The Unholy One was good enough to babysit one of our bikes and put it through his paces for a few weeks. He came away with a great impression of it, which we were very happy to hear. But his review touched on a topic that Mike and I have been peeking into the window of, hesitant to knock on the door. Call us stalkers, call us wussies. We don't actually like poking hornet's nests or raking muck when it's undue, but Jim's musings really inspired us to take a closer look.
According to the National Bike Dealers Association, cycling was about a $5.9 billion industry in the US in 2009. 31 and change million Americans over the age of 7 rode a bike last year. USAC had 40,000 license holders in the "Road, Track and CX" categories in 2008.
48% of bike shop sales are bicycles (as opposed to parts, accessories, service, etc), so from this we can surmise that bicycle sales in the US are $2.8 billion/year. 15% of bikes sold fall into the "road" category, and the categories are pretty tightly defined - CX and track aren't parsed out specifically, but hybrid/cruiser/mountain/kids/etc are. So let's be roadie snobs and wipe out half of those road bike sales as "not real road bikes" and we get 7.5% of $2.8 billion/year as real road bikes, which is $210 million/year. Divide that by the 40,000 license holders and you get $5250. So every racer spends $5250 a year on bikes (not parts, not power meters, not tires) and racers are 100% of the US market.
More realistically, the average racer (as in average of every person who holds a license - not everyone who races, or races seriously, etc) might buy a $3000 bike every third year. That's probably not a perfect guess but I'd say it's a very good guess - but it's an overestimate. But if we go with it, we see that the average US road license holder spends around $1,000 on bikes a year - $40,000,000 as a group. Not a bad number, not bad at all.
Except that it's only a fifth of the "real road bike" market in the US. Does the US act like the rest of the world in this instance? Probably. So if you are a brand that is looking to sell the most bikes, do you cater to the guys who wear numbers or those who don't? And are the guys who aren't wearing numbers, yet have the cash to blow on really nice bikes, really looking for the same kind of ride that Cancellara is? My guess is "quite not," and I'd venture further to say that the popularity of bikes like the Roubaix and the Synapse - the "really freaking nice bikes that aren't quite race bikes (the Roubaix's several victories in events I'd be challenged to spectate at notwithstanding - but more on this later anyway)" segment of the market as proof. Most enthusiasts should be riding on something like a Roubaix or Synapse. But they want the bike that won the Tour, or that won the Worlds, or that won M-SR. Fortunately, the Roubaix has something of an annual date with the Flanders and P-R podiums, which actually in the grand scheme of things puts a ton of riders on the bike that they should be on.
There have been plenty of instances where Pro teams have gotten special edition bikes. Not long ago, it was absolutely the norm. We've often read about how a sprinter gets a specially beefed up bottom bracket, or a rouleur-extraordinaire like Boonen gets a bike with the super Viagra treatment. In the case of a Hushovd-inspired Look that I remember, sometimes they make it to market. Sometimes not. But the philosphical question is about whether racers winning races on bikes should mean anything to 80% of the market for real road bikes, and if it's even really a good practice to sell those exact bikes to the masses.
In skiing, you know that no matter what the paint job looks like, you ain't getting Bode Miller's skis. Not happening - his skis would kick your ass into a ski patrol sled by the time you'd gotten off the chair lift. They still paint the "race skis" that they sell the same as his, they just aren't the same. No one advertises it, but everyone knows it. So is it any sort of big deal at all if the bikes that Pro (I refuse to write it "PRO") teams get have a different laminate that more suits what those beasts are going to do to the bikes? I'd say no, not at all. But I do think that if Cancellara stepped off a bike and said "I like it, it's stiff enough for me," that your average guy my age or a few years older, who puts in about 6500 fewer miles a year than I do would get off that bike and say "Jesus Lord help me I can't walk that bike is POSSESSED!!! AHHHHH!!!!" No raising of French babies, no throwing of soft cheeses.
We were once accused of reverse snobbery (which if you're going to be accused of something is a pretty fun thing to be accused of) so I'm going to leave this strictly on a philosphically-lon-winded plane. But I will say that Mike and I are dead stupid enough to only give a rat's behind about the 20% of that market that actually pins a number on.