The unexpected popularity of Cycling iQ’s ‘Vertical limit’ series of articles, reviewing twenty years of change in the bicycle industry – from the first days of mail-order to the present dynamic online marketplace – appears to justify a separate page.
It’s recommended to start with the prelude, then click through the series via links at the end of each post. Otherwise, a quick intro to each article is included below so readers short on time can start with whatever part sounds the most appealing.
Hope you find it interesting.
Prelude: Bicycle business under pressure
Accessibility used to be all that stood between a bicycle brand and a consumer. Today, it’s more complicated. Multiple business models co-exist, creating a plethora of purchasing options for consumers. It is both exciting and confronting. Every node in the supply chain, from factories to bicycle retailers, must be profitable to survive the new paradigm. But how?
Part one: Blissful detachment, export utopia
1991. Shimano STI was introduced, Miguel Indurain’s five-year Tour de France dominance began, teens moshed to ‘Nevermind’, and the World Wide Web officially launched to the public. Bicycles were purchased in bike shops and carbon fiber frames were often of dubious quality. But thanks to a surge in exports from the US and Europe, at least we could finally get some good stuff – at a price.
Part two: Bicycle industry supply chains
2011 is a fine time to be a consumer of cycling equipment. Brands and their downstream re-sellers are clambering over each other to cut through the noise created from market re-structuring. Many players in the bicycle industry have been left stranded as they’ve failed to adapt to a new competitive normality. The only trick left in their toolbox is to slash prices. It’s a buyer’s market. Unlike two decades earlier. What’s changed?
Part three: The long and short of bicycle manufacturing
Free-market capitalism, a cycling boom and supply-chain protectionism made the 1990’s a financial boon for bicycle brands, their distributors and retailers. The highly profitable business model of selling bicycles manifested in scaled-up physical supply nodes designed to cope with increasing volumes and demand. It was a comfortable situation for all.
Part four: 10 years on, the first cracks appear
Year 2001. Taiwanese OEM production hummed along, retail prices were buoyant, and cycling was enjoying an upswing in popularity across the Asia-Pacific region. However, as the new millennium’s first decade matured, so too did a trio of inter-related trends that would upset the bicycle industry’s delicate ecosystem and threaten to explode into a full-blown zero-sum contagion.
Part five: what just happened?
The emergence of e-commerce in the bicycle market was an affront to almost every aspect of an industry business model that had for years thrived on handshakes, muffin-toting sales representatives and the seductive embrace of high margins. Though online stores had essentially evolved in full public view, a majority of the bicycle industry’s distributors and retailers were blindsided.
Part six: surviving compression fatigue
Consumers of cycling products have been taken for quite a ride during the last two decades. Bicycle brands, their distributors and retailers, demonstrated a remarkable endurance and capacity to sustain a profitable, trust-based supply chain model that ultimately could not resist a swell in capitalistic desire urged forward by the confluence of global trade re-structuring and technological empowerment.