Friday, 29 November 2013
What Grinds my Gears #1 - The Conspiracy of Change!
Mike Kazimer posted an article on Pinkbike.com where talks about the fear of change, and I like the fact that he speaks his mind in that matter. I think we have too much fake objectivity in some articles these days, so I appreciate an honest angle. It doesn't change the fact that I don't agree with most of what he wrote, and here is my take on it. I have wanted to write it since a long time and that article finaly motivated me to get those thoughts off my head. The 650b wheel size frenzy will be used as an example to explain how the gears of "innovation" and "change" work, and that is because at least in my books it is a small tweak with quite big consequences.
Link to the article on Pinkbike
If I had a large bike company and wanted to increase or eventually maintain profits, the follwing would be a perfectly logical thing to do: make people buy complete bikes rather than encourage them to build them themselves, especially if that involves getting replacement parts from second hand market. I would like people to buy my complete bikes because every single participant of a process of delivering a bike to a customer, frame makers, component makers and finaly shop owners, benefits from handling large volumes of products at the same time. You order 10 000 cranksets from one vendor for 10 000 complete bikes, 20 000 wheels, 20 000 tyres, rims and hubs. That creates more profit in less time than a situation where you order 220 cranksets 168 forks per 500 frames, few times a year in order to sell them to small shops. It is just a tougher job, apart from the fact that when you order vast amounts, you get a better price. Accounting isn't cheap either. If you make frames you get better price for 10k cranksets, if you make 10k cranksets you get better price for tooling, manufacturing and materials. If you order 200 bikes to the shop you also get a good price.
Now if you grow large enough you get share holders, who give you money for investments in exchange for participating in your profits. It is like taking a loan in the bank but more sophisticated. Thanks to that mechanism, you get additional funds giving you a possibility to produce 500 000 bikes, where without them, even with loans you wouldn't order more than 50 000. Some share holders might want take active part in where the company is going, but some of them are just people who buy shares in your company only as investment, as source of income - they are doing other things in life. They don't care that much if you are selling orange or pink bikes that have 20mm or 15mm axles - they want a number on the account balance to look good. All share holders are interested in the numbers regardless if they cycle or play golf. If you don't provide profits for them, they leave you (at best), and that is a big deal because now you are dependent on them. It is a self propelling scheme of corporation - once you are not on your own, it stops being your own motivation - you have to deliver, thus you must make new ways of creating profits. One of those ways is destandarization. I underline it as one of those ways. If you make enough parts incompatible, you create an incentive to buy a new complete bike instead of just changing few parts. How much does it take you to pick a new fork to fit your frame, wheel size, wheel axle, then suit best your riding style, your trails and your wallet size? Probably weeks! An average person gets as frustrated as you when he has to choose a new part, but he might not be as motivated as you to get it just that right, he might just want to buy a new bike and skip the pain of choosing! Most importantly, the average Joe is the buying force, we - nerds are irrelevant, we are bloody whiny little basterds, never paying MSRP, checking up ebay and classifieds looking for a deal where a rich bugger sells his super bike cheap after he got bored of it.
It isn't conspiracy - it is common sense of todays business, they don't have to conspire, they cooperate. But on that note... if they don't talk to each other that much, how the hell did the latest 650B hysteria happen? If you had a company making frames and buying components, as company which has their own logo on the frame does, in what other way would you fix that if not talking to fork, rim and tyre producers, and order large volumes?! It's not just making a new batch of forks as every year, your suppliers must spend some money on R&D at your command to give you those products. It doesn't matter what it is, if something changes in size, that has to be drawn on a computer, casts, jigs or whatever has to be made, then most importantly testing must be done. All that takes more time and effort than the annual "make up". Changing of a wheel diameter is special because it requires coordination of redesigning few key components of a bicycle at once. How can you explain why suddenly nearly every manufacturer has 650B bikes? Many companies still kit their bikes with tyres from few different manufacturers, do you think a company like Charge bicycles could make that just like that? Hello, this is Jonas from Charge bikes! We want to order 66 Highrollers 2.4 in a new size, 122 Ardents and 46 Minions DHF - can you recalibrate your production line to fit rims of ETRTO of 584mm and make sure tyres sit well on rims on which we have next to no data? And then he calls Schwalbe and consequently Continental and gives similar numbers on Nobby Nics, Mountain Kings and so on. Or is it rather a domain of companies like Giant, Trek or Cube? Hi this is Donald Thumb from Giant, I want to order 125 000 tyres of various type in a new wheel size, I will send you full specification. How unlikely is it that a guy from Maxxis called Bill at Trek and Pierre Ricard at Mavic who called Franz at Continental and Helmut at Schwalbe? Conspiracy theory... it is called reality for fudge sake...
So yes, companies in the industry DO make a lot of arrangements between themselves although only a fool would call it conspiracy theory. Just as only a fool would call it conspiracy and not acknolwedge the fact that if you stop inventing (or redrawing) stuff, people will just stop buying bikes... would you buy a new bike, if the one you have worked perfectly and you wouldn't see anything new? If you see something new, don't you have the urge to try it, as opposed to not seeing it? Would you, as a manufacturer, survive if people stopped buying bikes because they are happy with the bike you sold them 5 years ago? Some of those changes are pushing as forward and some are pushing us sideways, then every once in a while a breakthrough happens. But throwing all innovations and all "change" into one bag like brakes, suspension and wheelsize is ridiculous! It is the most frequently heard argument, when someone tries to ditch ciritical thinking and glorify all progress, and Mike uses it as well in his article: "people were saying the same about cantilver brakes and suspension". It is like taking ABS, traction control and parking sensor and justifying the comparison as if those devices were means of not screatching your car... get it, not all progress will get you over the mountain top, even though from a manufacturer point of view you could feel like presenting it this way. The thing is whether you sell it as somethign new or as a breakthrough - a line between information and bullshit.
I am not affraid of change, I just like changes that matter - not tiny optimizations that have large scale consequences, making more bad than good in the greater scheme of things. Bikes are about complete package, not elements, a bike with 650B may be done as a great bike that will become a subject of your wet dreams after you tested it... just as a bike with any other wheel size. That doesn't change the fact that I may not like the whole arrangement behind it, that I may not like that certain companies try to fool me, by presenting it as a big progress, while it is a very small improvement, even the race record doesn't prove that. I find it to be a perfectly normal reaction for people to speak up, when someone tries to make idiots out of them.
Why do I think I am not affraid of change and I think smart about above? Because I like fat bikes but I don't like 650B, because I don't like XX1 11sp, but I like narrow wide chain rings, or because I like carbon frames, but don't like carbon in rear derailleurs or disc rotors...
I rest my case...
Stay in touch, this weekend I shall publish a leak from one of major companies, that will put a new light wheel-size debate! Until then you have all the comment space to express your emotions! Please do!