Longlife Bike
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Learnings from 30 interviews
Here's a short recap of our main takeaways based on 30 interviews with daily and touring cyclists, bicycle frame builders & local shops owners.

New insights through video & phone calls

During these first weeks of Longlife Bike, we started with what matters the most: talking and learning from our potential users, experienced bicycle frame builders & local bike shop owners. Despite the fact that the current covid-19 measures forced us to stick to remote video & phone calls, we learnt that it also has its good side: everyone is nowadays very easy to reach and is willing to share experiences and knowledge. It only takes a simple phone or video call to get tons of valuable information. Here's a short recap of our main takeaways based on 30 interviews.

Once again, a big thank you to many of you for sharing your insights! The least we can do in return is aggregating all our learnings and making them publicly available to everyone.

Before we go into detail, it's worth stressing that with Longlife Bike we'll be focusing at first on local, open & circular bicycles that can be used on a daily basis and for touring. Therefore, we've mainly interviewed cyclists with experience or interest in this type of cycling. As different kinds of cyclists require different bicycles, our learnings may not be applicable for other cyclists' segments.

Our takeaways

From interviews with daily and touring cyclists

    A bike that fits my size and adapts to my needs over time. You don't become an avid cyclist in one day. It takes time, many km's & different bikes to grow from a first-time cyclist into an everyday and long-distance cyclist. The process of buying and selling different bicycles over time is time-consuming and tiring, and could be replaced by a bicycle with a long life frame which is upgradable.
    "2nd hand market: mainly for technical people who already have knowledge." There's a big gap between the amount of cyclists willing to buy a second hand bike and the amount of cyclists doing it. As bicycle manufacturers have created a proliferation of new models and parts, our interviewees don't dare to spend money on a premium 2nd hand bike, unless they have a friend or family member with technical knowledge.
    "If possible, it's nice to do a test ride before I buy a new bike."
    Maintenance and repair? Part of the adventure, there's always gonna be a solution! To say the least, everyday and long-distance cyclists are crazy positives. Although a few of our interviewees has the technical competences to repair a bike, none of them is afraid of what can go wrong with the bicycle on a bike tour. They're convinced that they're always going to find a nearby bike shop or someone who can help.
    The biggest similarity with car drivers: overseeing the hidden costs of owning a bicycle. The better the maintenance of a bike, the longer its lifetime. As cyclists really hate to end up with a high bill for the maintenance and repair of their bike, it's worth repeating the importance of maintenance & being very transparant about all costs upfront.
    "It's easier to buy a car than to buy a bike!" Most of our interviewees find it hard to compare different bikes and to know what you can expect from a certain bike.
    "I often pay as much for 2nd hand goods as for new items since I want to give things a longer life and, in the end, quality defines a product's lifetime. Good products live a long life, cheap and low-quality goods aren't made to last forever."
    Decisions based on online information and peers. Touring cyclists care about what they do and actively search for information on internet forums, social media groups and via friends & peers. Thanks to the growing community of touring cyclists and the different communication channels they've set up, they find it easy to get an answer to any kind of question. Nevertheless, the huge amount of online information makes the search for answers often overwhelming.

From interviews with bicycle frame builders

In contrast to the cyclists we interviewed, we noticed that the best way to talk to frame builders is over the phone. Although there aren't many dedicated frame builders in Belgium anymore, it was great to talk to them. Here are some of the many quotes we wrote down during our conversations:

Materials

    "Steel frames can get repaired all around the world."
    "Steel & longlife frames, it used to be normal. My father is still riding his old bike."
    If you want to buy steel tubes for frames in Europe, there are 2 main suppliers: Columbus in Italy and Reynolds in the UK.

The importance of strong frames

    "Upcycling and upgrading is only worth it if your frame is good enough." Due to cost-saving reasons, the production of high quality frames has been outsourced to low-cost countries for many industrial brands. If the frame quality is too low, the bicycle is simply not worth any kind of upgrade. Therefore, with the growing need for a circular economy in mind, it's important to raise the average quality of frames.
    "If the basis of your bicycle is good enough, there's a lot possible."

Frame building course

    There doesn't seem be an active frame building course in Belgium. That's why a few manufacturers took a course at the Bicycle Academy in the UK.

Business-wise

    "Be passionate yes, but don't forget to run it as a business."
    "Given the high production compared to frames manufactured in low-cost countries, it's impossible to sell Belgian bicycles via a network of bike shops. You need to directly sell to cyclists if you want to keep it affordable and make it sustainable as a business."

From interviews with bike shops owners

As bike shops play an important role in bringing bicycles to end-users, we also contacted several of them in order to better understand their take on a more sustainable production of bicycles and the potential of the circular economy in the cycling industry. What we learnt from these conversations:

The rise of cycling during covid-19

    Bike manufacturers increased their prices lately due to the high demand.
    "The way we currently work is wrong and we noticed this with covid." As most bicycles and parts are massively imported from Asia, bike manufacturers and shops really depend on a long and complex supply chain. Difficulties in the supply chain result in shortages of bikes and spare parts.

Circularity in the cycling industry

    "Unfortunately, we create a huge waste mountain as a bicycle maker. I want to take my responsibility and reduce the waste, but I'm only doing this by myself. Wholesalers do nothing about circularity."
    "People need to maintain their bikes more often so that bicycles can get a longer life."
    "New tech in bicycles - for instance, hydraulic brakes & electronic stuff - is a black box and not sustainable at all."
    "It's possible to work with open standards for bicycles - it's a matter of making conscious choices."

Second hand market in Belgium

    "Compared to The Netherlands, the second hand market is small in Belgium because the quality of many bicycles is too low. They're not designed and sold for a long life."
    "We find it hard to find a match between frame and parts, that's a lack of compatibility. Moreover, we don't use 2nd hand parts on bicycles for clients because quality can't be guaranteed. It's difficult to see with 2nd parts if it's still reliable or not."
    "As a bike shop owner, I can't do much about it, but I feel crazy about the upselling strategies in the cycling industry. Bicycle have become too unmodular."
    "Gravel bikes are overhyped. The bikes get sold as all-in-one, but that doesn't exist. It's for instance not really made for touring since some cyclists already complained that it causes pain in the neck (see Shermer's Neck)."

Shortage of spare parts

    "The current shortage of stock can be explained in the following way: there's an increase in demand for bicycles (many old bikes were taken out of the garage and needed to be repaired), but several companies in Asia were also shut down during the first lockdown and there's now a very high demand for containers coming to Europa. At the same time, a few big players started hoarding and, consequently, interrupted the market."
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