Some of the folks who are regular readers of Tandem@Hobbes, Double_Forte@YahooGroups, GA_Peaches@YahooGroups, and BikeForums.net may have noticed that I did not conduct a tandem enthusiast poll this past winter. It was an intentionally omission, i.e., I just didn’t feel like it. But, that’s not to say that I’ve lost my interest in keeping my finger on the pulse of the tandem scene.
Of course, keeping your finger on the pulse of anything when you live in what is merely one small, southern region can be a bit of a challenge, as I clearly recognize that the level of interest and participation is something as obscure as tandem cycling is very regional and driven by a wide variety of demographics not the least of which is population density, seasonal conditions, other interests, and so on. So, just because we see more or less folks out riding tandems where we live and ride is representative of only one thing: where we live and ride as well as with whom we ride. Being an overly active tandem discussion forum reader and contributor also gives me some insights, as does the steady feed of tandem cycling related news that I get from a variety of web-based resources and from corresponding with tandem enthusiasts around the nation and even a few in other countries.
This year, and partially driven my doing a little homework before doing my radio interview with Diane Lees on Cleveland Public Radio’s Outspoken Cyclist back on April 2nd, I checked in with a few different tandem dealers around the country to get their impression of how strong the tandem market was in their respective regions. Again, no real surprise to me in that each of my dealer friends could see some common trends and while sales were generally up from the big drop off in 2008, some dealers were seeing very strong sales while others were not.
As for the common trends:
- High-end tandem sales continue to be strong. While a lot of the buyers are existing tandem owners who are upgrading, new buyers are also showing a preference for the higher-end exotic frame materials and racing tandems. Many of remain somewhat surprised at just how much demand there is for $10k+ tandems.
- New buyers are still coming into the market and still struggling with the cost entry point for new premium quality tandems (See companion piece on Entry Level Tandem Price Gap), as the gap between something like a KHS and even the newer ‘best-value’ tandems from Santana, Co-Motion, Rodriguez and daVinci is still pretty big, e.g.,
- Santana Nouvo Sport @ $2,795 using imported frame + entry-level components
- daVinci Grand Junction @ $2,995 using imported frame w/entry-level components
- Rodriguez Toucan ST @ $2,999 using domestic frame w/entry-level components
- Co-Motion Scout @ $3,025 using domestic Periscope frame + entry-level components
- Travel tandems with S&S Bicycle Torque Couplings (BTCs) sales have remained steady despite a big price increase in BTC prices in 2008 and the other issues associated with air travel.
- In at least one region, a long time friend and dealer reports that they’ve seen quite a few families coming in looking for tandems so that they can share their love of cycling with kids. In short, they don’t want to see their kids missing out on what cycling has to offer as has happened to a couple of the more recent generations of young kids.
- In another region a friend who manages a full-service, brick & mortar bike shop that also sells tandems has done a fairly brisk level of business this year delivering 13 tandems without really trying. A Co-Motion Periscope convertible triplet for one of our friends, another Co-Motion custom Surpremo for another one of our friends, and some pretty nice bikes for racer-boys looking to join the tandem cycling scene with their spouses and kids were included in the tally.
- At least one dealer continues to lead the way in reaching out with an annual open house that yielded double-digit tandem sales in a single day, including some really high-end composite hardware sales: some from inventory others ordered up by first time buyers.
- At the same time, other regions continue to see the 2008 sales slump as the low point with steady year-over-year recoveries in sales, but not to pre-2008 volume as of yet. However, high-end tandems are off-setting the lower volume.
Looking as just a snapshot of the industry, at least two of the manufacturers we’ve mentioned are expanding their existing facilities to support increased capacity, so their sales volumes would seem to support the notion that overall demand for tandems and bikes is on the rise as a whole.
So, just based on that sample, I’d say that the recent increase in bicycle sales across the board continues to lift all boats. But, perhaps more importantly, the speciality bike market’s interest in handmade American bikes has also had a positive effect in making consumers more aware of the long-standing handmade American tandem scene, where builders like Bilenky, Co-Motion, Calfee, Bohemian, Eriksen and others have come to the fore and even a French builder — Cyfac — made a pretty big splash at this year’s NAHBS show.