This post wasn't really planned, but after talking with the crew, reading Kid's take earlier in the week, and getting comments and emails about Interbike, I thought I'd share a little bit more information about the bike industry and Salsa. My hope is that you learn a little and may even grow to appreciate some of the things that we do here in Salsa land. To understand where I am going with this, you first must understand where Salsa fits in this industry. I'm going to take an incredibly simplistic view for the sake of this blog entry. I'm sure some would argue my categorization.
The bike industry is comprised of the following:
Inventors - I'm grouping all the crazy ideas here, bike or not. These are the crazy folks selling off road tandem recumbents with a detachable unicycle, off road landing parachutes that use Endomorph tires, and underwater baby joggers. You name the crazy somewhat bike related inventions and they fall in this category.
Custom Builders - These are the folks that offer true custom built bicycles to your specific needs, wants and desires.
Parts and Accessories Brands - These companies typically don't produce bicycles or frames. They products parts, accessories and clothing. Salsa is in this category.
Specialty Brands - Tandems, recumbents, etc
BMX - I'm grouping all BMX related folks here. BMX is it's own industry.
Small Brands - These are the folks doing some form of mass production, but in small production runs. Overall sales range from 500-5000 frames/bikes per year. Folks often call brands in this category "niche" brands. Currently, this is where Salsa fits with our frames and bikes.
Mid Size Brands - Mid size brands produce 5000+ frames per year. I don't know the top limit here. Maybe someday I'll find out.
Big Brands - Think Trek, Specialized, Giant etc. May offer some form of all of the above categories.
Each of these categories have a place in the bike industry. In some weird way, we all depend on each other. I'll use the 29" wheel size as an example.
In the beginning, a 29" wheel was a crazy idea brought on by the inventors and the custom builders. I know there has been a lot of talk about who invented it, but in my mind, I credit Wes Williams of Willits because he really fits the inventor persona and early adopter profile. I like Wes too and really respect his designs. He also talked my ear off one day and I was so darn excited after talking to him, I had to try a 29er.
As with all new inventions, it takes a big leap and a big investment to get products produced. This is where the big brands come into play. They are the only ones with the capital and resources to take an idea to the masses. Fisher stepped up and differentiated themselves from the other TREK brands as well as Specialized and Giant.
Thankfully, not all folks wanted a mass produced aluminum bicycle. The custom builders had a hay day and small and mid size brands jumped at the opportunity. Parts and accessory companies started producing components targeted at this new found category.
At this point 29ers are a pretty legit category. P&A, small, mid and big brands are all producing good product in this category. Now what? Well, typically one of two things happen.
1) New inventions that start this life cycle over. Say 650b,69er or 96er. How about 32" or 36"? Lots of custom builders showing 650b bikes at Interbike.
2) Proliferation to other small, mid and big manufacturers. Heck, this year we will also see big box stores with a 29er.
Throughout this cycle, every category keeps a close eye on what the others are doing. Friday Interbike is like a who's who of the bicycle industry. The crowds have settled. Many folks are hung over and not at the show in the morning. Everyone is checking each others stuff out. I love seeing who comes to the Salsa booth to see our latest creations, colors, style, etc. I can tell you, we see A LOT of industry folks in our booth. I'll also be honest, we look too. Sometimes it is just friends and the tone is appreciateve and respectful. Other times its not because frankly, the industry is filled with brands and people that just aren't that good with coming up with their own ideas.
In some cases if you have a good idea, color or concept, you can expect imitation within 12 months. I won't name names, but this year I saw a mass produced cheap Casseroll, 1x9 29ers were everywhere, painted to match stems on mass produced bikes, and traditional panel paint jobs like we've been doing for the previous 3 years. I'm not saying these are total rip offs, I'm just saying that good ideas end up migrating to other brands. Good ideas are good ideas, right?
Thankfully, Salsa has managed to carve out a place in this industry and we continue to find our own little niches to exploit.
In the end, I came home from the show convinced we have more opportunity than ever. I'll even go on record as saying that I believe we have at least one really, really good new idea for a new bike model or part that just isn't out there...yet.
Stick with us for the next several months and you'll see some great new stuff that we did not show at Interbike. We are intentionally not showing new stuff until it's closer to being ready, thus giving us just a bit more time before our ideas move on.
Thanks for reading. This is my take and I'm sure some might have other perspectives of how we all interact and depend on each other. It's just my take.
Have a great weekend. Hope everyone is enjoying the fall and riding as much as possible.
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Growing up as a Minnesota farm boy, I developed an appreciation and love for land and open space. This appreciation has fostered two passions, cycling and photography. Both of these passions provide freedom, encourage me to explore and foster creativity. More importantly though, my journey with a bike and a camera reminds me that the world is big and I am small.