This was the article I mentioned previously I read on the SF to DEN leg of United on their in flight magazine Hemispheres. It is a fairly interesting article and can be applied to lots of great efforts to research trends and push your product line and company to maintain its market leader stance as Shimano really needs to do in the post Armstrong industry slump:
Geared to Grow
In 2002, the American bicycling industry was cranking. Lance Armstrong’s comeback from cancer to dominate the Tour de France was inspiring thousands of bikers to ditch their old-fashioned clunkers and trade up to high-tech models costing $5,000 and more. Few companies benefited more than Shimano.
The Intel of the bike industry, Shimano is a Japanese company that manufactures the crucial components in high-performance bicycles. Its shifters, cranks, and derailleurs propel the top models from Trek, Giant, Raleigh, and other brands. The more multithousand-dollar models sold—TCT Carbon/ZR 9000s, TCR C0s, and others—the bigger Shimano’s bottom line. And at $1.4 billion in 2005 sales, that bottom line is the biggest in the business.
But what would happen when Armstrong retired? A Bicycling Magazine survey had revealed a troubling trend: While the number of “enthusiasts” had more than tripled in the previous decade, the number of casual bikers had dropped nearly 50 percent. “The total number was dying off,” says Dave Lawrence, the marketing manager for Shimano’s American bicycle components division. “We weren’t creating new customers.”
Research had shown that there were more than 160 million Americans currently not riding bikes—an enormous potential market. Why weren’t they cycling? And how could they be persuaded to get back in the saddle? The surprising answers inspired Shimano to design a new bicycle and try to shape the future of the bicycle industry.
Learning a New Language / Shimano knew it was expert at preaching to the converted—the cycling cognoscenti who had no qualms about wearing garish-colored, skintight shorts. But, recalls Shimano American project coordinator Shannon Bryant, it didn’t know how to start a conversation with newcomers.
The “interpreter” the company chose was Ideo, an innovation and design business based in Palo Alto, California. The decision to go with a company known for designing Amtrak’s Acela express train, Marriott’s TownePlace suites, and an ideal shopping cart initially raised a few eyebrows: Shimano didn’t want an object, after all; it wanted a solution.
Ideo’s unique research procedure convinced the doubters. Instead of hosting focus groups or sending out thousands of surveys, Ideo’s team of industrial anthropologists observed and questioned about 50 people in their homes during the course of their day. “We are good at understanding—at a more profound level than they can articulate—how they feel about a given area or topic,” says David Webster, the Ideo manager who directed the Shimano project. “We spend time getting them to show us the things they do for leisure, rather than sitting them in a room and saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you get on a bike?’”
The other deal-clincher was Ideo’s invitation to Shimano personnel to join the project team—literally. As part of this “radical collaboration,” Lawrence and another Shimano manager decamped from the corporate headquarters in Irvine, California, to Palo Alto for months at a time.
As self-confessed bicycle nerds, Webster, Lawrence, and the rest of the Ideo team knew they had to suspend judgment of their noncycling subjects. Nonetheless, they couldn’t help betting that the usual reasons—heaviness and laziness—were why Americans weren’t biking. As it turned out, recalls Webster, “that wasn’t the case.”
In fact, the findings were unexpected. “It was one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments,” says Bryant. “We had never thought of it that way.” Adds Lawrence, “That’s why the process with Ideo was so important. We got to the essence of why people didn’t ride.” The most surprising insight was not that people didn’t like bicycling. On the contrary, they loved it. Or, rather, they loved their memory of it. “Everyone rode a bike as a kid, and we didn’t have a single interview where they had a bad memory,” says Lawrence. “Every single person had a smile.”
The strand that all the subjects shared was a memory of a simple pleasure, an elemental enjoyment. “That was the biggest insight, because that is at odds with anything you could access within cycling at the moment,” says Webster. “If someone walks into a bike shop with that image in mind, it’s immediately contradicted. Usually, there will be a man in the shop who wants to talk about technology and performance and give you loads of options about gears that you don’t understand.” As a result, Webster says, “these people were just turned off by cycling. They weren’t seeing a way to enjoy a bike the way they used to.”
With that revelation, the research team stopped viewing its market the way it used to. Although the team was disappointed that people just wanted to putter around rather than become fitness freaks, the group realized it had tapped into a potential gold mine. Lawrence recalls thinking, “Wow, that opens up a much bigger market than we had thought.”
Back to the Future / But how do you reach a market that emphatically rejects what you’ve been offering? The initial answer: Design a new bicycle— one that looks to the past to change the industry’s future.
