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I forgot to emphasize these are not powered cycles.

Thursday, 5 April, 2007

The people at the American arm of Shimano were sitting around one day and wondering why with respect to increasing motoring costs and traffic problems more North Americans weren’t motivated toward cycling. Of course the idea occurs to them as they produce more cycling components than any other company in the world. They just happen to have the resources to study this so they sent smart people to Phoenix, Palo Alto, Chicago, and Atlanta to ask non-cyclists in these areas of greatly increasing biking what the deal is.

Then they designed and produced a non-new, non-novel but supposedly well implemented gruppo (the parts of a bike that make it go) to conquer these obstacles. Shimano itself marketed a similar system in the late 90’s, but found little success due to a lack of partners (Bianchi and Cannondale who aren’t in every market and historically have not pursued an audience of non-athletes) willing to push the idea into the hearts of consumers. It was also very expensive. Once the technology and the idea were in place, Giant, Trek and Raleigh came on board to actually implement bikes for people who don’t ride bikes.

I’m reminded of one of the stories compulsively repeated at the Neo-conservative Terrorist Training Center to which I was subjected at a tender age:

A shoe company sends a salesman to “deepest, darkest Africa” in an attempt to open a new market. He spends thousands of dollars, several months and eventually returns to headquarters explaining: “It’s hopeless, no one in Africa wears shoes.” The following year another salesman is sent to repeat the experiment. Before he has been on the ground for a day, a telegraph appears at headquarters with the message: “Send everything you can. No one in Africa wears shoes.”

Perhaps the cultural implications of that story may help to explain why I am so anxious to start the trials and open the extermination camps.

The object here is that, no one in America (relatively speaking) rides bikes. Amazingly, a rather large number of Americans under 35 have never ridden a bicycle. I have known two of them, but assumed they were anomalies. In the event these people would, somehow, come to the idea on their own to acquire and ride a bicycle most of them would head to a department store to get a bike that does not fit, couldn’t be assembled more poorly and begins to rust before they even get it home.

In the unlikely event such a person would find themselves on the interior of an actual, proper bicycle shop the first question asked by the personnel would be: “Would you prefer a Range Rover or a Ferrari?” Most people go in looking for a nice straightforward Toyota, which you will in fact find there, but god help you in locating it or even getting the staff to notice.

From the name of the new system, Coasting, to the implementation, conservatively styled cycles with gimmicks, like Trek’s seat with storage compartment, all designed to address the perceptions of the average suburbanite. The price point seems well considered since it is too expensive to be a toy, yet priced as low as the dumbed-down mountain bike many of us talked ourselves into earlier in the decade. Interestingly, the Raleigh offering is deliberately styled to be that company’s New Beetle. That is, it looks like a classic English middleweight “cruiser”. That version is not (yet?) available in the UK for reasons I can only guess.

The core of the bikes, the gimmick of the gruppo, is a three-speed, innately powered through the front hub, computer-driven automatic internal planetary-geared rear hub. A three-speed just like bikes from decades long passed, that you had to game the system to purchase new today. It’s a “normal” bike with lots of goodies and a three-speed automatic and coaster brake. Oddly, none of the bikes yet presented offer a front brake. To my way of thinking a front brake is essential, even if the coaster brake is the best one ever made. I do wonder why, especially at this price point, no one has bumped up the output of the front hub to power a set of “being seen” lights.

Exactly how they intend to market these cycles is not entirely clear. Trek models are available exclusively in the much feared bike shops. Giant and Raleigh have a precious few dealers who are general sporting goods stores, but the majority of their representatives treat those disinclined to compete in Le Tour with scorn.

In any event, here are the bikes which you will not find in your local dealer because they are selling them quite literally as quickly as they can be shipped and assembled:

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