The FUTURE! Do we need shades or not?


by Mark V on May 09, 2008 at 12:42 PM

While I’ve been in the trench warfare of flat tires and greasy chains, I’ve been wondering about the larger picture, keeping a look out for industry, market, and technology trends. I’m not talking about wishful thinking about what I’d like to see happen; I mean, I’d like to wake up to Jessica Alba in a thong cleaning my drivetrain, but that’s not very likely. I’m talking about forecasting what will happen in the next two years.

The first year is rather easy, because all the industry players already know what they’ll be serving up for 2009. The only question is if the manufacturers, particularly component manufacturers, can meet their deadlines and quotas, but if you listen carefully you can get a good picture of what’s coming.

First, I can tell you something that is guaranteed: prices are going up. This has to do with labour cost in China, the continued fall of the once almighty dollar, and transportation costs among many factors. To you the consumer this means a likely 10% increase in retail prices of complete bikes in 2009, and it could be worse for some items, particularly out of Europe.

The 29-er mtb will continue to become a viable alternative within the mtb market. This has to do with the proliferation of manufacturers making products catering to the 29-er segment. Besides the obvious tires, rims, and frames, the introduction of top quality suspension forks with geometry selected to enhance the handling of big wheels (ie increased rake) will validate the 29-ers.

Personally I wonder if the upstart 650B mtb will disappear into the widening chasm between the traditional 26-in and the new 29-er. As the 29-er asserts its presence and gains momentum, I can’t see that there’d be that much of a demand for a stop-gate solution like a knobby 650B. The mtb market has shrunk somewhat in recent years. Striking out into the 650B realm makes sense as a way to create a new market niche, but modern mtb design consists of a large number of manufacturers contributing subsystems to each rideable unit. In other words, it’s gonna take more than 3 guys building knobby 650B frames and another guy to hand-make the tires to get knobby 650B off the ground. The big component manufacturers aren’t going to make tires, rims, and forks for 26, 29, and 650B.

For road bikes, I predict that over the next two years the entry-level and mid-range will be strong. I think that we may see a move to more versatile bikes in that range, as more people feel the teeth of the imminent economic recession and rising fuel costs. Some people are gonna notice that they could save an assload of money by giving up the gym membership and riding a bike to work. By versatility I mean rack and fender eyelets will return to performance bikes after two decades of being unstylish.

Steel will make a comeback. Up until now, that statement would only come from a retro-grouch in serious denial. But there are some signs. The messenger cult has elevated handmade Japanese frames to holy status and the proliferation of small handmade builders, as well as the media attention they have garnered, hasn’t gone totally unnoticed. Meanwhile, the demand for vintage Italian road frames echoes the rise of vintage motorscooters a few years back. Take a look at other industries. Volkswagon introduced a new Beetle to massive fanfare, and Vespa scoooters both old and new are fashionable as ever. Bianchi already has solid plans to return steel bikes to their US offerings.

Made in Taiwan will become a sign of quality. Western Europe and Japan have become too expensive as locations for manufacturing below the premium level, and even then most of the subcomponents likely come from Taiwan. China, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe are the new sources for budget parts. Taiwan has become the place for carbon fibre production and most forged aluminium. Taiwanese quality control is pretty tight nowadays. The reputation of Chinese products has suffered in the media as of late.

The rising fuel costs and (hopefully) improved infrastructure for bicycles should theoretically pave the way for growth in the industry. But hard economic times won’t leave cycling untouched. Of course, there is a feeling in retail that the rich buy their toys and tell the plebes to eat cake, so I don’t really expect much change at the very top level. As long as $9k Colnagos are still cool, there will be buyers. Yet when individuals and families have less disposable income, retailers will see decreases. But if more of the public sees a bicycle as more than just a toy, cycling could rise to greater heights

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I think cyclocross bikes with fender/rack mounts will fulfill the need for versatile bikes, plus it looks cool enough as a sport that it will have decent street cred.

I doubt steel will come back. I think pre-fab CF will continue to get cheaper and more automated - replacing Alu for sure.

Taiwanese quality will continue to increase.

I think American framebuilders will have a chance to sell abroad at relative good prices too.

LED lights will completely replace the rest of the market, and the 200 lumen lights will not be terribly expensive (not that a Fenix flashlight is all that pricey to begin with).


I’m thinking steel will return as an option from big manufacturers, but you’re right, steel will never hold the market again.

Also, I totally forgot to mention lights, but you’re right again on that.  LED tech is pushing HID out as it already has halogen.  However, we WILL see more generator light options.

Honestly, I don’t see true cyclocross bikes gaining much more.  I could see that market merging towards a more traditional touring bike or being supplanted by more versatile road bikes.  The weakness of ‘cross bikes is their brake systems.  That’s a more complicated discussion involving disc brakes, UCI politics, and consumer attitudes…i might get to that on my next day off….

Steel has never really gone away.  Granted that most brands have moved away from steel for their low end stuff, but they’ve usually kept at least one steel bike in the line.  And it isn’t like there’s a big gaping hole where the steel bike market use to be…companies like Surly and Soma have filled it in quite nicely.  The only thing missing is the marketing dollars for ads…the bikes are still there.

I’m made in Taiwan…I’d like to think of myself as a quality individual, but the ladies sometimes treat me like a cheap toy…which isn’t always a bad thing.

The ‘cross market isn’t nearly what it use to be.  Most companies accept that more people will buy their ‘cross model for utilitarian purposes rather than racing.  Mark hit the nail on the head…it’s not really a ‘cross market anymore.  I’ll bet Salsa sells a bunch of their La Cruz framesets and bikes this year.  I can’t believe it took someone that long to come out with an affordable steel disc-brake only road/‘cross bike.

I’d like to make my own observation/prediction:  The fixed gear boom will slow down, if not die.  The counter-cultural appeal of fixed gear is starting to wear thin.  I see as many single-speed bikes with only a front brake as I do fixed gear bikes.  It’s getting a bit contrived.


Steel framed cross, touring, or “commuter” frames are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and distribute compared to the carbon fiber frames, even though the CF process is becoming more accessible.  The real advantage to the steel frame aside from price, is of course the ride quality.  This is especially important for the commuter.  Many steel frames on the market today are already geared for that purpose with options for fenders, panniers, etc.

Unfortunately steel remains a niche material.  Most steel frame makers are marketing to the snobby bohemian cult crowd who wouldn’t be caught dead on carbon fiber.  As pointed out many even shun brakes.  As a result of this, the price of the best steel frames remains relatively high.  You also have the issue of durability.  Steel frames will survive a crash, but may not survive several seasons of wet commuting without significant maintenance required.  On that note, carbon fiber will remain durable in rain, snow/salt, and sand, but if you crash it better be ready to shell out 2 or 3 grand for a new frame/fork.

In all, aluminum is still a very viable option.  It is light, stiff, won’t rust, and is fairly inexpensive; particularly with the rise of carbon fiber.  Like in everything, the newest and latest is always replaced by the newest and latest.  Aluminum may not be the sexy material du jour, but it will not go away, and as the price continues to drop, I’ll bet we see a comeback.

I don’t think Ti’s gone away either, including advances like the tubes [on the Hotspur](/tag/hotspur).