How to sell bicycles…

Some time ago we had a little chat about marketing. We talked about how car manufacturers had become experts at selling people the lifestyle, but conveniently gloss over the realities of motoring.

However, we also came to the depressing realisation that nobody is really trying to sell us utility cycling, or the benefits of seeing the cycling as a mode of transport. Even the pro cyclists on our screens were selling us cars. Until now that is…


So, an advert caught our eye earlier today. It was from a bicycle manufacturer called VanMoof. They’re a Dutch bicycle manufacturer that makes city bicycles packed with fancy technology. We’re going to try to keep the hyperbole to a minimum here as I don’t want to make this sound more like an advert than it already does –it’s going to feature an advert after all. So, here goes.

It’s not what it looks like from the thumbnail…

I’ve not ridden either of VanMoof’s current bicycles, but I have to give them credit for some really clever marketing here. The image of a shiny, possibly ray-traced hypercar, reflecting the traffic jams and pollution that are an intrinsic part of car ownership and car culture in general.

Unfortunately it means that my previous statement is now slightly mute:

Nobody is trying to sell you utility cycling. Nobody is trying to sell you a bike that you can run on a pittance and do all of your shopping on. Nobody is telling you how much weight you could lose; how much money you could save; how sociable cycling allows you to be; how life changing it is to see the world from the back of a bicycle.

Money, marketing and malevolence… – Cardiff By Bike

What VanMoof appears to be selling is a very stylish, very bespoke (and therefore difficult to maintain at home), hi-tech eBike for going about your day on. It has an integrated lock and other security features, gears and an electric motor that is configurable from a smartphone app, hydraulic brakes, automatic lights, and enclosed drivetrain. It sounds like a really enticing package. They’ll even sell you a service plan.

If Apple ever made bicycles, this is probably what they would be like. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea I know. There’s certainly peace of mind in doing your own maintenance and knowing that you can just book your bike into a local workshop if anything goes wrong. I like being able to repair things –PCs mostly, but I can appreciate the convenience of being able to just walk into an Apple store and pick up something that is just enough for the vast majority.

Many people new to cycling probably won’t realise that chains need to be replaced every 2,500km or so, or that they need to be regularly cleaned and re-lubed. To know that you would first need to keep track of how many kilometres you were riding, or have a chain measuring tool (over on our essentials page by the way)

VanMoof are clearly aiming at people looking to ditch the car, but don’t know a lot about cycling yet –or indeed want to know; who would appreciate a low-maintenance, gadget-filled mode of transport, where pretty much everything you need is included.

Unfortunately for us, being in Cardiff, you have to ship your bike to London to be serviced, but they at least pay for that. If you don’t want to keep paying year over year, you’re unlikely to be able to get your bike fixed locally –rather like an Apple laptop these days.

Well, it worked…

What can we learn from this?

When we buy a bicycle, a swanky ad that sells the lifestyle of riding around your city no doubt goes a long way, but not the whole way. At the moment you can go along to your local bike shop and pick up a bicycle, but then you need to add lights, a good lock (not a cable lock), mudguards etc. Each one raises its own question of which one is right for you, what is in your budget, USB or AA batteries, how many lumens do you need; is that lock secure enough…the list goes on…

Our local bike shops don’t seem to stock a lot of city bikes at the moment. There are few options for someone who just wants a simple, reliable bicycle that they can carry a bag of potatoes on and keep their clothes clean and dry. Yes, there may be ways to adapt a road or mountain bike to meet city-riding needs, but that often requires extra homework, extra bits to buy and install –extra friction that gives people a valid reason to give up and go back to the car.

It’s a bit like trying to find a safe family hatchback when the only options are a two-seater track-day car with no roof, or a LandRover Defender with integrated winch and snorkel –but the locks and lights are sold separately.

Perhaps this is something that will come with time, as cycling increases and becomes as ingrained as it is on the continent, but we do need to acknowledge the friction that exists in cycling beyond the infrastructure we’d like to see on our streets.

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