Are Brilliant Bicycles really Brilliant?

1932316_929536510407999_5379744506276974419_nBrilliant Bicycles web page is full of some video and imagery of folks doing the kinds of things I love – riding some beautiful looking bikes. While there is no text yet indicating the details of their products, they seem to be crafting beautifully adorned steel “city style” bikes – similar to San Francisco’s Public bicycles. Their twitter page lists them as from New York and Los Angeles (but don’t confuse them with the Brilliant Bikes out of the UK). They have all the standard social media offerings one would expect of what appears to be a brand new bike brand just launching. So I went searching for more information.

Their Facebook page is filled with eclectic and decidedly artsy cycling related posts, including interesting references to authors and bicycles and vintage bicycle photos. I checked it out and was interested enough to make a mental note to keep my eyes open for more information about them.

But then something changed…

After visiting their Facebook page, a sponsored ad for them not-so-surprisingly showed up in my own timeline. This is what caught my eye:

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…no middlemen taking cuts and physical stores filled with over-engineered gear at astronomical prices.

Wait…. what?!?!?!

So apparently their marketing strategy is direct-to-consumer sales without going through independent bike shops. Now I may be just a slight bit sensitive to this issue right now, but how exactly is that supposed to work? And their comment about “…over-engineered gear at astronomical prices…” definitely seems to imply they are trying to employ a for the common folk kind of approach. News flash: bypassing the local bike shops creates a different type of classism.

Of course bike shops – like all retail outlets – mark up prices. That’s how they stay in business. But for that extra cost you get a ton of value. There are numerous tangible and intangible benefits to be had in a bike shop. I can talk to knowledgable staff to help me select a bike that will actually work for me. I can get the bike properly adjusted to make riding comfortable and enjoyable for me. I can get my bike assembled by someone that has built hundreds of not thousands of bikes and actually knows what the hell they are doing. And I’m also likely to get some additional services – free tune ups and/or adjustments in the future for example.

But instead, Brilliant Bicycles is offering me a bike in a box. It seems highly unlikely it would be shipped fully assembled. I’m also going to have to figure out what size I need and pay for the bike before ever even throwing a leg over the top tube. I’m going to have to figure out how to get it adjusted for me.

So by marketing to the “common folk” they are actually restricting themselves to “the common folk that know a few things about bikes already.” Let’s face it – most casual riders really don’t want to spend any time with a wrench next to their bikes. They expect the bikes to “just work.” It is hard to deliver “just works” in a card board box shipped to your front door.

There is no question about it – the bicycle retail industry is a tough business for shop owners. I totally see the profit motivations for Brilliant Bicycle’s marketing strategy. But honestly I really can’t see how cutting out independent bike shops will serve to spread bikes to more people. There are already plenty of folks out there selling cheap stuff online – and you get what you pay for.

So my response to Brilliant Bicycles? If you want to market direct to buyers that’s great. But don’t disparage the local bike shop owners to do it. At some point your customers will need some tubes, a new tire – maybe their brake cables replaced. Efforts like yours make it increasingly difficult for people to run the business that keep bikes on the roads in the hearts of our cities and on our roads all across the country. Sorry, I just don’t think your marketing strategy is all that brilliant.