Sunday 28 March 2010

Coasting: All Washed Up

Two years ago, I wrote in this blog (here) about a new concept, "Coasting," that Shimano had come up with:  to attract non-cyclists to riding, the company engineered an automatic transmission and it ended up on bicycles made by Trek, Raleigh and Giant in 2007, followed by four other firms in 2008.  The idea was that the 161 million non-cyclists in America could be lured onto the roads if they had simple, fun and relatively inexpensive bikes.  Although it seemed at first that sales were good, it now appears that the program has ended and no Coasting bikes are being produced anymore.

One of the fascinating aspects of Bicycle World is the endless inventiveness as people try to improve the Perfect Machine.  Coasting owes its origins to a design firm, IDEO, which received a brief from Shimano in 2002.  To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail and to the IDEO people the problem seemed to be the bicycle rather than the environment.
Trek's Coasting bike, the Lime, won the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's People's Choice Award in October 2009 but that was not enough to save it.  In addition to the error of applying a technological solution rather than addressing the real problem of why people don't ride bikes, the marketers also priced the bicycles at around $500, which would make them very unappealing to extremely casual cyclists-to-be.  For that money, there are plenty of good bikes (admittedly some that need to be shifted) with practical features such as racks and fenders and wheels that are easily removed for tire changes.

Of course, if you are really not very picky about your bicycle, you can go to Wal-Mart and pick up a Mongoose commuting bike for US$119 (marked down from US$132!).  This is not a typo.  On the other hand, you have to assemble it yourself and will probably have to change the innertubes before the first ride or the plastic pedals (according to a surprising number of reviewers), but, still, 87 reviews of 113 gave the bike at least 3 out of 5 stars, and 34 of those went for the 5.  It seems to me that many of the reviewers were not "hardcore" cyclists but were just looking for cheap transport and were willing to accept parts that fall off sometimes.

The word "fun" does not appear in customer reviews of the Mongoose once but the people who bought Trek Limes seem to really like them.  I guess there were just not enough of those customers.

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