You can tell a cyclist from a non-cyclist just by listening. If you’re selling a bike to a non-cyclist or every day consumer they might ask you: how heavy is it? But when experienced cyclists meet for a ride and compare bikes they will ask each other: how light is it?
Whereupon Etiquette demands the rider of the new lightweight-fandango-machine steps off his bike and hands it across to said friend and asks him to guess the weight. Said friend picks up bicycle by saddle and stem, flexes his elbows or wrists (experts are unsure which technique is best) then guesses, obligingly. And is usually correct, within 0.5kg. Both smile at their weighing-the-bike-by-hand-expertise. Then, owner of new bicycle reveals the exact actual weight, to the 2nd decimal place, as measured by Park Tool scales in local store. Both smile knowingly, then embark on a discussion, while riding, about why it was 54g different from the manufacturers claimed weight.
Some manufacturers got scared by this. So they stopped publishing weights. Others followed.
That was wrong.
The Weight Debate
This “weight debate” goes to the heart of consumer thinking about one of the key benefits or distinguishing features of higher-priced bikes. Experienced cyclists will actively seek out the weight of a bike before purchasing. Everyday cyclists don’t do that so much, but it can still form an important part of the buying process. Think about Keith Bontragers mantra: Strong, Cheap Light, choose any two.
As the price of the bike rises, generally speaking the weight declines. However the industry seems to have largely forgotten that metric. Talking to another salesman he recalled it was always about three things: budget, spec and weight. Without providing information on weight are we tying one hand behind the salesman’s back?
Are we losing Sales?
This could be a huge mistake, and is potentially costing the industry millions in lost sales.
In the enthusiast market we all know that sales are polarised. There’s a void from £2.5k to £5.5k. It’s true in road bikes, in MTBs, in E-bikes. Ok, that’s where some direct brands are strong. And I’ve spoken before about the polarisation of income after the 2008 financial crash. But is that the whole story? Do people get to £2.5k and just stop? In the everyday market, weight has come back as a selling feature on kids bikes, and may soon become so in other categories (see yesterdays article about Islabikes).
The industry knows very well that it needs to justify a higher price point when it comes to specification and is very clear about laying out every single component on the bike. In fact we perhaps spend too much time focusing on the spec vs price point equation. In both setting key retail price points as brands and the way most consumer media reviews bikes. Hence the group-set-hunter.
Then and Now
We also explain different qualities in the way carbon fibre bikes are laid up. And we explain more sophisticated suspension linkages. But, back in the 90s and beforehand, when bikes were largely made from butted aluminium or steel, a key selling feature was the reduction in weight of the frame. And that overall weight reduction was usually in parallel with better components resulting in an overall lighter bike. The manufacturers were rightly proud of those lighter bikes. So proud that the majority included the weights in all of their marketing materials. And retailers (both High St and mail order) all talked about weight.
Take a look at these adverts from MBR in 1998.
Weight was always in the dialogue. My first bike-shop job was in Sydney Street cycles in 1998. And I remember how easy it was to up-sell a consumer from £300 to £400 to £500 using the reduced weight of the bike as a key metric. Picking it up was one way. But seeing is believing and having the published weight to back you up was always helpful.
I remember a few years later at the NEC, seeing a much more experienced and successful salesman actively dragging top-end road bikes from their stands and putting them in the hands of consumers. Just feel how light that is! Not naming names, let’s just say he’s old school and successful, super-car successful.
I have a 1998 Specialized FSR Elite hanging in my garage. I remember the brochure to this day, and how that fractional decrease in weight pulled my ambitions and wallet further up the scale. In today’s politically correct and litigious society however, with the added pressures that Product Managers and Marketing Teams face, adding the weight of the bike to the description has gradually been forgotten?
It’s kind of ironic that in the Information Age we are providing Less?
These screen shots illustrate some of the variety of different approaches currently in the industry:
- Publish Weights Openly
- Publish but it’s a bit harder to find
- Publish and hedge with “approx”
- Tell the dealer but don’t tell the consumer
- Don’t publish at all
A Key Selling Point
And that’s a problem when it comes to selling higher priced bikes. I have stood at dozens of consumer shows where the weight of the bike is the most frequent question, usually to differentiate two or three models on the consumers shortlist. Not only do consumers want the official weight , they also want to pick the bike up bike up and try it for themselves.
They become frustrated if you don’t have an ‘official answer’. They become even more frustrated if the bike is bolted down and you are unwilling or unable to hand it over. And they will pointedly tell you that your bike is no longer on their shortlist if both demands go unanswered. Sometimes they assume that if you don’t publish your weight, then you must be hiding something and therefore your bike must be heavier than its competitors who does.
In bike shops every day, I hear the staff and consumer both frustrated by this lack of clarity, this lack of information. Often there are two bikes that have been narrowed down to the final choice. The shop staff are saying “well this one is a bit lighter than that one and so you might feel the difference on the hills and…” But they don’t quite have the confidence or the back up in the materials to say “this one is a full 1kg lighter than that one and actually yes you will notice the difference and yes you should go for this bike over that one”.
This is basic. Text Book. Feature-Advantage-Benefit. Marketing 101.
This is so fundamental it frustrates the hell out of me that we forgot.
Who remembers the 40lb BMX-gas-pipe-tube-dirt-jump monsters of the mid-90s? Or the Free-ride Full Sus North Shore beasts of the early 2000s? Yes they served a purpose and were great fun for the small number of hardcore individuals who fit enough and brave enough to ride them. But as a ‘bike-selling’ industry idea – both proved to be a bit of a dead-end.
Having established (commercially at least) that a lighter bike is a better – or more usable – or more easily saleable – item, why is industry hiding this key selling point under a bushel? Weight Weenies would (almost) not need to exist if the industry was more open and transparent about the weight of everything. Especially complete bikes.
The Cycle Industry Re-invents itself all the time
So what happens now? Well, mostly this will largely be ignored and pretty much nothing will happen for a year or so. But, if I’m thinking this, you can bet 50-100 people somewhere in the industry have also been thinking this. I’m just the one who says it. They will be the ones who do something about it. And likely already are.
Best guess, in the 2020/2021 ranges, some mid size manufacturers (looking to make every difference to get market share from bigger players) will publish all of the weights of all of their bikes – even by size. By about 2023/24 several other brands will also be doing the same thing. And around about 2025/26 some of the big players who don’t publish weights will finally notice what everyone else is doing.
By about 2030 every bike manufacturer will once again be publishing weights.
We will have come full circle.
And this article will long since have been forgotten.