Monday, November 8, 2010

What cost, progress?

Titus, the bike manufacturer is no more.  R.I.P Titus.  They made some cool bikes over the years;  the Moto Lite, the Racer X, the Ti hardtails, and especially the Exo Grid frames.  Beauty, eh?

But a soft economy, poor capitalization, and mis-management seems to have broken the camel's back.   I have to wonder if we are partly to blame?  In the rush to have what is new and exciting, year after year we seem to demand something different than last year; something 'better' or shinier or lighter or faster or...something.  To meet those demands, the bike makers spin up the factories and push out a new bike with new components and new fabrication techniques with new materials and we rush to buy it, being sated for a year or so, and then next year it all begins again. 

The price of this lemming-like consumer rush to the cliff's edge, peering into the abyss of tomorrow, is being paid by us as well, and maybe ultimately in failures like the one that befell Titus.  Bikes are costing too much.  Six thousand or nine thousand dollars is a fine price for a used car, but a bike?  Wow. They are not always that much better, and sometimes they are worse than before, all in the sake of new-ness.  Take the replacement for the Racer X 29er  (a bike that many consider to be dated due to its FSR rear suspension),  the Rockstar.  The Rockstar came in a Ti front or Alu front end and a carbon rear.  Sexy looking, but costly.  It took forever to get it to market and then it was not well received with poor performance from the carbon fiber rear end and some early breakage issues.  What happened there?  For a company on the ropes, a bust like that will kill ya in R&D costs and warranty repairs. 

So, let us take a look at the Racer X as an example.  It was an older design, for sure.  It had limited travel (90mm on a good day).  Early ones needed more rear tire clearance.  It also hardly ever broke.  It was stiff, solid and pedaled like the wind.  It handled well and was an endurance racers and light weight trail riders friend.  It had no surprises.  It just worked, even if it did need pro-pedal to be at its best.  You absolutely knew what you were getting.  What did the folks who bet $$ on the Rockstar get?

I was discussing this with a group of riders Sunday and a guy chimed in with, "Yeah, but it had that old FSR design which is waaaay out of date compared to the new DW stuff.  You are paying too much for old technology."  Now I took him to task a bit, though I did it kindly, but what I could have said was "You are riding a bike (a VPP wonder-bike) that cost more than the Racer X, is not lighter, is not as stiff,  has anti-squat is not even a DW bike."  It is more something, for sure...supple, longer travel, etc, but it is not all that and a box of crackers either.

I am no business guy, but it looks like Titus was wearing britches too big for themselves.  Here is my plan, retro to a few years ago, that I would have done steering the helm of Titus.  Looking at an unsustainable economy, keep it simple and slim it down.  Make a few bike models that people can rely on.  Refine, not replace.  Keep things as close to the US as possible for quality and production times.  Once you jump into carbon, you are at the mercy of too many other's timelines in distant lands.  Do what you do well and has perceived value to the customer.  The Exogrid stuff was very cool and distinct, but even the normal Ti hardtails were very nice.  Keep those and weld in-house if you can.  Make it personal...keep the customer service brilliant.  Do not re-invent the wheel every year or those costs will kill ya.  Yes you have to stay current, but last year's bike, if it was a very good one, will still be a very good bike this year too and maybe we can sell it cheaper than the newest thing from the competitors.  The FSR is still a great platform despite all the hoopla over the shortlink bikes, some of which are very good and some of which are not so very good.  I will take a proven bike with a platform shock 'crutch' over this year's (soon to be replaced by next year's improved) roll-of-the-dice any day. 

Now, I know that some improvements are just really good and I do not want to stop innovation, but beware of change for the sake of market share only.  They are, after all, just bicycles.

But then who I am to be so bold as to think I have all the answers?  No one in particular.  I, often enough, are just another lemming jonesing for a look over the cliff edge in search of 'the new'. 

I deserve what I get.

1 comment:

Fonk said...

SPOT. ON. I've been saying similar things myself for a while. Do we really need something new and different every year? It's all just a game to get us to believe whatever we currently own is old, outdated, and "less than we should have." It's true with the commercial frame builders, component makers - everybody. It'd be nice if we could slow down, and just focus on having a quality product out there that lasts, and not something that the manufacturers will be trying to convince you to replace in another year or two.