Wednesday, February 3, 2010

hard-to-categorize

At HC, we have a stack of old cycling periodicals. My favorites are the Bicycling Magazines of the 1970s. Here's one cover from October, 1977.

For the life of me, I can't understand how this fellow managed to keep his polyester bell-bottoms out of the chain. But, damn, does he look good!

If we look past the haute couture, which isn't easy, we see the depiction of a cyclist carrying his bike through the woods. I can only assume that he was out riding trails, and portaging the bicycle from one trail to another. Looks like my kinda cycling! This is actually a fairly typical cover shot from 1970s Bicycling. Somewhere I have another cover showing a guy pushing a rod-brake Raleigh roadster in some mountainous offroad terrain. And then there's the kid riding a homebrewed mixte-turned-cargo-bike on a wooded path...

These 1970s covers were shot before anybody had any inkling of the concept of the term "mountain bike". Since there were no mountain bikes yet, there were no road bikes either. Bikes were bikes. Of course, 10 years later, mountain bikes were all the rage, and the idea of riding a 10-speed "road bike" on trails suddenly seemed like something only crazy people would do. Since then, road and mountain bikes have evolved into increasingly specialized machines, each model optimized for one specific type of riding. The idea of a do-it-all bike was marginalized to the low-end of product lines, and marketed to uncommitted novices with demeaning names like "hybrid" and "comfort bike" and "city bike".

At HC, we fancy ourselves to be a small part of what seems to be a growing wave of a return to bikes that are suitable for all-around cycling. I am frequently asked by customers to categorize the bikes we sell. The educated consumer needs categories to make informed decisions supposedly, but I fail miserably at categorization. I feel silly talking about "mountain bikes" in Minnesota, since we have no mountains within 1000 miles. And the term "road bike" is worthless as a descriptor, since any bicycle can be ridden on roads. A Surly LHT is marketed as a "touring bike", but it's a great bike for lots of people who have no aspirations of loading up with 75 lbs of crap and riding across the continent. So I hesitate to use the term "touring bike" because I don't want to alienate non-tourists who should be riding a LHT. Grant Petersen at Rivendell, who, I assume, is as frustrated with inane categories as I am, coined the term "Country Bike", which paints a nice picture in my mental landscape. But it turns out that Grant's Rivendell Country Bikes make wonderful City Bikes, and, let's face it, we at HC are city dwellers who ride bikes in the city. Of course, the term "City Bike" has a whole 'nother connotation, which I'd rather not discuss... And on top of all that, how the hell am I supposed to define the Pugsley!

Stereotyping bikes is about as useful and as dangerous as stereotyping people, so I'm going to try to stop doing it. No more categories!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where did you find all of the olde tyme Bicycling issues? Did they have 'Style-Man' then? What did they have to write about since energy bars didn't exist (no way to have an energy bar compaison shoot-out). Nor could they have $/gram analysis for switching out your steel chainrings for titanium.
And I don't think Rapha was around yet, so they couldn't have models modeling tweedy cycling outfits. When I think of the 1970's, I think of cheap gas and crummy bikes with steel rims and rotten brakes.

Cheers - David.

Shaun said...

Excellent post! Recently on an online commuting forum, someone was asking for recommendations for a fenderable, 700c, steel-framed bike with disk brakes that could be used for year 'round commuting. I suggested the Salsa Fargo and a couple of responders scoffed at the idea that I'd recommend a "29er" for commuting. In another instance of ridiculous categorization; I was riding my Atlantis on RAGBRAI (shod with 38mm tires, fenders, rack, etc.). I was talking to a group of riders and one of them suggested that the ride would be easier for me on a "proper" road bike. Huh? Anyway, I agree. No more bike categorization!

Chad Parrish said...

So Hiawatha Cyclery sponsored Pugsley racing at the velodrome this weekend???

jim_h said...

I wonder if I still have those pants..

Anonymous said...

Good luck with that! Let me know how it works out... Val

Joboo said...

a bike, is a bike, is a bike!!
one choose's to ride whatever he/she wants to.
if someone wants to ride a Surly Pugsley year round have at it!! (raising my hand to this one!)
why do we have to but labels on things??
we are the ones who have to make our bike choice go, and we reap the benifits!!
to each their own, and to each good health for whatever you ride!!!

Peace,
Joboo

Pete said...

Great post!

MplsMTB said...

I like your perspective and your take on the bike industry/market.