It's the most wonderful time of the year, for cyclists as well as parents. Eurobike kicks off this week in Germany, with Interbike following three weeks later in Vegas. Both shows are principally designed for brands to show off their shiny and news to the dealer network, though of course the press generated at both events serves to help pull products through the retail channel as much as retail placement pushes stuff through. And since almost everything we see there is at the tail end of a 9-18 month production cycle, there is no clearer harbinger of what will be big (whether through supply or demand) in the market this year.
From our corner of the cycling world - dealing principally with our own merchandise and not 5000 SKUs from hundreds of different brands - we don't get too much insight into what's coming down the pike. But it's fun to guess, isn't it? Here is what I think we'll see this year:
1. Wireless and other Di2 adaptations: Shimano obviously has a number of future iterations of Di2 planned. Some were surprised when they rolled out electronic shifting in their internally geared Alfine hub in March, instead of letting it trickle into 105 instead. It was argued that this brings the price point down and introduces masses to electronic shifting. But the Alfine hub used by commuters and recreational riders - less concerned with performance than simplicity - signals to me a future of automatic transmission in bicycles. Look for a computerized control that automatically maintains a given cadence range, possibly including an inclinometer that detects when you're on a hill and adjusts cadence appropriately.
That's a feature that's irrelevant to us and our customers of course, but it does point to a future vision that I think Shimano has for Di2. The major deveopment that we will see is wireless shifters. Not only does this make them easy to port from the drops for crit days, to the tops on climbing days, and even on clip-ons for TT days; it also opens up accessory integration. Why dot your bars with electronic shift buttons when you can buy a pair of gloves with the buttons already integrated at the finger tips, and a transmitter sewn into the cuff so that it's no more noticeable than a wristwatch? Press anyplace with one finger to shift up, or another to shift down.
2. Real-Time Strava Apps: Part of the fun of Strava (and now MapMyRide) is getting home, syncing your Garmin and comparing the day's feats of strength to the leaderboards on the segments you rode. If it's a regular ride, you may have known where the segments were and really gone for it. But how often do you realize you rode one pretty well, not even knowing it was a segment at the time? I think we're soon going to see some 2-way communication on devices used for Strava. The device knows where you are and communicates with Strava, and Strava alerts you (through the device) that you're approaching a KOM, informing you what average speed or power you need to win the KOM, and even graphically shows you where you are relative to the segment leader or your own personal best time on the same segment (like those machines at the gym where you ride around a track against a computerized oponent). The iPhone is the natural starting point for an app like this since it already has internet connectivity and no shortage of available bike mounts. And I don't even think it's Strava who is on the hook to develop it, as we're already seeing third party applications of Strava data, like RaceShape.com, which shows you (after the fact) your second-by-second peformance in KOMs against anyone on the leaderboard, allowing you to see exactly where you got beat.
3. Murdered Out is pronounced DOA: We've done black on black on black for a couple of years now and like it plenty. So do Cervelo, Trek, Colnago, Pinarello, Felt and others, particularly in their flagship bikes. We personally still like the color, but the big brands pay a lot of attention to differentiation through design, and a bunch of high end bikes that look exactly the same don't work as hard for the brand out in the world as design elements that immediately provide brand cues. Look for more strategically integrated color (Dave thinks we'll see a return to dayglo but I'm not so sure). I do think raw carbon (or paint designed to look like UD carbon) will remain - not only is a bike lighter without paint, but it also has a more sprightly and less muted feel. It's not necessarily better, but different. And with UD and 1K weaves now de riguer on high end frames, carbon looks more like basic black than a gimmick.
4. Custom frame paint: With most of the high end carbon bikes coming out of the same small group of factories in the far east (and customers increasingly aware of this fact), then built to spec at assembly plants and shipped fully boxed by container ship before standing soldier-course on shop floors, personalization becomes challenging. I think that's the next great battlefield for the big brands though. Developing your own carbon fiber manufacturing facility is prohibitively expensive for most, but building a paint shop is a piece of cake. Look for more brands to introduce and amplify custom paint and decal options like Trek's Project One program. These will be limited to flagship bikes for now, as only a $3K frame carries enough profit in it to justify selling it without a fully build and wheels. Custom paint, decal schemes, even personalized name badges will all be options. The big brands will try to make buying an off-the-shelf bike (even one for $6K) seem pedestrian by comparison.
5. The emergency of the Gravel Grinder segment: We have a lot of customers asking us about disc versions of our HOT BUNS to use for Gravel Grinders, provided that they can accommodate wider tires and that we can offer them with a protective strip running up the down tube. This is an underserved segment to be sure. Cross bikes are light and fast but don't allow for the necessary rubber; 29ers are not quite road-bike enough, even when setup with drop bars; steel trekking or general utility bikes almost work but aren't light and fast enough; and custom titanium with wide clearance and disc mounts would be perfect if they were only $3K less and available right away. Someone is going to tackle this segment head on and with perfect purposefulness, in the same way that Volare did for the endurance segment. I think it's going to be Nick Legan.)
What innovations and machinations do you think we'll see this year?