Are shops stocking the wrong kind of bikes?

When someone visits a bike shop in Ireland – either online or in person – to look for a bike, it seems that the vast majority of bikes on display are aimed towards cycling as a sport. But what if that person is looking for a bike for transport and not sport?

I did a quick internet search for ‘bike shop’ and visited a few of Ireland’s bike retailers. I was looking for a comfortable and durable bike to get me from A to B – and the closest category on most of the sites for a transportation bike seems to be ‘commuter bikes’ or ‘city bikes’. Everything else is aimed squarely at sport – be it road bikes, mountain bikes, or other kinds of off-road sports.

The typical offering in the commuter/city bikes category was something like this:

Hybrid style sporty looking bicycle from brand Marida

Now I have nothing against this specific bike. It’s only shown as an example. But it has clearly been designed to look sporty – as if you can ride fast on it. It’s basically a road bike, but with slightly fatter tyres and without the drop handlebars.

It might be the perfect bike for confident cycle commuters who want to ride at speed, carrying a change of clothes in a backpack, and then showering at the office. But to me it’s not the right kind of bike we should be trying to sell people who are looking for a bike for transport.

By their own admission, the manufacturer says that it’s made to have a “more sportive riding position” – meaning that the rider has to lean forward quite a lot, which is great for speed. However a more upright riding position is much better for comfort and being able to see traffic around you.

And like many of these bikes, it doesn’t come with basic essentials like lights, mudguards, and a rack.

So why does it matter?

Some people might argue that this style of bike is a happy compromise – that it enables both sport and transport – that it could be used for a commute to the office, and also a Sunday morning spin with a cycling club.

But remember, I went looking for a transport bike, not a sport bike. I’m looking for something that will allow me to allow me to cycle to the gym, or the supermarket, or a friend’s house, or the office, and do it in comfort – and preferable not get there in a sweaty heap.

Ideally what I need for a transport bikes is:

  • an upright bike – for comfort and good visibility
  • a rack or front basket – to carry stuff and avoid the sweaty back from a backpack
  • mudguards – so my clothes don’t get soaked
  • good lights – so I can see, and be seen

But when I look at the bike shop websites, I can’t find that type of bike. They just don’t sell them. There might be one or two hybrid bike that come with mudguards or a rack, but they all still have a sporty frame.

And my concern is that a lot of people end up buying this kind of sporty bike, because it’s the only thing available in the shop, and once they get it home they discover that it’s not terribly comfortable or convenient to ride. And so it sits in the garden shed, gathering dust.

Because if you need to put on special clothes to cycle, or check the weather before you cycle, or only cycle when you can shower at the far end, then it makes it more complicated – and people are less likely to bother.

Is change coming?

With the increased interest in electric bikes, there is some movement towards more comfortable and fully-featured bikes. Manufacturers and retailers are starting to realise that people do want bikes for transport instead of sport.

But it shouldn’t be that I have to spend €3,000 on an ebike to be able to find something comfortable to ride.

See also  Shop by bike

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