Batavus & Civia – the new commuter bikes?
Back in March, I wrote about Batavus coming to the US. Elegantly constructed Dutch commuter bikes, they seemed to be priced for the commuter cyclist who wants a bit of extra style and comfort, and can afford it. They’re now being joined in this limited market by Civia. New, and even pricier, with options that include a single speed, the Shimano Alfine group, or even a Rohloff, they’re approaching the pricepoint of a competitive road or MTB race bike.
These are not commuter bikes for the masses. Not that I’m suggesting it, but we can still get from point A to point B on a sub $100 X-mart bike. Realistically though, when the price approaches $800 or more ($3,000 for the Rohloff-equipped Civia) for a “transportation” bike, the market gets smaller. And that’s fine, as long as there are people out there willing to pay the asking price.
Sure, there are economics at work here – there’s much more profit potential in a bike that sells for a grand or two than there is in a bike that sells for a couple hundred bucks. But it’s how they arrive at that price that makes me question their market research. A friend in sometimes soggy Portland confirms that there is a desire for discs on transportation bikes, but doesn’t really see the need for a carbon fiber fork. I also noticed they have proprietary fenders. That’s all well and good, but what about people that want some really fat tires? 700×32 might not cut it. Same with studs for snow.
Both brands have some really nice designs, and they certainly have appeal to commuters. Will that translate into a commercial success though? Will these bikes be bought by serious commuters that demand more performance, as well as attention, or will they go to folks that ride them once in a blue moon, then park them in the garage until they’re sold on craigslist? It’s also interesting to note many of the major brands are offering up their own versions of commuters, (I’ll save that for a later post) at a much lower price.
I’m curious to see how this turns out.
What I dislike about the entrants is that all the exciting entries are over $500, whether it is Coasting, the Jorg+Olif Sport, or the Alta. Why is it impossible for someone to produce something truly inexpensive and stylish for commuting? I always thought it would have been great if Target had bought the Alta design and brought it over in red and white at a cheaper price. Perhaps when Muji comes over to the US, we finally might get commuter bikes that aren’t too expensive to commute on…
Keep in mind that the demographic for recreational road bikes is the successful upper-middle class and in general the more affluent kind of people. I’ve noticed that most car-owning bicycle commuters seem to be roughly the same kind. Granted, my world view of bicycle commuters across the US is mostly gathered by reading blogs and talking on forums. It’s no secret that there are more upper-class people using the Internet.
With that, the big bucks are in targeting the high-end market while providing more affordable options for the masses. As you know (and others may not), both Civia and Batavus are parts of larger parent companies that among other things provide more mass-market targeted bicycles. I parallel them to the premium brands of “regular” car manufacturers in the US. Like Ford’s Lincoln and Jaguar, Toyota’s Lexus, Honda’s Acura and the like.
With Lance — the face of American bicycle racing success — out of the picture, the industry needed something else. The high prices of gasoline, the push for environmental friendliness (no matter how superficial), and the desire for people to start losing their fat-suits are other factors in the timing of mass-market “Commuter Bikes”. Just a year ago, this was a relatively unheard-of market segment. You just take a bicycle and ride it to work. You add a rack, some lights, maybe throw some fenders on, and ride.
Regardless, when I look at bicycles in this new “class”, I can’t help but think that these are not really anything ground-breaking. With the exception of the high-end stuff, most of these bikes appear to be everyday bikes that have been adorned with popular commuter aftermarket parts from the factory.
I think you are spot on with your assessment of the Civia line. The market for a $1900 off the shelf single speed commuter bike can’t be very large, and the dedicated commuter with the funds to purchase such a bike (myself for example) has a very clear idea of what they want, and that means customization, not a ‘one size fits all’ off the shelf model.
For example, I’ve built a commuter with an Alfine hub, Kona frame, and Tubus racks for far less than the cost of the Civia Alfine. One thing I didn’t add to my commuter was expensive parts for show like the Thompson seatpost and stem on the Civia. What were they thinking putting those parts on a commuter?