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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bike retailers warm to commuting market

Image of commuting signage in an REI store's bike section
To say I'm oblivious is an understatement; I'm male, graying, and, um, male. So the other day when my wife and I were in a local REI store, I didn't immediately grasp her point. "Look," she said. "Look at that."

Er, look at what? "At that! The last time I was looking for a bicycle bell at REI," she said, "I had to look in the children's section." Indeed, there was a healthy selection of bells and other commuter-related bicycling paraphernalia in a dedicated "Commuting" section.

Interesting, considering that most REI stores are located in sprawling parking-abundant mall locations--often adjacent to such earth-loving retailers as Walmart or Best Buy. (One might wonder what REI's "Stewardship" effort means, when they can't seem to develop stores in transit- and bike-friendly urban locations. Really, try to find an REI store that isn't surrounded by at least 200 parking spots...and online doesn't count.)

Despite some signs of a shift, the bike industry as a whole remains very much in the business of selling recreational equipment. A quick leaf through Bicycling will tell you that. For two decades the bike industry has pursued performance enhancements that offer precisely no benefit to commuting bicyclists, offering high-tech toys to competitive or athletic bicyclists. You know, maybe .5 percent of the American population? Us bicycle commuters? Well, we just kind of "got by." We commuted by bicycle in spite of the bike industry, not because of it.

A "Commuting" section at REI. Another sign of the bicycle industry's growing interest in the bicycle commuting market? Maybe?!?

Image: Paul Dorn
Visit: Bike Your Drive,
Visit: Beefy bikes for getting you around town or around the block, Seattle Times
Visit: National retailer supports bike advocacy, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Is the bicycle industry waking up?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bikes made for commuting are hot!, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: In praise of chainguards, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Where have all the kickstands gone?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Massachusetts: Bicycle shops reap windfall, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Jett said...

My LBS recognizes the Commuting niche. Indeed, he's finding commuters are much more than a niche.

This data point may be skewed however, because his store sits in one of the best areas in Atlanta for bike commuting.

Anonymous said...

Good news, I think. Also good news is how a lot of retailers keep selling out of things like racks and fenders. Sweet! :)

Anonymous said...

The REI in Boston at the Landmark Center in Fenway is centrally located, and right next to a subway stop (indeed, most people going to that subway stop would walk right past REI).

Admittedly, there's a big stinkin' car park behind REI, but with the road traffic around Fenway, it would normally be easier to use the T to get there.

Elaine said...

I will say that the REI in downtown Seattle is the least sprawly one I know. (OTOH, Tacoma's is perched practically over the freeway near the mall. It would probably be suicide to attempt biking there!)

And yes, that's pretty rad. I've noticed the catalogs featuring more commuter oriented bike gear, too.

cadabeso said...

The flagship REI in Seattle is not at a mall. It does have a large parking garage, but it is also in the urban core. Bike access to the building gets better and better as the surrounding South Lake Union neighborhood continues to upgrade streets with bike lanes, sharrows, etc. Plus, this particular REI is the home base for Seattle's new Green Bike Project.

Bart Lantz said...

The REI in Denver is right on the 2 major bike trails in the city. (The cherry creek trail and the Platte river trail.) Its much easier to bike to the store than drive there, although, yes, there is alot of parking spots as well.

Anonymous said...

That's good news for us commuters, but it's one hand washing the other. If there was no demand for these products businesses wouldn't be selling them and if businesses are selling them then the would-be commuters can now have access to these products that they never had

Now everyone can be happy. (I Hope)

Anonymous said...

REI in San Francisco has less then 100 parking spaces next to it :)

Kevin Love said...

I would be slow to beat up on bicycling magazines for neglecting communters. If one looks at car magazines they also mostly ignore the plain vanilla commuter cars that 99% of their customers drive.

Magazines are about selling fantasy, not reality.

Anonymous said...

The bike industry in America doesn't deserve us. I know scores of people who have bikes in the garage they would ride, except the tires are flat and they feel intimidated by the image sold here in America of what a bike rider is and looks like. At almost 50 years old, I'm a marvel to my friends because I commute on a bike. It's as if I'm some kind of super man when the truth is I ride in the face of the cycling image the bike industry promotes. And yes, beat up on Bicycle rag mag. They are part of the problem.