Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

OPINION

The problem with bike industry launches… and how to fix it

Avatar
Writing about new bikes is what we do, but do we need to jet off somewhere nice for a week to do it? (No, it’s not a trick question)

For some of you this is going to read like a piece of cycling media navel gazing or, worse still, virtue signalling. Oh well, sometimes it pays to take a look at your belly button.

With that in mind, let’s talk about road.cc’s policy on bike launches, in fact the whole company’s policy so ebiketips and off.road.cc too, what it is and why.

Why do you need to know this? 

Okay, unless you’re someone that organises bike industry launches, 'need' is doing an an amount of heavy lifting that would normally entail some sort of intervention on health and safety grounds, but bear with me. I’m using up valuable pixels to set it down here so that in future when one of our tech team is invited on a multi-day bike or product launch in sunnier climes they can politely point to this article and then regretfully decline. Beyond that publishing it on road.cc is a way of holding us to our stated policy. 

Why don’t you like launches? 

We just think that there are better, more efficient, less wasteful and more sustainable ways of launching a new bike (or anything) than flying a load of journos across Europe (and sometimes the world) to ride a bike up an Alpe/down a Pyrenee/over a Dolomite or through a desert. 

Yes, there are good things about bike launches the old skool way – the opportunity to talk face to face with the team responsible for creating that new bike being the biggie, they’re also great for networking and establishing relationships with people in the industry and they’re a great opportunity for young journalists in particular to meet their peers. However, for us, those benefits don’t outweigh the wastefulness of resource, time, money, and carbon for everyone involved. 

The story of the new bike, wheel, groupset (or whatever) and, why the readers of road.cc/off.road.cc/ebiketips might want one could more meaningfully be told without flying somewhere sunny for riding, wining, dining and presentation(s) over multiple days – fun though that is.

Why? Because the end result of that is websites and magazines producing much the same story, with similar pics, at exactly the same time (don’t get me started on product launch embargoes). Any first ride of a new bike would be more meaningful for the readers of road.cc, ebiketips or off.road.cc if it was instead a full blown review over crappy British roads or muddy singletrack in the rain rather than a few hours over immaculate tarmac or desert trails in the sunshine.

By necessity big launches are highly structured affairs, structured for the benefit of whoever is doing the launching to point everyone in the direction of the launch story they want. That’s why you do a launch. No matter how good and independent minded a journalist you are the structure of a bike launch ensures that everyone ends up with a relatively samey outcome – that's not to say that all launch stories are the same, but they all start from the point of a bunch of bike journos riding the same bikes over the same roads at the same time, backed up by a team of mechanics in conditions picked to optimally showcase the strengths of that particular bike (which by the way is fair enough). While all that may be great for getting a brand message across, it isn’t necessarily the best outcome for the reader, or the writer.

Aside from the inputs and outputs of launches as they currently are there are also selfish publisher reasons we're not keen. Having a member of your already stretched tech team out of the office for three/four/five days to write one, maybe two, stories while racking up expenses on airport parking, food and drink, mileage, trains… is not an effective use of their time or our money. Yes, some launch stories can do very well, but even the best would struggle to beat the traffic that could have been generated by the four/five/six stories that weren’t written because the journo who’d have written them was at a launch or travelling to or from one. Their absence also puts a strain on the rest of the team too.

There is one other big fly in the ointment when it comes to launches, which looking at the bigger picture is the biggest of the lot, but we’ll come to that in a moment.

Before that it would be unfair not to acknowledge a couple of fairly obvious things. First, this approach to product launches isn't specific to the bike industry, but because cycling is so closely linked with environmental friendliness, active travel and lowering your carbon footprint, launches strike a jarring note.

Second, this isn't a one way street – it's not just up to the bike industry to change its approach to launches. We in the media are partners in the process and have a part to play too.

So, what’s your new launch policy?

From now on road.cc and its sister sites are adopting a no fly rule for bike (or any other product) launches – if we’ve got to fly there we’re not going. Plus we’ll be very choosy indeed about attending any others that don’t involve flying but do involve multiple days away from slaving over a hot laptop in rainy Blighty. 

We still want to cover the launch, but we’ll have to do it remotely.

In truth this isn’t a totally new policy. It’s the natural evolution of our old policy. Over the last decade we’ve got increasingly picky about the launches we attend and we’ve often spoken to people in the industry about new ways of doing them. The pandemic demonstrated they could be done differently (and better) – and then as soon as it was over (most) of the industry went back to doing them the old way. Trek is the notable exception.

There’s one other big reason we’re not going to fly to launches from now on: the world IS in the middle of a man-made climate emergency so taking unnecessary flights in these circumstances just seems wrong. 

While cycling is an environmentally-friendly activity, for the time being at least, the process of making and selling bikes involves a lot of (currently) hard to avoid carbon emissions. Bike and product launches are a tiny fraction of the bike industry’s carbon footprint, they’re a significantly larger part of the bike media’s, but for both they are an avoidable part. 

I should say we’re not trying to claim any moral high ground on this, we’re not trying to be preachy and this is not a grand gesture, it’s a small step, but one that’s within our power to take so we’re going to take it. I’m certain we’re not the first publication to adopt this line and hopefully we won’t be the last. 

And to be clear, we’re not saying that we won’t fly anywhere ever again, we’re just saying we won’t take unnecessary flights. For all the reasons listed above flying to launches is unnecessary. In fact 95 per cent of the time attending launches at all however you get there is unnecessary to.