There was just one glitch: Shimano doesn’t sell bikes; it sells components. To realize its vision of bringing cycling back to the masses who had abandoned it, Shimano would have to convince the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that this was no mere marketing gimmick. “We didn’t want it perceived as Shimano thinking up a new thing and forcing it on the industry,” says Lawrence.
The team set out to build a prototype that would epitomize what the research suggested people wanted: something simple, comfortable, affordable, and always ready to use; something traditional yet innovative; something designed less for fitness and more for fun.
Any and all ideas were considered. An attachment enabling you to Velcro the bike to your car. Built-in coffee-cup holders on the handlebars. Built-in reflecting lights on the tires. A built-in flower vase. A bell with electronic ring tones that could be downloaded and customized. At one point, Webster recalls, “we were riding in the alley behind our office on a bicycle with a steering wheel.”
The finished Coasting bike, as the new model was called, doesn’t look at all outré or even particularly innovative. The handlebars are high enough to enable the rider to sit upright, and the crossbar is low enough to let the rider step naturally into the seat. On the whole, it’s a bike that blends into the background.
The difference is in the details. All the mechanics—the gear and brake cables, the drive train—are completely enclosed. You don’t see them and don’t have to wear trouser clips or worry about chain grease on your leg. The three-speed shift system is powered by a dynamo in the front-wheel hub that senses your speed and automatically shifts up or down and defaults to first gear whenever you stop. The brakes are the same foot-operated ones—just pedal backward—that were standard on bikes everyone had as kids. The whole thing weighs less than 30 pounds and costs less than $400.
Shimano presented the prototype to Raleigh, Giant, and Trek in late 2005 and encouraged them to tailor it to their own company style. “You have to think of design as a tool to influence rather than control,” says Webster. “We had to provide the OEMs with a reference design but then let them build their own versions.”
Raleigh, for instance, designed a front rack that can hold a pannier or basket for a small amount of groceries. Trek created a peel-on color kit in six shades and a pocket in the seat for storing a cell phone, wallet, sunglasses, and lipstick. Giant added a cell phone holder, an MP3 holder, a front handlebar bag with a headlight, and a rack in the back equipped with a foam-protected attaché case for a laptop and a file folder.
Meanwhile, word of the Coasting bike was spreading among dealers. “We were being asked about this project before the bike hit the street,” says Chris Speyer, the director of group product development for Raleigh America. And when dealers finally got a chance to test the prototypes, the OEMs knew they had a potential winner. “People were riding them around in the hall at TrekWorld, and they all got off smiling,” says Chad Price, the pavement-bike product manager for Trek Bicycle.
Expanding the Experience / Designing the product was just the first step in revitalizing the bicycle industry. “When we design, we try to think not just about the object, but also about the experience the object enables,” says Webster. The Coasting momentum would come to a screeching halt unless the retail experience was also redesigned.
Ideo equipped team members with hidden cameras and had them follow ordinary people into bike shops. The results were revealing. Consumers often were confused by the myriad offerings: road bikes, racing bikes, hybrid bikes, comfort bikes, recumbent bikes, and mountain bikes, just to name some basic categories. Many were intimidated by the staff as well. “It’s scary to see this shaved-leg, extremely fit cycling guru who talks in jargon and technical terms and say, ‘I just want a bike,’” says Ray Keener, the president of Growth Cycle, a producer of training programs for the bicycle industry based in Boulder, Colorado.
The typical reaction? “They run out of the store screaming,” says Jay Graves, who owns The Bike Gallery, the largest independent dealer in Portland, Oregon.
To give bike aficionados a taste of their own medicine, the Coasting team gave OEM representatives and a select group of dealers an assignment: Go to a cosmetics counter and buy $50 worth of products. The memory of facing down a battery of face creams and hair gels still makes Trek’s Price cringe. “I was genuinely uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to ask for or where to start,” he says. “It was exactly the same feeling I saw in the people in the Ideo videos—‘I have no idea what I’m doing here.’”
Obviously, not every bicycle dealer has the time or the resources to send sales staff in search of high-end grooming products. But Shimano aims to make dealers more sympathetic to—or at least aware of—the needs of noncyclists through online training and DVDs. If sales staff can transfer their enthusiasm from carbon composites to the wider world of cycling, the hypothesis goes, then they can speak the same language as Coasting customers. “You’re not selling equipment; you’re selling the sport of cycling,” explains Keener, whose Growth Cycle created the training program. “The gear is a means to an end.”
