Premier Bike deserves a special mention because they delivered the most unique, best-executed debut bike and case and build/fulfillment customer experience, and they are making the chains and pulleys now and undermining CeramicSpeed. Strava took a big step with algorithmic presentation and non-activity communication, and the service continues it's rise as possibly the most important social force in these sports. I think Strava wins service of the year honors, Premier Bike wins the small company / start-up product(s) of the year, and 3T wins product of the year for an established firm.
But I am still mystified at what doesn't exist and/or what continues to be totally awful as I observe systemic declines in the sport. Why aren't the incumbent firms innovating faster and better? Why is this space so ripe for disruption but not really being disrupted? Is the decline in participation partially the result of the industry's failure to disrupt itself?
Service-Only LBS: Is there a bigger problem for cycling and triathlon than the demise of the local bike shop? Think of this like a medical office or other staid commercial space where you go and bring your bike for mechanical services and maybe services like fits as well as installation of products sold directly to the consumer online. This place would stock BBs and other small parts necessary for common mechanical work, but they would not charge me outrageous amounts to offset the cost of the bricks. The guys working at some of these places are often jerks and I would be too if I made $11 per hour for work that should command twice that, at least, but I can't be paid that because of the retail overhead. The cycle is ugly.
Mobile LBS: This is supplementary. One of the mechanics from the Services LBS comes to your house to help fit you or simply wrench on your bike while a qualified person fits you remotely (we'll get to this). Why aren't $12 per hour mechanics who have a following of loyal clients at their LBS branching off and doing something like this? They aren't thinking or don't know how to market themselves and their services or aren't backed by the manufacturers and product companies who should be their ally.
Group/Community Rides IRL: You can find all these people to ride with virtually, but you increasingly cannot find anyone or a group to ride with on a nice day. There has to be a strategy for us to facilitate group rides in real life, because these shared experiences are what bring new people into the sport and help them get over their fears and eventually walk the marathon at an IRONMAN.
Bike shops today are failing to sustain the community and social aspects of the sport that are its foundation. Digital communities are emerging like this one, but not all of them spread offline. When is the last time you rode with someone you met on Zwift? Someone could and should step in. Strava may be best suited to facilitate local and hyper-local interaction, because their platform is how I have found almost everyone I ride with, outside of slowtwitch, but they are a very focused and conservative company that is content to grow the customer base patiently and keep the product itself simple and effective. As a social institution and agent for community, Strava may be the most valuable service we have. Private messaging on Strava would go a long way, and maybe that's part of the freemium model. Making 'events' for individuals rather than their poorly executed challenges and groups, or for riders in a specific location to get out there together. So basically Zwift, but with real life rides? Meet ups, but like, we can actually meet up. It's nice out.
Peloton Competitor: Local shops and performance cycling studios are all but dead, but Peloton is crushing it, and it irks me because it is such a lame and embarrassing product and because that customer is someone who could and would be better served by a different product and maybe by a more serious performance application. That person may be more enriched by actual cycling, both indoors and outdoors.
There's a better product. The product is something like a combination of the Wahoo Kickr with an LCD display/computing system that is svelte and beautiful and adjustable and can run all the apps, including Zwift / TrainerRoad and even provide entertainment from Netflix / Sling TV, and instead of being locked into the hardware indoors, it ships with an entry level bicycle that can be removed from the system and ridden outside on a nice day. This kind of product could be offered for $2,000 and the system wouldn't see rapid obsolescence as technology advances. And it would help this sport. We laughed at the SpeedX Unicorn, but these guys have the right idea because that bike is like a combination of Peleton for normals but with competitive / performance cycling product elements.
Products like this offer a platform to introduce the cycling and fitness experience to others who through this product come to be more serious about it and maybe even to love this sport that is dying partly because it doesn't have an acquisition strategy (or a retention strategy for the athletes WTC IRONMAN chews up and spits out penniless and soul broken, but that's another thread).
Virtual Fit: Fits are important for performance and comfort, and they are a critical part of the bike purchase experience, but there are few spaces I can think of where the incompetence is so prevalent. Let's fix that. What's going on that I can't pay Luscan or Steinmetz or someone like that to analyze and respond to videos of me riding on the trainer on a new bike (i.e. for consulting as I dial in a fit)? Why is there no transactional services marketplace for bike fitting? Bill me like a lawyer at 0.3 increments. Bill me by the video. Bill me somehow but don't make me go to Manhattan or Atlanta or Denver to find competence. I am not a fitter, but I am better than most, and I have been helping a few people remotely and entirely remotely. The model works, and I don't see why it isn't the future model and a better model for an objective that is fundamentally iterative and episodic. All those fit systems and lasers are tools, sure, bu in general the people who peddle them are also tools. Very few of us need that nonsense.
