For Immediate Release
March 12, 2007
Century Cycles owner Scott Cowan reflects on changes in the bike industry since 1992
Rocky River, OH - When Scott Cowan opened the first Century Cycles in Medina in 1992, George H. W. Bush was president and Jay Leno was just starting his stint as host of "The Tonight Show." Back then, Century Cycles sold one road bike a month and didn't have a carbon fiber bicycle in stock.
Fifteen years later, Bush the Younger is president and Jay Leno is a late-night institution. Today, Century Cycles sells almost one road bike a day and has three stores displaying dozens of bikes made of space-age carbon fiber.
As the award-winning local bike store chain marks its fifteenth anniversary this month, the occasion has Cowan reflecting on how much the bicycle industry has evolved and improved since 1992, in particular addressing key issues of comfort and quality.
"It's much more enjoyable to ride a bicycle manufactured in 2007, because it's designed from top to bottom to be a comfortable riding experience," says Cowan. "The bicycles that are so popular right now - including comfort bikes and retro cruiser models - did not even exist in 1992. Those new styles, along with the always-popular hybrid bicycles, comprise about 60% of our sales today."
If you haven't been on a bike since Reagan was in office, some of these terms may be a little confusing. Here's a review of some of the basic bicycle types and how they've evolved since 1992:
- Road bicycles. Road or racing bicycles are designed for riding on pavement. They have drop handlebars, thin tires, and usually are very light for riding at faster speeds. Cowan says, "We sell significantly more road bikes in 2007 than in 1992. Back then, we sold maybe 12 in an entire year. Now, we sell a dozen every week or two - and not just because we have three stores. More and more people are buying road or racing bikes today, a trend I credit to the obvious influence of Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong on the sport. There is also growing interest from mountain bikers, who want to go faster and have riding access right outside their front door. Manufacturers are even designing road bikes to be more comfortable, too, with an eye toward aging baby boomers."
- Mountain bicycles. On the other end of the bicycle spectrum are mountain bikes - rugged bikes with smaller wheels, thicker and more knobby tires, and an aggressive riding position for better off-road control and maneuverability. Remembers Cowan, "When we first opened the Medina store in 1992, the mountain bike craze had changed the face of bicycle retailing and would continue to dominate through 1997. By 2000, the craze was fading. However, proving the ever-cyclical nature of the bike business, mountain bikes are beginning to trend up again, especially as more mountain bike riding areas are established in Ohio and around the nation."
- Hybrid bicycles. Hybrid bicycles are a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike, designed for use on roads and bike paths. Hybrids have a more upright riding position, smoother tires for better street riding, and are designed with comfort in mind. "We believed in hybrid bikes from the beginning," says Cowan. "Now hybrids and their off-shoots make up the bulk of our business. My average buyer is in their mid-40s and a hybrid is perfect bike for him or her, for riding with kids or touring the countryside or getting in shape."
- Comfort bicycles. Comfort bikes split the hair again, combining the features of a hybrid bike with smaller 26-inch wheels and smooth tires for a softer, more comfortable ride. Cowan notes, "Comfort bikes are the hot new bike right now, but they didn't even exist as a category back in 1992. Then again, neither did the active, aging baby boomers we see shopping for bikes today."
- Cruiser bikes. These are retro-looking three speeds in fun colors and designs. "We're selling cruiser-style bikes to everyone from the people who rode them as kids back in the 1950s - and can't believe how much lighter and more comfortable they are today - to the young hipsters who like the cool way they look," says Cowan.
- Kids' bikes. One always-strong segment of bicycles sales is kids' bikes. "Even with organized sports like soccer, homework, and TV and computer screens all vying for kids' attention, bikes are still popular," says Cowan. "In 1992, BMX bikes were the number one bike with kids. Today, it's a mix between BMX, mountain, and cruiser bikes. The big difference we see now is more grandparents coming in, buying bikes for both themselves and their grandchildren so they can ride together. That rarely happened in the early ‘90s."
- Bike materials. Back in 1992, almost all of the bicycles Century Cycles sold had steel frames. In 2007, almost every bike is aluminum, and space-age materials like titanium and carbon fiber are more prevalent. "When we opened 15 years ago, only one or two bike manufacturers were making carbon fiber bikes. Now every manufacturer has carbon fiber models in their line-up. Carbon fiber bikes are lighter and stronger than aluminum and have a more supple ride. But it's at a price - they do cost more, too," notes Cowan.
Just as bikes have changed, so have bicycle accessories. Cowan breaks a few categories down and gives us his perspective on the ways they've changed, too.
- Helmets. "When I first started selling bikes in the early 1990s, only about 20% of the buyers had or bought helmets. Today it's 90% or more. Helmets are now universally-accepted by almost everyone in the bicycling community, from the casual rider to the hardcore mountain biker. That's a shift I personally advocated in my stores and am very happen to see happened. Helmets really do save lives."
- Seats. "Bicycle seats have come a long, long way for comfort for both men and women. Now there are hundreds of seats featuring gels, carbon fiber, and other high-tech materials that make seats lighter yet far more comfortable."
- Bike computers. The computer age has transformed bicycling, too. Back in 1992, a cycling computer was little more than a speedometer and was prone to failure and inaccuracy. Today, cycling computers tell you everything from average speed to your heart rate and many are wireless to boot. Much more reliable than ever, they can even download to your home computer, a real plus for people who are in a training regimen or just love lots of information."
Century Cycles opened its first store in Medina in March, 1992, with one employee and about 50 bikes on the showroom floor. Today, Century Cycles has three stores, 35 year-round employees, and several hundred bikes on display in each store. The Peninsula Century Cycles store, which opened in 1993, is located along the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and - in addition to bicycle sales and service - it rents bicycles, trailers, and tagalongs by the hour for use on the Towpath Trail.
Century Cycles opened the Rocky River store in 1998 in the historic former Rocky River post office building on Detroit Road, next to Herb's Tavern. Century Cycles is proud to be selling Raleigh bicycles in Rocky River, a town that is one of the Washington-state bicycle manufacturer's oldest retail outposts east of the Mississippi.
Century Cycles is an award-winning chain of independent bicycle stores that is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2007. It has locations in Medina, Peninsula, and Rocky River. In addition to catering to cyclists and their families with high-quality bicycles and exemplary service, Century Cycles is active locally and nationally in support of bicycling paths and other issues of vital importance to the cycling community.