Bikes and Ice Cream / The final and perhaps most crucial component of the Coasting campaign will be ensuring that customers have a good experience riding the bike. Safety was an enormous concern of the people interviewed by the Coasting team. “They’d say, ‘I don’t care what the bike is like. If you expect me to get on a road with those crazy SUVs, you must be kidding,’” says Webster.
Fortunately, the number of protected pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians has multiplied in recent years. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with nearly 14,000 miles of rail-trail paths completed and another 14,000 miles in the works. (Rail trails are former railway lines that have been converted to paths for recreation.) More and more cities are adding greenways and designated safe routes to schools. “Had we tried 10 years ago to do a program like Coasting, there wouldn’t have been enough trails,” says Shimano’s Bryant. “Today, there are so many more safe places to ride.”
Shimano’s next push is to inform casual cyclists of the routes’ existence. A Web site, coasting.com, will serve as a community bulletin board with information about routes and rides in 15 cities around the U.S. Authorized Coasting dealers are required to submit at least one Coasting-specific activity in their area.
Portland is one of the cities chosen for the initial Coasting campaign, kicking off this month. Jay Graves has plenty of ideas for attracting customers, including providing Coasting bikes for monthly First Thursday tours of the city’s art gallery district or holding demo days when people can stop by for a free tryout. “On other days, we’ll do a bakery tour or an Audubon tour or an ice cream shop tour on Coasting bikes,” he says. “People think ‘bikes and ice cream,’ and they’re in heaven.”
Will the Coasting campaign persuade 160 million noncycling Americans to start peddling and relive their childhood dreams? With Armstrong’s retirement from competition, this may be the best hope for the American bicycle industry not just to survive but also to thrive. OEMs are optimistic. The Coasting model, says Price, “looks like it will be our No. 1 bike by volume by the end of 2007.”
Catherine Fredman has collaborated on five best-selling business books, including Use the News with Maria Bartiromo and Direct From Dell with Michael Dell.
After a season of setbacks, Jonathan Page did the unimaginable by becoming the first American pro cyclocrosser to finish on the podium at the World Championships. Starting in the fourth row back, he slowly worked his way through the field. In fact, he did not even realize that mid-way through the race he was in the lead; cyclocross is so hectic and the crowd noise was so loud that he was not able to tell where he was in the race. In the end, reigning World Champ Erwin Vervecken was able to bridge up to Jonathan, and after a nail-biting last lap managed to get a three second gap. An unbelievable result for Jonathan, and we’re very proud that he was able to achieve this historic result on a prototype R3X.
Which of course begs the question: What is an R3X? The answer starts back to 2004, when we began the development of a cross version of the R2.5, specifically for Jonathan, at that time already a multiple US cyclocross champion. Halfway through its development, we decided to change to the R3 platform. Not only did this open up the opportunity to increase the stiffness of the frame and the tire clearance, it also allowed us to construct the world's lightest cyclocross frame while at the same time making it the strongest.
Jonathan Page received the final pre-production frames just two weeks before the 2006 Cyclocross World Championships. He tested them, liked them and rode them to an impressive 10th place finish, the highest finish ever for a US cyclocross rider in a pro world championship. The development of the frame continued based on some of Jonathan's feedback. His season was interrupted by a torn rotator cuff but his incredible ride at the 2007 Worlds proves that both Jonathan and the Cervélo R3 are still on the way up.
There is actually not that much difference between the regular R3 and the R3 Cross, as the road-going version was designed with Paris-Roubaix in mind and is already plenty strong. The biggest difference is in the geometry of the front end (to accommodate the cross fork) and in the seatstays, which require pegs for the cantilever brakes. Though we have not assigned a release date yet for the R3 Cross, if it goes into production you will read about it first here in eNews.
Dirk Friel is an invaluable resource to cycling and to the Rocky Mounts team in particular as a key sponsor of the squad in '07 via his company TrainingPeaks. He will be personally walking us through the software underpinning the TP methodology and sharing his personal experiences with the gods of the sport as his company is now being embraced by major ProTour squads such as Astana. This vid is classic and shows how Dirk is "embedded" with the teams he is instructing the use of the training software on. It goes a LONG way when your coach can keep up with you as a pro rider (Dirk's a fomer pro...but running a business now in TrainingPeaks!) and have him REALLY understand your specific needs.
I posted about this GVA previously (my pics from the post got nuked via the site I referenced them) but came across this little gem set to some Rage. Nice. We're going to get this going on here next year:
This is some old school BMX right here and I am salivating.
