Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What's in a Name? The Importance of Being Branded

Branding: is there any more important? When it comes to Doing Business, choosing the right brand name can make or break your venture. This is especially true when it comes to selling bicycles, as you can tell from looking at the world's most successful bike companies. For example, "Rock Machine" means that their bikes are machines for riding on rocks; "Huffy" evokes the fact that many Huffy riders like to "huff" toxic fumes for recreation; and Vanilla reflects the utter lack of ethnic diversity in the company's Portland home.

These are companies that got it right. But what about the companies who get it wrong? One such company is "Ghost Bikes," to which I was alerted by a reader:

If I were naming a company that sold road and mountain bikes, I'd think in terms of speed, or strength, or stealth. I'd think about famous trails, or legendary races, or perhaps even accomplished racers who might wish to lend their name and expertise to my product line. However, what I would not do is name my bicycle brand after an internationally-recognized means of memorializing fallen cyclists:

However, if I absolutely had to do this, I'd at least refrain from offering a model that came in white:

I'm not superstitious, but there's no way you'd ever get me on that thing--and it's not because it has tiny wheels and dual suspension either. (Though that part's not helping.)

Meanwhile, a local entrepreneur recently had the same idea (marketing ghost bikes, not marketing dual suspension bikes), but instead decided to simply cut out the middleman and sell the actual ghost bikes themselves:

Though it's pretty obviously the work of a "troll:"

I'm not superstitious, but if I were this person I'd probably look both ways before crossing the street for the whole entire rest of my life.

Speaking of mountaining bicycle wheel sizeways, not too long ago I noticed an interesting article on the Bicycling dot Calms website about 650b and how it's poised to become the biggest thing in dirt-oriented bicycle cycling since baggy shorts (which can get pretty big):

It's kind of cute how the bicycling industry ignored the whole 29-inch wheel thing until it became utterly impossible for them to do so, and so now they're doing the exact opposite by rushing headlong into a new standard. They're like the frat boys who took forever to warm to Nirvana but then, when they finally did, next ran out and bought the Stone Temple Pilots album in droves. Of course, the difference there is that the Stone Temple Pilots were like the Monkees of "grunge," whereas the 650b wheelsize has been around for a long time, so maybe it's more like suddenly "discovering" some band that's already been around forever, like the Melvins.

None of this is to critique the actual utility of the 650b wheel size on the mountaining bikes, since it would seem to make quite a bit of sense. In fact, it's funny how touchy people get about wheel sizes--as far as I'm concerned, people should use whatever size works for them, whether it's "retrofitting" dual p-far wheels or simply appropriating your wheelset from a jogging stroller. (I believe the latter is called a "Moulton.") It's just entertaining to watch how the various companies play "Frogger" across the various trends, letting one log float away and then jumping en masse onto the next. This is something we all do--look at all the fixed-gear people and how they're all coveting cyclocross bikes with derailleurs now. Even I once swore I would never ride a bicycle with a saddle; now, almost all of my bikes have them, and I'm walking a lot more comfortably.

Speaking of cyclocross, this past weekend saw the running of the 2012 Cyclocrossing World Championships in Koksijde, Belgium (the Coxsackie of Europe), and American fans made a big show of getting all excited about it:

(Surprise! It's a bunch of Belgians on a podium!)

This level of cyclocross fandom is still relatively new to America and is thus characterized by great "flambullience," so I wonder how long it will take everybody to reach the inevitable jaded phase. Obviously we've been there with road racing for quite some time now, to the point where it's a tremendous faux-pas to express anything other than skepticism when watching a big road race. Interestingly though, it's still perfectly acceptable to enjoy watching cyclocross in complete complete earnestness. So enjoy it while you can, I suppose, because in a few years it should be thoroughly uncool to do so.

Meanwhile, a reader tells me that, amazingly, there are still people who think it's uncool to ride with a brake:

Fixie girl with beanie who called me a "Pussy" - m4w - 25 (Bushwick)
Date: 2012-01-26, 6:46PM EST
Reply to:

I was biking on Morgan Ave. near the corner of Meserole St. I was riding a KHS flite 100, You were riding a black fixie with a pursuit front but I couldnt make out the brand of your bike in the dark. You caught me looking at you and your bike and you looked over at me too and at my bike pointed at my breaks, smirked and called me a pussy before you hauled ass down the street.

If you see this I dare you to call me a pussy again.

Now that the "fixerati" have turned their attention to cyclocross bikes, custom road bikes, and all the rest of it, I occasionally make the mistake of thinking that the whole brakeless fixie think is over--but then I head over one of the Big Skanky bridges and realize it's not the case. In fact, it's evolved into a new style of riding, in that all the brakeless riders mostly just go incredibly slowly now. I guess what's happened is that we're experiencing a "noob inversion." See, it used to be that the novice fixie rider would start out with a brake, and the idea was to wean him- or herself off of it. Now, though, they simply start brakeless since they want to be "cool" from the very beginning, only to eventually discover the thrilling new world of brakes and, ultimately, derailleurs, at which point they place the inevitable order for a Geekhouse.

Lastly, from yet another reader comes this folding helment:

Inflatable helments, folding helments, helment hats... Like the alchemists of yore attempting to turn lead into gold, designers today think they're going to hit on that one idea that finally makes helmet use ubiquitous and makes them rich. However, I think they need to give it up. If you want to wear a helment, why not just wear a regular helment? And if you don't want to wear a helment, then don't wear a helment. Of all the goofy equipment that bike racing has foisted on the masses--wimpy wheels, fenderless frames, and so forth--the one useful thing it's given everyday cyclists is the lightweight helmet. Really, what good one that folds up to be slightly smaller but is twice as ugly?

The only real reason I could see for needing this thing is if you have a Brompton and you feel the need to maintain the folding theme throughout your entire wardrobe.