Year after year, Eurobike brings down the curtain on the season for the bicycle industry. Dealers and manufacturers take stock of the past year, discuss cooperation and venture a look into the next season. For years, therefore, the exhibition at the beautiful Lake Constance has been the most important fixture in the industry’s calendar.
Apart from price points, margins, volume discounts and availability dates, a great deal of new developments are to be found – both from large manufacturers and also, especially, from smaller producers. Year by year, not only do bicycles become lighter; above all else they also become increasingly more technical and diverse.
About 25 years ago, when the mountain bike and triathlon booms crossed the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe, the bicycles - with their wide lugged tyres and comical aerobars - awakened the entire European bicycle industry from several decades of slumber. Hitherto, innovation often enough had meant new types of tube coupling, chrome-plated rear stays and holes in chain rings; all too often, however, it had merely stood for new colours. Sports bikes from the mid-eighties essentially looked the same as those from the fifties. Everyday bicycles were at their lowest ebb, while quality was worse than after the Second World War. The industry’s reputation was as poor as the products were stale.
Those days are gone: steel is out-of-date and, depending on the bicycle type, aluminium and carbon - the high-tech material - are the new standard. An obvious remark maybe, but far from everyone in the industry has realised that this change is more fundamental and more profound than anticipated. No longer is the bicycle a product on the technical level of simple metal working, as it was not long ago. It is evolving faster and faster; the lead gained by highly developed industries, such as automobile manufacturing, is becoming less pronounced. While in the early nineties you could still almost count the engineers in the European bicycle industry on the fingers of two hands, companies that develop bicycles today maintain genuine technical teams.
Industry participants would be well advised to go beyond their own four walls, educate themselves and openly communicate with their peers; otherwise they will soon be left behind by developments.
Where to go?
It is gratifying that a series of events were recently established that span the range from training courses for dealers, through working groups for researchers and developers to conventions for the entire industry. The common denominator in all of these is that, like Eurobike, they represent a break in everyday routine and therefore provide important stimuli. Despite sometimes hefty participation fees, attendance at these events definitely pays off in the course of the year.
Product training, be it from components giants such as Shimano, Sram or Campa, brand suppliers such as Fox, Magura or Rock Shox, or bicycle brands in the store, should be compulsory for dealers - and not just for the store manager. These events provide sales arguments but, above all, know-how on handling, maintenance and repair. Not infrequently, some of the problems of everyday workshop life actually turn out to be routine tasks, provided that one knows the right tricks and has the appropriate special tools on hand.
Workshops are aimed at bicycle developers and researchers. In this case, it is important to cast an eye over the programme to check whether the topic is relevant and the approach is correct. The recently established "Bicycle Workshop" of the German Association for Materials Research and Testing, (Deutscher Verband für Materialforschung und -Prüfung e.V. – DVM), offers top-class speakers from theory and practice at its events, which run over one and a half days. The talks and discussion sessions at the most recent workshop centred on "Test Procedures and Quality Control Methods taking account of CFRP Materials". This was without doubt the most in-depth event on this subject in the entire bicycle industry. The next workshop, on the theme of "Electric Bicycle Safety", is scheduled for February 2011.
The goal of the Bicycle Developer Conference, which was held parallel to Bike Expo in Munich, is similar. The focus of the inaugural event was somewhat scattered; the programme for the coming year has yet to be defined.
In a broad sense, Bike Brainpool is of a comparable nature. Its members meet two to three times a year; not to talk about technology, however, but rather the promotion of cycling. Conceived as a platform for communication, the aim is to generate ideas beyond corporate and association boundaries, and subsequently implement those ideas in the outside world.
The Vivavelo Congress serves up a variety of fare to an interested audience, from ideas to promote cycling and future mobility concepts, through sales strategies to technology and testing procedures. Activities alternated between lectures and panel discussions for the entire audience and workshops in smaller groups. In contrast to pure industry events, representatives from government and political parties were also invited. The biennial congress arranged for manufacturers and dealers was specifically held in Berlin in order to send a message to policy makers.
The industry needs to grow up
Engineering instead of tinkering, communication instead of isolation, and training instead of holding on to tradition. Only if all participants in the bicycle industry look at the big picture will the bicycle in general continue its positive development. The industry must resolutely confront both the challenges of technology and the market and the changes in society. Attractive products, good service and strong lobbying must go hand in hand to ensure that more cycling takes place. The industry is emerging from the shadows. Good events provide the basis; however only participants can bring them truly to life.
In a nutshell:
Product Training: Information is available from the respective manufacturers.
DVM Technology Workshop, various locations: www.dvm-berlin.de
Bicycle Developer Conference, Munich: www.bike-conference.com
Bike Brainpool communication platform for decision makers in the industry, various locations: www.bikebrainpool.de
Vivavelo Industry Congress for manufacturers and distributors, Berlin: www.vivavelo.org