Well, we finally got this thing together and launched! Herding kittens through a door simultaneously is a pretty complex endeavor but the team managers and I got the sponsors, kits and everything else lined up and ready for last night's kickoff. We had a great turnout with the majority of the racers and lots of their wives and kids. The agenda was to lay out the ground work for next year in terms o goals which amount to supporting our devo and women's squads who'll be making a run for it and allowing teh men's categories to break up into their groups by various categories (e.g. Cat 35-4's, 4, 3, 2/1 and of course 35 Opens) to allow each to meet new riders and see friends from last year and share a couple of Dales Old Chub's to talk through what their plans are for the upcoming season. Most of us see each other regularly but this winter has put a damper on things! The sponsors play a major role as well to help us out. Lance G (above) and crew from Izze came by to talk about the company and product which is quite an amazing story of how their "Project Reach" is helping build schools where Izze harvests the fruit used in their beverages. Awesome story and proud to have them as a title sponsor.
All-in-all, I was proud to look across the room last night at the wonderful faces and review the rich history of the squadra. We're going to have aboat load of fun this year and we're stoked!
Here's to 07.
We finally got outside as a group today. Good times, good times. 3 hours and rolling hills mixed with flats. Tons of teams out. We had a good showing with lots of new guys. Varying skills which will fall into place so each cat can ride amongst themselves and gel. I wanted to play today and all that weight work and living like a monk has paid off. More is needed. I played mainly to see who would follow of the new guys to get a feel for what we have to work with this year. New guy Dave W, a former pro MTB'er, is an absolute steal. He's got a great attitude and an equally great motor. He played my game. Others a very cool guys, but we'll have to drill them over and over until they get some road etiquette. Their squad leaders will have to work on them.
All in all great to be on the road. Snow's coming again, but hopefully not in the same volume. It's OK, I need to work harder on strength and core so this is all good to me.
Sorry, no pics, Camera's dead.
Mmm. 48 degrees. Yummy. It's Africa hot as far as I am concerned. Did a nice lunchtime roll and hooking up with my team mates FINALLY so we can spin together on our first ride of the season as a group. enough rollers, enough single speed and CX bikes on the sludgy roads and snowy trails (or now) . I am looking forward to spinning long hours on the roadie with good peeps.
My boys at Ritchey gave me the kind hook up to make the roads feel that much better on my Sycip. Jeremy and Jay Sycip built me this ride in 2001 believe it or not and I can't believe how well it's stiiod the test of time. 1000's and 1000's of miles on this.The new Ritchey stuff is like buttah. I am going with the new Streems to see what that is all about. I tend to ride on the tops of teh bars on the road so this is supposed to be more confortable.
The fork replaces a 6 year old LOOK and this is lighter and carbon from drop outs to steerer.
Seatpost bling will keep my heiney well positioned. I will do a complete write up of these after I have some time on the road. I use WCS everywhere so I expect the reviews will be stellar.
Looking forward to the LSD trip.
More fuel for my "Belgium 2008" chant I say to myself silently every AM.
Ives, from Baginton, just failed to make history in the event by becoming the first rider to win six World Masters Cyclo Cross titles.
He was beaten into silver medal position in the 65+ category by old rival and now five times world champion Herman Martens, three years his junior.
Ives had trained very hard to defend his championship and was a clear winner at the recent British Championships, but it is a very different ball game in Belgium, where the cyclo cross is huge and big events often attract 30,000 spectators.
The course at Mol, which Ives has raced ten times, is very fast and mainly single track through pine forests, with 500m of road and three big sand sections, some of which is rideable, the rest has to be run.
Ives has won the title five times, been second twice and third once. He has also been second three times in the UCI World Road Championships and third once in the UCI World Mountain Bike Championships.
MI Racing-EAS-Thule team mate Barrie Mitchell finished eighth in the 60+ category, just three places behind last year's World Champion Vick Barnett.
Barrie's race went exactly as expected and for the first time in five years he managed to get round without any crashes or problems.
He was happy with 8th, although he was only 15 seconds away from 6th place.
"Racing at Mol is very fast and even small time gaps are very hard to close up. Passing is also a problem as a large section of the course through the woods are on single track paths," he said.
"As usual the large sections of sand are a problem to the English riders as we have nothing like this in the UK.
"You can lose big chunks of time each lap if you are unable to ride through the sand sections. Local Belgians are very good at this as many events in Belgium are centred in sandy areas each weekend."
Richard got negged by Rabo this weekend too. They offered him a lower salary and he said take this job and shve it and drive off in his Bog Foot. He's outtie and will be picked up by another squad to try and get revenge on Rabo-Sven.