeing them fired for standing up for what they believed in, or taking a calculated risk outside the status quo.
I am tired of working for companies that say they make a difference, say they are a “green company” or are part of the collective good of the world, when in reality the good done is simply marketing and ego-stroking hype. Not a single company I have worked for or come across (to date) has a program in place where they are pushing the common, greater good of not just the environment but creating actual, sustainable growth for the world around humanity and us. True growth starts there, not with marketing exercises or creating new product “standards.” Show me a company willing to take their $1 million for a new product line and is donating that into the environment; buying hectares of Amazon Rain Forest, investing in real, local carbon recycling, planting trees by the thousands…the list is quite possibly endless.
To this, I would challenge any and every bike company out there with the financial resources (the bike industry as it sits, is collectively worth about $6 billion USD, with the outdoor industry as a whole worth about $412 billion to the US economy making it a total sum of 2.2% of the US GDP. The bike industry helps make up this number). That said, the money is there. Stop spending it on “new standards and ways to make more money in the next quarter. Instead, invest it in the future, your future. Without the environment, no one will need that new standard sized bottom bracket, derailleur hanger or wheel hub spacing.
There are multiple problems that are systemic within the bicycle industry, but here is some food for thought on just a small number of items that need to change to enact actual, sustainable growth as a friend and fellow industry veteran pointed out to me:
- The poisonous Perks not pay attitude – it’s a feedback loop that penalizes maturity in staff members. If staff can’t depend upon their employer to supply the benefits you need for life changes, or challenges or family support, how will they garner a staff with experience outside that of an unmarried male? Absolutely precludes mothers and fathers who both work. Also, industry perks and benefits aren’t even close to the quality you will find outside “the industry“. Getting free pizza and beer once a week won’t help pay for a mortgage or rent for a family.
- It is, for the most part, a “one per-center” hobby. Referring to a $4K bike as “entry level” is obscene. Yes, it may be the cheapest option for that application, but it is NOT entry level. Most people have to save up to buy 200-dollar bikes. I think shop owners have a bit better perspective, but it isn’t often that company employees understand the rarefied air they breath and sell. Even a Strider is out of reach for most families in the US. A look at the median family income is pretty sobering.
- Lack of respect for time outside of the office is another reason the industry doesn’t attract experienced people. Personally, I was “on-call” 24-7 and this included my time at a retail shop, where I was required to help my mechanics work on bikes over the phone (albeit in hindsight, those mechanics should not have been hired in the first place due to lack of discipline and skill).
- There is no future in bikes for most people. No ability to advance – the shallow org chart at most companies’ limits career growth, so why stay? You can only get promoted by changing jobs, and there is no ownership opportunity to help justify staying in the majority of businesses. I ran into this in multiple companies I worked for. The one that hurt the most was being told to my face by my CEO that he would like to see me as CEO someday and he would help me get there. Only to be passed up for any form of advancement in favor of nepotism toward a different individual in the company who was the same nationality as the owner of the company and the CEO.
- The use of the term “the industry”. This idea that bikes are somehow a separate and unique culture hurts more than it helps. Just stop doing it!
So this leads me to a paradigm shift within myself. I have always been a helper and wanted to give back somehow and think I can finally just move away from where I am in the bike world and just take care of family and myself.
More heart, less parts.
After trying and trying to make a life-long career out of my passion for bicycles and seeing the underbelly of it all I needed to get out to save my own sanity. Go do some real good. More family time, more time for myself, more time to ride and enjoy the bicycle for what it is.
I have multiple undergraduate degrees and a master so I can take them and some prerequisites and go back to school, get a masters in nursing at the same time it takes to get an associate degree. I plan on working to become a recovery nurse, one who helps others as they come out of surgery or trauma. Two things I know intimately.
Those that know me know I have a genuine soul and want to really help others and give love to the world. I also have had my share of life-threatening injuries and can take that and my heart with me to the recovery wards and help use love and laughter to heal.
My good friend Enrico once told me: “There are only two things about life that are guaranteed; you will die and everything changes. The only way to fully embrace this beautiful journey we all are on is to fully commit to the change of life and grow with it as time moves. You need to change with life, or be passed by and eventually pass away, not have fully lived.”
And so it is with this I will bow out from the bicycle industry and leave you with the prolog from the book I am going to write aptly named Beer and Wrenches // A life in repair.
We met at a young age. I was innocent and drawn to her. She was new, exciting, enticing. I found joy and escape in her embrace and together, I felt unstoppable, whole, more than human. Over the years we grew close, we drifted apart, we fought like bitter enemies and loved as the desert loves the rain.
She became my strongest lover, my fondest mistress, and my fiercest dominatrix. She would lift me up and drop me down. She brought tears of joy and pain to my eyes and soul. She taught me the meaning of real love, love more than the physical. A love that opened my eyes to nature, to the universe. She taught me the meaning of desire, pain, and what it truly means to lose as well as morn.
She taught me that life is precious and fleeting, that every moment and every breath could be our last. She made me bled, she broke my bones; she broke my heart and tore at my soul. She introduced me to my best friends and taught me to not trust them; she was cold, calculated and hard but filled me with the joy of a new day, a new sunrise, a new beginning. She showed me the world and offered it to me whole-heartedly.
She taught me the use of tools, of materials and how to make her beautiful. Flawless. Perfect. She was my drug, my liquor and I yearned for her, went homeless for her, I gave her all that is me. She saved my life, picked me up out of the dark with a gentle hand, a whisper of hope and a touch of love when no other was there. She returned to me what I gave her: life.
She was my greatest love, my closest, longest mistress, my deepest passion, my best friend my creator and my murderer. I will always love her.
She is the bicycle.
(Those who are considering a change of career can browse bicycle trade positions here.)