A rant about transportational cycling gear in the US

I’m going to rant a bit about the availability and pricing of transportational cycling gear inside the US, because I’ve been inspired by recent purchases.

Among many (including in the cycling industry), cycling is not considered a form of transportation in the US, but rather a sport. This means that much of the cycling gear for sale in the US is marketed for sport purposes, rather than for getting from point A to point B. Light weight and fast is the name of the game, not durable, not comfortable, and the expectation is that you’re wearing lycra, not normal clothing.

This means that transportational cycling is a niche market. Therefore, for gear that’s optimized for transportational cycling, you get niche market markups, as you’d expect. Some of this is custom gear, but a lot of it is gear imported from European and Asian countries where cycle commuting and such is more common.

Where this gets infuriating is when the niche market markups actually make it more expensive to buy from a domestic seller (and you still have to order online, typically, so you’re not even supporting your local bike shop), than it is to buy from a European seller! I mean, I prefer to buy locally when possible, and when not possible, dealing with a US seller is usually easier (if a problem occurs) than dealing with a foreign seller, but the prices can be ridiculous.

Just today, I decided to order a rain cape (I’m sick of the weather dictating whether I cycle commute or not), and decided based on reading reviews that the Carradice Pro-route cycle cape would be a good one for me. The US sellers that I could find wanted $65 for it (before shipping), and most didn’t even have stock. SJS Cycles had it in stock, and after shipping (and without VAT), it came out to £34.33, or after PayPal converted to USD, $54.43. Before shipping, their list price (after subtracting 20% VAT and converting to USD using Google) is $34.49. Seriously, American cycling gear sellers, what the actual fuck? Sure, that’s SJS’s price, not list price, but Carradice’s MSRP is £30.00 inc. VAT, or (after removing VAT) $37.

And I’ve seen this before, too. The dynamo-powered headlight I got for my folding bike, a Busch & Müller Lumotec Lyt BN plus, is available from US sellers. B&M’s US importer, Peter White Cycles, wants $34.50. True, that $34.50 is the same price I’d pay to an LBS that carries products from Peter White (although none of my immediately local ones carry any of his stuff), but that price is before sales tax and either fuel to drive to a shop, or shipping costs. Instead, I bought the light from XXCycle in France, for €23.50 shipped, or $31.19. Not a huge savings, but given that I wasn’t on a time constraint for this, a useful savings. And, for a more direct comparison to Peter White’s price, their current price for the US market, before shipping, is $20.64. B&M’s list price in Germany is €24.90, or with the 19% VAT removed and converted to USD, $26.38.

Similarly, I bought a set of battery lights for my recumbent trike – a Philips Saferide LED Bike Light (since superceded – this was back in February of 2012) and LED rear light. Total bill from H&R Bike-Discount in Germany, €113.95, or $153.83. From a US reseller, it would’ve been over $200 at the time (prices have since become more sane here, although part of that is updated models of those lights being cheaper, and it’s still cheaper to get them in Germany than here, I believe).

The upshot of this is that there’s two kinds of transportational cycling gear in the US: Chinesium garbage, which everyone gets (except where it’s been made illegal); and luxury gear (and some of this “luxury gear” is actually mid-range elsewhere in the world, and some of the actual luxury gear is far more affordable in Europe).

This then compounds on itself, because the overpriced transportational gear then has to compete against performance gear (which is often not as good at the job, unless you’re in it for performance, not transportation), rather than be in its own price niche.

I’d like to note, for what it’s worth, that I have nothing against local bike shops as well as manufacturers charging more to pay their workers a fair wage. However, given that we’re talking about the same items on both sides of the pond, the point about manufacturers is moot. And, European wages are much higher, and I can still beat US pre-shipping prices buying from European retailers – that’s a sign that one of two things are happening: either items are being brought into the US in qty 1, just like I’m doing for myself (which is insane – and Peter White’s mentioned on his site that he does exactly that with Carradice gear), and then a small margin being added to that; or there’s some highway robbery going on. Never mind that the insane markup over European MSRPs, let alone the prices that online sellers charge, hurts sales significantly, and can even hurt transportational cycling itself (because of a lack of availability of low to moderate cost, quality gear optimized for transportational cycling).

Transportational cycling with quality equipment shouldn’t be a luxury, and you shouldn’t be forced to buy Chinesium for it to be affordable.

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