'It's fine, we  offset some carbon…'

Okay, smartarse, how would you do them instead?

Here’s our alternative recipe, we’re pretty sure it’ll work because lots of bikes were launched quite successfully using most of the suggestions below during Covid.

1. Send bikes out under embargo to publications ahead of time, carving them out of each country’s marketing allocation – the UK does still have a marketing allocation doesn’t it?
2. Stream the product presentation, brands did that very effectively during Covid. Either livestream the whole thing or stream a pre-recorded vid and then have a livestream Q&A after.
3. Offer one to one online convos with a member/members of the team responsible for the new bike.
4. On launch day we all publish our stories, vids etc.
5. If anyone goes early they don’t get a bike next time.

And…

6. If you’d rather have some sort of launch event consider sending a small team + bikes to Bath. As well as road.cc, off.road.cc and ebiketips central Bath is home to CyclingNews, Cycling Weekly and GCN. BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and MBUK are a few minutes away in Bristol (another good alternative location), while Cyclist is an hour and 20mins away by train. Between us that’s not just the entire UK road cycling audience, but also a sizeable chunk of the English speaking cycling world.

It seems to us that launches only take the form they do out of habit. Now is the time to break that habit. At least for us it is. Hopefully others in the cycling media and the cycling industry will see that it’s time for a change too. I’m pretty sure they know it is.

road.cc's founder and first editor, nowadays to be found riding a spreadsheet. Tony's journey in cycling media started in 1997 as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - finally handing on the reins in 2021 to Jack Sexty. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes, though he'd like to own a carbon bike one day.

Add new comment

9 comments

Avatar
Cugel | 4 weeks ago
1 like

If RoadCC and similar specialist mass media organs were serious about being not just ethical about climate change factors but about the whole highly-damaging consumerist model of the neolib economic hegomony, they wouldn't have anything at all to do with "product launches". 

A more convincing model would be for an advert-free (even an advert-averse) media organsiation to review/test bicycles and other cyling products in a realistic way, with anonymous buying of the product and no unseen tethers on true opinions of reviewers via opaque mutual back-scratching relationships with manufacturers.

No need to fly or do junkets where reviewers are bribed or browbeaten into a "it's great!" gush mode. Just go out and ride the bike from the reviewer's door then make an honest and full report after several such rides, on British roads in British conditions, if the website it primarily aimed at domestic cyclists.

Let's face it, a junket-ride is no test and useless as the basis of any honest or complete review.

The problem is then that such a mass media organ has to survive economically by other means than advertising revenue - most likely via paid subscriptions from members. Is that viable? It would depend on the strength, reputation and quality of their review process and emergent information perhaps?

Personally I prefer the independent mode of review by disinterested obsessives such as the Zero Friction Cycling bloke.  But even he has been seduced a bit by those manufacturers he's found to be providing high quality products; and by the generalised media-sphere of commercially-constructed websites such as ..... this one. Up he pops on GCN or gladhanding that Silca bloke. Perhaps Hambini is a better model?   1

 

Avatar
I love my bike replied to Cugel | 4 weeks ago
0 likes

Media needs to do their part, but the readr/consumer also needs to do theirs as well:

Cycle clothing that is displayed on a mannequin or standing model cannot indicate the fit in a cycling position! (except maybe for unicyclists?)

Bikes & components are not blind tested, so for example endurance bikes are assumed to be 'comfy' & race bikes 'fast & nimble'. The consumer will have those expectations as well, so not much of an issue, even if it might not be true.

Chinese brands are viable options, at lower prices. Western brands promote more, & have dealer networks etc, but still have recalls (FSA , Shimano etc).

Avatar
yellowjack | 1 month ago
5 likes

Sounds cool. I haven't taken an "unnecessary flight" since 1992. Flown many times since then for work, but you can't patrol the Iraqi desert, or participate in a live firing exercise on the Canadian prairie, via a Teams call. I'm concerned about reckless consumption of resources, climate crisis or not. Cycling as a sport, and even as a hobby, is far less 'green' than we like to think it is. Keeping "bike launch" footprints as light as possible sounds like a good start to making the industry more environmentally aware, but we have a long road ahead to make it environmentally friendly. Probably punctuated by some steep climbs up mountains of obstinacy and a detour or three into the badlands where "but we've always done it this way..."

Avatar
Boopop | 1 month ago
5 likes

Great stuff. Maybe you could contact FlightFreeUK and take a lifetime pledge as a company. I'm pretty sure the founder cycles too  1

Avatar
Dunnoeither | 1 month ago
4 likes

There’s one other big reason we’re not going to fly to launches from now on: the world IS in the middle of a man-made climate emergency so taking unnecessary flights in these circumstances just seems wrong.

Thank you! As a family wo choose our Holiday destinations with a strict "No Planes" Policy and its refreshing to See when others feel some kind of responsibility too.

Avatar
Mark Bickerton | 1 month ago
7 likes

Ha... I think for us at Tern Bicycles it is normal protocol for the UK!

Avatar
james-o | 1 month ago
5 likes

"if we’ve got to fly there we’re not going"

*applause from over here*

Avatar
henryb | 1 month ago
5 likes

Disappointed this article doesn't use the words 'boondoggle', 'junket' or 'jamboree'

Avatar
MattKelland | 1 month ago
8 likes

Good for you and the team, Tony. I just wish more companies and industries would take this approach.

Latest Comments