Fisher & The Present and Future of Road Bikes

Cronus Black

(photo by James Huang of cyclingnews.com)

Gary Fisher seems to have been reading my mind, for a preview of his 2010 road offerings popped up on cyclingnews recently (and later on velonews)…and it paralleled pretty much everything I’d been thinking about my ideal road bike recently (more on those dreams in another post). I was kind of turned off with Fisher/Trek this past year as they clearly just ginned up a Fisher road line after the falling out with LeMond – the bikes seemed just…meh, really.

However, mark my words here, the Fisher 2010 line-up of road and cross machines will be viewed as seminal.

What is so cool with these bikes (actually, there are just two framesets, but built into a few different models) is that they are totally practical but still cutting-edge road machines. The carbon frames – which are, apparently, just as tricked out as the new Madones – have clearance for 28mm tires! So, you can have a bad-ass, full-on carbon racing bike…and still run Rivendell’s Rolly-Polly tires. Further – built-in, low profile fender mounts are included, so these race bikes can be equipped with full fenders easily.

Cronus White

(photo by James Huang of cyclingnews.com)

At the risk of sounding a bit hokey here, I believe that we are entering (or have already entered, in the past two years or so) a new era of useful bike design. Most fundamentally, we are seeing the (re)emergence of useful bikes to a degree probably not seen since the 1980s. This would seem to be the confluence of a number of distinct trends within the business, some of which I wouldn’t have anticipated all that long ago, and some of which, while not so surprising, are interacting with others to produce some unintended consequences.

For one thing, cycling is just more popular again. Of course much of this derives from the Lance Armstrong factor. Perhaps some is to be attributed to a general reorientation toward frugality and simplicity in light of the ongoing recession (as well as concerns about energy, oil and environment). The fixie culture is both a sign of this popularity, but also (in an indirect way) a source of innovation and pressure for innovation in the “mainstream” cycling biz. The fixie thing (and cyclo-x to a point) seems to have opened the door to more lower-end innovation in product lines – companies competing in the sub $1k range, or even lower, by working on parts spec, paint and overall style.

All of the above seem like strengths of the market right now. Yet, on the other hand, it also seems to me that these could be read as weaknesses of sorts. At base, is this new situation not simply a reflection of  a total productive glut in the cycling biz? There seems to have been a steady growth of peripheral “manufacturers” that aren’t actually making anything – they are spec’ing bikes from a variety of suppliers (think the re-born Masi, Tommasso, Motobecane, etc.), commissioning parts (a la Velo Orange), and working on marketing and branding. If you are willing to take a real plunge, there are even quite a few full-carbon Asian framesets available at crazy cheap prices as well – and not just junk, but bikes with good details, integrated seat masts, etc.

This is not a knock on these bikes, because one of these artfully spec’d generic bikes will likely be my next. However, if anyone with a good eye, the right connections and the money up front to place orders through Asian contracting networks can put together a small line of bikes and sell them through the web or ebay….then, well, EVERYONE can do it! And, when everyone can do something, that is usually the time to stop doing it…at least if you want to make any money doing it.

The intensifying competition in all of these distinct niches within the the bicycle market certainly is a good thing for those of us interested in useful and interesting bikes. Differentiation through design is a good thing – and the Fisher line shows that there is absolutely no reason NOT to design even a high-end race bike to also be, you know, useful to those buying it. But maybe these are ultimately the signs of dark clouds on the horizon?

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