Long Live The Model Year

There are four seminal events in the annual cycle of bike (and bike stuff) sales: Mother’s Day, the Tour de France, Eurobike/Interbike, and Chinese New Year.  I’m guessing that the middle two are really easy to figure out, while the first and last were are less so. 

Mother’s Day, in and of itself, has absolutely nothing to do with cycling.  But it’s held on a weekend that’s reliably an inflection point on the curve of people out on the bike trail and bike shop customer activity.  “Spring” usually happens sometime right around Mother's Day.  Bikes across the northern hemisphere come down from hooks in the garage, get their tires pumped up, and are found insufficiently sexy/new/light/up-to-date-with –Lance’s-current-team-kit/etc.  Or the drive train that was jacked up when the bike got put away on Columbus Day last fall is now terminal and needs to be replaced.  Or something.  So off to the bike shop we go, where the staff suddenly goes from having plenty of time for recovery naps to so busy they don’t know whether to laugh, crap, or cry.  All of this season’s newest and latest and greatest is on display in its Sunday best, all looking fantastic.  But let’s take a walk backward to see how it got there.

In order to have all this gear in its finery for Mother’s Day weekend, it had to be delivered, and before it was delivered it had to be produce, and before it was produced it had to be ordered.  That takes us all the way back to August/September of the previous year, at Eurobike, Interbike, TrekWorld, and SpecializedWorld.  At these enormous trade shows, brands lay out all of their great innovations for the coming year, and induce dealers to buy, buy, buy.  From my experience as a product manager, I’ll tell you that nothing makes your life quite so easy as a ton of pre-sales – your demand forecasting gets a WHOLE lot easier when you’ve got a bunch of order commitments before you go into production. 

Now we start going forward in time.  We’ve closed up shop at the trade shows and it’s time for us to get ready to go into production.  So we finish up any engineering or design or final prototype testing work that’s yet to be done, and go over to Taiwan and China (and hopefully by now we all recognize that pretty well most of everything is made there, and the good stuff is at least on par with the best of what’s available anywhere else) and get started.  This step takes A LOT of money and a lot of time.  Demand is a seasonal game, and so it follows that production is too.  But what factory owner is going to gear up a factory to be at 200% of capacity for 4 or 5 months of the year and 50% of capacity the rest of the time?  It’s a bit hard to manage that one, and even the biggest brands can fall victim to this scenario.  Some pretty big teams in the area never got their team bikes this year.  Their number at the deli counter just never came up. 

The monster in the closet on this one is Chinese New Year.  If you’ve never experienced the joy of trying to get product out of Asia during Chinese New Year, you haven’t lived.  The business world STOPS.  Cold.  Like to the point where you’re lucky if you even get so much as an “I’ll be out of the office spending time with my family and eating and partying for a couple of weeks more or less, having a great time, and I’ll be happy to respond to your message some time after I’m done with that” auto-reply to any emails that you send.  It sounds like an awesome time for all involved, except for people who are desperate to get product delivered.  But it’s one of those things.  You ain’t changing it.  No way, no how.  So you have to be ready for it, and just roll with it. 

If that all goes smoothly, you won’t get stuck in Molasses Swamp and you’ll have a clear shot to Candy Land and get all of the product your dealers ordered to them so that they can start selling it en masse on Masters Weekend.  If it doesn’t go smoothly, sleepless nights, angry customers and an uphill battle to get back on track for the next year are your reward. 

If Chinese New Year is the monster in the closet in this process, the TdF is the Land Shark knocking on the front door.  More so than any single event, the technology roll out and marketing that goes on at the Tour shapes the performance-oriented customer’s impressions of the new world order, and what to look forward to in terms of product.  Plus there will inevitably be some jerseys won and some crowing to be done over that, and what with these fancy internets we’ve got now, that starts literally within seconds after the battles are won.  Which means that all of the brands are doing everything they can to get some spotlights shining on their newest gear at the team presentations and prologue, which usually start around July 1st.  Those of you whose eyes haven’t yet rolled to the back of your heads are probably saying “but the shops just really started selling THIS YEAR’S fanciest, newest gear in earnest on May1 – and now the brands are talking about NEXT YEAR’S latest and greatest on July 1?!?  Doesn’t that turn THIS YEAR’S stuff into LAST YEAR’S stuff?”  Yeah, kind of.  And it sucks for the shops.  It’s not enough that you have to compete against the brands that you don’t sell, and the neighboring shops who do, you have to compete against next year.  Which basically turns a 5 month prime selling season into an 8 week prime selling season.  Sucks, doesn’t it?   It doesn’t seem to benefit anyone involved, it’s just one of those things that kind of is. 

I sure don’t have the answer to all of this.  If I did I might be rich.  Alas…  Notice that we haven’t attached a model year to any of our stuff?  We like our frame a whole lot, and we like our wheels, too.  Until there is some absolutely compelling reason to change, we won’t.  Cannondale got six or so years out of the CAAD9, and I’ll beat the dead horse of my statement that that’s the kind of product I think it makes a lot of sense to race on, and to sell to racers.  Our difference isn’t the bleeding edge stuff, so it doesn’t do us any good to tie ourselves to the funhouse ride of the normal cycle. 

All of which gets us to where Mike and I have been all fall, spreading the gospel of ordering way ahead of schedule, selling road when everyone’s thinking about cross.  It would be outstanding for us if we were able to extend our order past our deadline.  We’d like to get every sale we can, but in order to get the stuff here, we have to put our order in now.  No way around it.  And if and when we start selling cross bikes, we’ll be standing in the parking lot of your local crit, just when the knee warmers are maybe getting put away for the season, asking you to get ready for riding dirty in the cold and the mud. 

Back to blog


We saw some horrifying team order delivery situations this last year, from big brands. In one case, a prominent regional team NEVER got their bikes – and this was from the world's second biggest bike brand. We have done everything we can to insulate against a situation where people are racing into the season on their spare bikes because we haven't delivered. That is an absolutely unacceptable outcome for us.


Really like the way you guys keep banging the "in order to get the stuff here, we have to put our order in now" drum. Inspires confidence.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.