How do today’s bike manufacturers cope with rapid technological developments and what is in store for the near future? Claudio […]
How do today’s bike manufacturers cope with rapid technological developments and what is in store for the near future? Claudio Salomoni (Product Manager) and Marco Genovese (Engineer) of the Willier Triestina brand were kind enough to provide the answers.
Various Market Segments
Today’s bike market is a highly segmented one. From the bare bone single speeds and fixies to urban bikes, fitness bikes, cross-country or cross-over and ‘adventure’ bikes, it is hard to find ourselves. Dig one level down and you will find the aero bikes, the endurance bikes, the gravel bikes, and the cyclocross ones.
If you want to ride deeper on forests trails, then you are to choose between a hardtail, a trail bike, an XC or a downhill one! Wait! There are also the enduro bikes and fat bikes! And if this is not enough, the e-bikes in all abovementioned segments are coming into force.
You get my point – for the general public, this is enough to turn a bike-shopping experience into a traumatic one.
Where does a company like yours stand with all these choices? In which ways will Wilier Triestina choose to follow these trends?
Claudio Salomoni: You are right, the segmentation of the bike market is in many ways a nightmare. It was easy in the past and it is not anymore. It is a nightmare for the customer but also for the producers and bike shops!
But at the same time, for the customer, it often turns into a good nightmare! Let me explain my point: when they’re buying a specific bike like a road bike or a high-end MTB, it is for sports and fitness purposes. And in this sense, it is not something that you actually need (like a city commuter bike, for example). Most bikes are an emotional purchase to satisfy personal desires. In many ways, it is like buying a car. Wilier Triestina and others like us are not providing simply a mechanical tool to get you from point A to point B but rather an experience so you can enjoy your sport of choice.
In your opinion, which of these bike segments are real and long-lasting to amateur riders? Which trends are less relevant?
Claudio Salomoni: First and foremost, I must say that Wilier’s DNA is purely anchored in road racing. This is where our heart is. So, for whichever market segments, we will favour bikes with larger wheels.
For example, in the MTB market where we have a small market share, we embraced the 29″ trend as a more suitable and natural one for us. Not so much for the wheel size per se but because we knew that this would be a faster and more stable bike for the average rider.
At the same time, we all see ‘fire trends’ that last for a few years and then pretty much disappear. I’m thinking of the single speed bikes which were very popular sales-wise… and then they weren’t. The same thing happened with fat bikes, which were crazy hot for two or three years where they were ‘the thing’. And then not.
Gravel bikes are currently the thing. Yet, should they be considered a long-lasting trend?
Marco Genovese: As an engineer, I am really happy to work on new projects for the gravel bike market because I see so much excitement from the customers. It is refreshing.
Claudio Salomoni: What looks interesting to us now is definitely the gravel segment. Immediately, we loved it: a drop-bar bike that allows you to move outside of standard roads! We believe that the gravel segment is here to remain.
What do you say to the large part of the buyer’s market that started their first bike experience with a low to mid-range MTB and recently decided to buy a gravel bike as their second bike? More often than not, they end up buying a road bike later on because they feel that a gravel bike is not fast enough to cope with their friends going on weekend road bike trips.
Claudio Salomoni: Yes, I see your point. Now, on the other hand, I would say this: a gravel bike is a fun bike.
For road bike people used to riding the tarmac at high speeds, a gravel bike becomes a fun way to explore alternate roads not normally accessible to them. It is a way to ride without the hassles of traffic and pollution. For them, it offers a different kind of fun training where they normally would not go.
For mountain bikers, it is a way to experience fast rides around where they live without having to put their bike in a car and travel to a mountain somewhere to hit the downhill trails.
Of course, if you talk about pure speed on the road, then get a road bike. And if you prefer hardcore off-road, then an MTB is what you should get. But if you want to combine the two, then a gravel bike is the answer.
Others are looking at gravel bikes as a sporting discipline but this is still a small segment of the market today.
So, for many people today, a gravel bike is not their first bike, in that you are correct. In fact, it really depends on where you live. Look, a gravel bike is a bit like a Swiss army knife, allowing you to do a lot. You can use it as a commuter, you can install fenders and use it in the rain or you can put on racks and go on bikepacking adventures.
The MTB segment at large represents most of the sales in the bike market worldwide.
Claudio Salomoni: In the MTB market today, the 27.5” segment is very strong sales-wise but we see more and more manufacturers producing enduro and downhill bikes with 29” wheels. At Wilier, we believe that the 29” is a superior option. We learned this from our past experiences in the road bike market.
More and more people today are buying bikes than ever before. This means that you have both physically fitter people on bikes training two to three times per week. But it also means that more less fit people are on bikes, using their MTB only occasionally.
In the MTB market, this poses a challenge for the bike manufacturer because all of us must design bikes which are not only fast and fun but also comfortable and stable. Because this is what amateurs want and need.
