What the Bike Industry Should Learn from Motorcycle, SCUBA and Firearms.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

It’s Saturday at Motor City Powersports in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Their large parking lot is blocked off to cars. A half dozen new motorcycle owners negotiate a series of traffic cones and practice skills under the watchful eye of a certified motorcycle instructor who teaches the new riders the skills they need to survive in traffic and to get their Michigan Driver’s License motorcycle endorsement.

It’s Saturday at Motor City SCUBA in Novi, Michigan. Students sit in the dedicated classroom at the SCUBA retailer taking a written test to earn their basic open water diver certification so they can be SCUBA divers. Before they can buy their own regulator or SCUBA tank, before they can rent equipment and before they can go out on a boat to SCUBA dive while on vacation, they must pass this written test and the practical pool examination of underwater skills.

It’s Thursday night at Target Sports in Royal Oak, Michigan. A crowd of people is in a classroom near an indoor shooting range learning basic firearms safety before they are given instruction in practical firearms handling with unloaded weapons. Before any of the people can carry a firearm in public they must past a Concealed Carry License written test and practical firearms safety instruction course.

The motorcycle, SCUBA and shooting sports industries have all taken proactive responsibility for teaching and certifying their customers for competence and safety before they allow them to use their products. Each of these three industries also has some type of state or commercially mandated licensure that tests competence prior to practice and collects revenue to provide for safer end user experiences through advocacy.

Each of these three industries also incurs significant risk to users. Each has proactively managed the user-risk experience. As a result, business in each category is doing well.

And then there is the bike industry. We just sell you a bike and turn you loose. As a result, the road cycling industry is tanking.

The bike industry’s answer to sagging road bike sales has been to introduce more bike categories. That creates more sales and marketing expense within the industry. It also relies heavily on non-paved riding areas to continue to grow when, in fact, gravel roads used for automotive travel are usually destined to be paved when populations and traffic in their region inevitably become large enough. As it is, cyclists are squeezed into a smaller and smaller artificially sustained environment of rails-to-trails and bike path/park settings that cost big money to maintain, require travel to access and, while growing in some regions, aren’t yet reliable enough to sustain the sport and likely never will be without some organized contribution from the bike industry.

Rather than working to sell what we already have and support that end-user experience through responsible instruction, the bike industry just keeps trying to sell a new category every few years. The recent contraction in bicycle sales suggest this approach is not working. But in SCUBA, motorsports and shooting sports, selling what they have through responsible instruction and advocacy has worked.

The bicycle industry has not been proactive in offering even basic cycling instruction to new cyclists buying performance-oriented road and triathlon bikes. Set against the backdrop of a recent influx of brand new cyclists entering the sport mostly as a result of triathlons, the bike industry has done an abysmal job of leveraging rider instruction as a safety benefit and a sales tool.

Motorsports, SCUBA diving and shooting sports have all had success with that marketing script. In fact, in the case of shooting sports, it helped keep that sport alive in the face of a divisive national argument over firearms ownership rights. What if cycling had an industry and user lobby as powerful as the NRA?

The impetus for teaching new cyclists how to use their bike safely has been on cycling clubs and national governing bodies like USA Triathlon and USA Cycling. But in a click-to-own culture it is a big leap to expect a new bike buyer to buy a bike on Saturday and seek out 3rd party instruction and certification before using their new bike.

In fact, most cyclists and triathlete revel in fact that buying a racing bicycle is one of the few things a person can do that is free from licensure, formal instruction or user certification. Think about this: what if you loved airplanes or high performance race cars and could just show up and buy one then use it that afternoon without instruction or certification? That analogy isn’t a stretch since going from a decrepit hybrid in your first triathlon to a narrow-tire, performance oriented bike in your next one is tantamount to transitioning from a passenger car to a NASCAR.

Here Is What The Bike Industry Could Do:

As an industry, cycling needs to organize. As with SCUBA, shooting sports and the motorsports industry, both the retailer and the brand level, need to shoulder the burden- and opportunity- to sustain the sport and take responsibility for the cyclists’ end user competence and experience.

The bike industry, bike brands and bike shops, needs to start teaching cycling, including bike handling skills, safe routes for cyclists, basic maintenance and other skills that build a safe, sustainable, responsible culture of new cyclists. It is likely this single opportunity, simple in proposal but labor-intensive and significant in execution, is cycling’s greatest hope not just from prosperity and growth, but survival.


  1. Rick said:

    Well done, Tom. This is one of those elephant-in-the-room questions that everyone knows is there and everyone complains about, but no one wants to take on.

    I approached the same problem from a slightly different angle in a 3-part series I did in Bicycle Retailer a couple years ago called Haunted by the Ghosts of Dead Cyclists. The part relevant to this discussion is about halfway through Part Three: http://www.bicycleretailer.com/retail-news/2016/01/07/rick-vosper-haunted-ghosts-dead-cyclists-part-three#.WZ7sI7-yWCg

  2. F. Tiefry said:

    When I lived in New Orleans in the 90’s we took classes on how to ride your bike in a group in that unique, narrow streets, alcohol available 24hrs, environment. Group rides with pointers for about $5 a time. Those life saving tips are still with me today. Seems reasonable.

  3. bikefitr said:

    It’s a great observation and potential strategy. However most people don’t learn to ride a motorcycle, scuba dive or use a gun as a kid, whereas many people learn to ride a bike as a kid. Adults without a technical skill set are far more likely to enroll in a course, especially where licensing is required, than someone who believes they know how to do something, especially where no licensing is required (cycling). Any proposed regulation of cyclists is going to get strong pushback, so then the challenge is how to create an environment where adults have incentive to take a course? The other approach is increased youth involvement in cycling. This is happening very successfully through NICA, but then the kids finish high school and there is no support structure to keep them involved in cycling at college or in the workforce. Some will keep pedaling, while I suspect many will consign it to the past as a fun youthful activity but not one suitable for sustaining as an adult.

    • Hi John,

      Thank you for reading and for your comment. I think there is a lot of merit to your observation about most people not learning to SCUBA dive, shoot and ride a motorcycle as a kid. That said, we do all learn to drive a passenger car as an adolescent. But to transition to racing cars, we have to seek out instruction to get on the track. I guess I’ll use that to support my argument, but your observation is valid and appreciated Sir. -Tom D.

  4. Michelle Hayes said:

    We own and run a Triathlon store in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. This is one of our pet peeves about people buying bikes. We either take them out with us on a beginners ride and teach them the laws and safety or we refer them to our cycling coach and his beginners rides. We constantly teach customers about bike maintenance and run courses monthly about the different parts of the bike and how to care and recognise issues that could cause injury. We ensure all our customers that do ride with us have bike insurance. It is a dangerous place out there on the roads and so many people don’t realise how vulnerable they are on a bike.

  5. You could also start with simpler examples – Indoor Rock climbing and track cycling by example. Both require a basic certification at the facility, are easy to implement and don’t take too much time or hassle. They facilitate and promote basic safety and usage, core understanding of the sports requirements and have an effect on insurance as just some of the benefits.

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