This is a real business opportunity if a fitrepreneur can not only sell himself but take a cut from the sales of others by introducing a commercial platform for those sales. Bonus points if he can figure out how to also sell bikes and set them up. These ideas aren't mutually exclusive.
SRAM Products: There has rarely been a more attractive business opportunity for SRAM than proprietary 1x, but they continue to not deliver anything for the road 18 months after eulogizing the front derailleur offroad. Once again, the opportunity to lock up a SRAM hub standard (the XDR driver) presents itself and yet they don't even seem to be working on road 1x. We got a rear derailleur for eTap that is non clutch and works up to 36 teeth. 1x and disc braking are the biggest product changes that this space has seen in years, and SRAM could corner the market with aggressive introduction and deployment of a few cassettes and a 12 speed road groupset for the road. Wake up SRAM!
3T gets all this. SuperDave makes the point that your bike hasn't really improved since 2010. You got one extra cog since the original Di2, but what else has changed? Sadly 3T isn't a cold forging company like Shimano -- they are a carbon fiber component company -- so they are having trouble making the 1x component, the 9T or 10T cassette, I suspect, that functions (i.e. shifts) as it ought to, which is to say, like a SRAM or Shimano cassette but with the right cogs. And 3T can't make a groupset so their hands are tied beyond giving us a cassette and a few great and innovative bicycles.
Zipp: Same company. But really, these guys are giving us outlandishly priced whale wheels. All I want is a very wide (22-23mm ID), very light, fast, tubeless ready 404 with disc braking. Actually, I want any company to give me that in a 50mm to 60mm depth. Zipp spent so much time with marine life that the 303 tubeless disc that came out was uncharacteristically bad -- heavy, and with unimpressive spec. But the 454 858 things, come on. We don't want more expensive wheels! We want better wheels at the same price. We want wheels that stop the bike in rain. The price cannot go higher and probably needs to go much lower. Soon, the China contingent will get to market. In mountain biking, I only buy wheels now from a firm called Nextie, because they rock and are $250 per rim and the braking is just as good as name brand wheels because that happens at the rotor now and not the rim. This will surely happen for me on the road, and I'll never buy from Zipp or Enve again when the Chinese firms catch up. But Zipp is going in the opposite direction. Dumb.
Shimano: It's tough to pick on these guys, because nearly everything they make is great. But same complaint as SRAM --why aren't they releasing a hub body driver for 9T or 10T and giving us amazing options for 1x on the road. This is a cold forging company but sadly they can't give me a group that would materially improve my road riding experience. SRAM ate Shimano offroad through strategic (or so it seemed) promulgation of the XD Driver and requisite cassette, which provided for a 10T and vastly increased range, so why didn't Shimano learn from this? Synchro Shift made sense off road, right? Right? Wrong. That was dead on arrival. Synchro Shift is seeing a bit more adoption on the road but only because we don't have cassettes for 1x. This is all so circular.
TriRig/Premier Bike/Culprit: The small guys are the light in the product space, but there are problems. We need a company in our space that thinks like Culprit -- the flat kit and stem ideation is great, even as it probably will never get to market; that designs and deliver aesthetically like TriRig; and executes/manufacturers like Premier Bike. This company needs to emerge because these three companies have fatal flaws. Culprit doesn't know how to get products funded and marketed and sold directly to consumers; TriRig has lapses and failures in execution via questionable manufacturing; and Premier Bike doesn't care how offensively ugly the color schemes and logos are. TriRig especially is innovating very fast and probably too fast, because quality design means little when the execution could cost you a collarbone. Premier Bike and TriRig would be the perfect match for a joint venture, but that will never happen.
Others: I have other small ideas. CeeGees needs competition. X-Lab needs competition. Dash especially needs competition and mass market adoption -- they make these saddles and they are great, but they are also crazy expensive and I have to buy it to try it (and risk having to interact with Weston). How insane is that? Send me the saddle and charge me for it, but refund my money when I hate it. This is how everything works now, but somehow component companies in our space get away without offering demo or trial periods for products that are totally personal and experiential. Let me return the saddle I don't like and then sell me on an alternative. Pay my return shipping. Basic stuff.
Anyways, these are all opportunities both to make money and to grow the sport. I hope that individuals and companies accelerate disruption in all of these spaces -- services and products for cycling and multisport -- and in a way that might slow or reverse the inexorable slide in multi-sport and performance cycling participation. While my money is on Dan Kennison/Premier Bike, 3T, 51 Speedshop, and a few others in the services realm, I don't know that it's enough to offset the cratering. The sport is dying because nobody or few are developing and selling products that would help attract new people, who may ultimately sustain it and grow it, like a WahooX Unicorn, and because nobody or few are developing services to foster the real-life community experience that will be lost if and when shops fold, like a Strava or a Zwift for real life riding and interaction.
I'm off to ride. Happy New Year.