A large portion of casual MTB riders are simply not people looking for the best performances in a bike. Rather, they want a bike that will not make their muscles sore due to an aggressive position. So a 29″ with a higher position (and a shorter reach) makes total sense. The bigger wheels make it also easier to overcome obstacles for less experienced riders when they ride trails.
So, the industry is bringing more 29″ers because they allow more people to experience the trail. Now, in all of the MTB segments, the hardtail is definitely the most accessible to the large public, both for cost reasons and practicality.
Marco Genovese: Hmmm… As you know there is a lot of rumours about MTB e-bikes and the European market is a strong promoter of this trend worldwide. I just do not know how this will turn out. However, the product development is currently all rather the same across all major manufacturers so we will see how it goes.
And the e-bike segment?
Claudio Salomoni: In my opinion, there are two directions here. One is all about bikes with the largest, most powerful, and longest-lasting battery. Today, the standard battery is at 500 Watts and tomorrow, it will be a 650 or a 700 one. In this segment, people are looking for more power and de facto, this market segment will remain as some people just want the most powerful stuff available as battery technology improves.
The second trend is where Wilier stands and it is to offer an e-bike that feels more like a normal bike. This is true for most market segments where the e-bike is present (road, MTB, etc.) across all manufacturers.
We currently do it in the road bike segment where we offer an e-bike, which is as close to a normal bike as it can be, both weight- and feeling-wise. So, something that is not super powerful but still is a normal bike. The Cento Hybrid is a good example of this – at 12 kg, it is still a normal bike (BTW, we have samples weighing only 10 kg!).
So over 25 km/h, the motor is off so you make your workout. A climb comes and you may choose to get some help. For both our road and MTB bikes, the geometry is very similar to a normal bike. Again, this truly helps less fit riders to join group rides, which they normally would not be able to be part of.
For the amateur rider, it will provide enough power to help you in the climbs but it is also something which you will need to pedal your way back home!
A Globalized Bike-Manufacturing World
As we all know, today’s bike design usually happens at a company’s headquarters, may it be in Italy, the US, Canada, France or others. As for the manufacturing itself, this has by and large been transferred to Asia-based companies, mostly in Taiwan, which today produces the vast majority of the world’s bicycles. This is true for the simple city bike commuter and all the way to bicycles at the very top of the market.
A bike consists of a sum of its parts, it is obvious that the link between the bike and component manufacturers is key.
Since the integration of various components from external manufacturers such as the Big-3 (Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo) and others is an intrinsic part of your work as a bike manufacturer, how is your work affected by their respective developments year after year?
Claudio Salomoni: OK, on one side, we are forced to follow the developments at Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, that’s given. If they produce a specific part with specific parameters, it does not matter whether we like it or not, we must comply. And this is true for most bike manufacturers. Then, at the same time, we all know that the Big-3 know what they are doing and their R&D is consistently moving in an evolutive way towards better products.
Now, on the other side, we see that the biggest bike manufacturers (and also some smaller ones like ourselves) are starting to produce more and more of our own components outside of the frames. It started with frames and front forks. Now we are all working on our respective seat posts (either with proprietary aero shapes or simply more comfortable).
Second, many of us are producing our own cockpits consisting of integrated bars (bar stems + handlebars), which fit only onto our frames because of all of the various options for internal cabling and so on. For bike manufacturers, producing our own wheels will be the new thing and we are closely looking into this and so are others.
In the future, we see the Big-3 still producing the drivetrains and shifters. The other components will be more like in the automotive industry where everyone produces their own versions of specific components. Some bike manufacturers are already producing their own crankshafts. It is not something we are looking into because we think that the Big-3 are already doing a good job at that – but it is there.
Marco Genovese: As an engineer, this means a lot more work for us because all of this integration means that we have to work and develop new parts. And since these are new parts for us, we then must be sure of the investment. As Claudio said, integration is super important for bike manufacturers.
The next step for bike manufacturers like us and others will be to make our own front derailleur in the road bike market, I think.
The Future of the Industry
Where do you see the industry in 2025?
Marco Genovese: Oh, the bike industry evolves super fast so, for me, the year 2025 is very hard to predict. But to answer your question, I think that 3D printing will bring some important innovations. Then the main advances will be in speed-to-market development processes, I think. We see this already in our company.
Now, in the road bike market, I know of some pretty important changes that will happen in the near future but I cannot talk about them today, sorry.
Claudio Salomoni: Unfortunately, I will still not be retired by then so I must think of this, I guess! My answer would be this: composite materials in the distant future will be way more than just carbon and resin and other minor additions. It will be something that will be added as a mid-layer between carbon and resin and it will be completely new material.
We tried to use the honeycomb pattern materials but it was difficult for technical reasons. Then, as I previously mentioned, the nanocellulose options coming from trees are a way to go because these are much less polluting than pure carbon. The new material will not kill carbon but it will be less polluting and cheaper to produce, for sure.
In this sense, the aeronautic industry is a great mentor to all of us in the bike industry. BOEING has been working on the Microlattice for a while and this may be an option in the future as it is currently the lightest metal ever.