Yesterday, Vital BMX released an Harry Main Interview that really fired people up. In fact, FBM and Ride UK have both chimed in on their perspectives on why Harry’s perspective is wrong and the direct to consumer route is not benefitting BMX, at least not in the correct way. I’ve been thinking about the subject quite a bit since I originally read Harry’s responses and I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to chime in. Honestly, going into this blog post I was originally just going to link to FBM and Ride UK and see if we could get any discussion going… Then I decided I might as well point out a few of my thoughts on the value of BMX shops and everything… Then it turned into a big long write up. So, let’s just get into this.
First off, I’m going to give you a little insight into my perspective and some of the driving forces behind why I feel the way I do. I’ve been riding BMX for something like 17 years now, I’ve been running BMX Union since 2007, I worked for DIG for two years and I also worked in a bike shop as well for three or so years. I’m currently a board member on a non-profit organization that I helped to form to repair and expand the local skatepark here. One thing only a select few people know is that I have also been actively working towards opening a shop with a small indoor skatepark for a little while now as well. In fact, I just toured a potential location just this morning. Over the years I’ve thrown or been heavily involved with somewhere around 20 contests and jams in the Minnesota area at multiple skateparks, most of which no longer exist. I’m also the social media manager for Fly Bikes as well, which not too many people know either. So, I guess you could say I’ve dabbled in BMX a bit.
One of the biggest issues that we’re seeing in regards to Harry Main’s statements are that the direct to consumer brand that he now represents, Mafia Bikes, is a brand that is owned by the same people that brought us Amity Bikes and Rocker BMX. Amity Bikes started out as a brand that was offered in shops using the traditional methods, until they decided to offer buy one get one free frames direct from their website… Completely undercutting the shops and eliminating a huge potential of selling those frames on their shelves. Amity disappeared… Rocker BMX came out and shortly after Mafia Bikes started popping up as well. Both brands… Direct to consumer. You can find Rocker BMX bikes on Amazon, which from a small businesses like a shops perspective, is the devil because it can allow a brand to sell direct, skipping the core distributors and shops who need as little competition as possible to make sure they can sustain. Why go to your local shop when you can order it on Amazon and get it in two days with free shipping if you’re a Prime member?
BMX is built around a support system that is more geared toward small businesses building their local scenes and keeping kids and adults on their bikes. The chain goes something like this… A brand develops a product, whether it be a completely original design or straight out of a catalog in Taiwan or China with their logo on it and maybe a few minor aesthetic changes or it’s made here in the U.S by FBM, Standard or S&M for example or another country with a similar in-house setup. That product is then sold by the brand to the distributors around the world who then sell to the shops and mail-orders to sell to you, the consumer. In some cases, the brand will go direct to mail-orders or a shop when distributors slack on picking up their range of products as well which is acceptable if the distributor doesn’t want it but the shop or mail-order does. You would be surprised by the slack there can be in some of these chains.
Now, that local shop is able to supply riders in their area, or worldwide if their online store is getting that kind of reach, which helps to build up a local scene because riders are able to link up because of this common ground. We see a lot of shops throwing jams and events to help keep riders excited and motivated to keep riding.
Alright, so the supply chain can lead to shops being able to run a successful business while developing local scenes that are recruiting riders who make up the scene in an area, potentially growing the number of riders substantially if done correctly. That chain of events has been the way BMX has operated for quite some time now and it’s definitely important and why so many people are getting fired up over this.
The big argument we’re seeing here is that the direct to consumer route is not only preventing the creation of potential jobs offered by distributors and shops, but that they’re also undercutting these shops pretty substantially in the process. For example, Mafia Bikes might make a complete bike that could be comparable in price to let’s say a bike that Subrosa, Volume or Wethepeople make, but because they are getting the products made and then selling them online, direct to the consumer, skipping distributors and shops, those mark ups in price that those two steps add to the price are eliminated as well. Instead of offering the bike for a comparable price to a complete bike sold in a shop, they’re offering the bike for the price a distributor or shop might be paying. Which then makes it impossible for shops to compete. Parents will see they could get something similar for half the price and click away on Amazon without having to go out of their way to visit a shop (that is until they need help assembling these bikes properly).
As Harry mentions in in his interview, he talks about how Mafia is selling tons of bikes and they’re getting kids on bikes. Which, sure, they can prove that these bikes are selling. I don’t doubt it. Their key demographic is kids, and kids require money supplied by their parents which let’s be real, will always look for a cost effective way to get their kid what they want. That’s great, for Mafia Bikes, Harry Main and their manufacturer who are producing these bikes that are selling and the parents saving some money.
Did you notice anything missing there? That list of people benefitting is pretty short. That’s what is firing up a lot of people… Shops, distributors and other brands that can’t compete with that and riders that understand that BMX is more than a nice bike for a good price.
Another argument we’re seeing is that Harry and Mafia are saying these bikes are converting kids into BMX riders that will support the industry because once that bike goes to shit, they will potentially buy something nicer whether it is another complete bike or aftermarket frames and parts… From a local shop or mail-order? Is that the case? Well, it’s kind of hard to tell. There might be places where this is occurring, but I’ll be honest and say I’ve never seen a Mafia Bikes bike in real life. I couldn’t tell you if the product is quality or complete garbage. But, yeah, it’s possible that some of these kids are going to keep riding after their first bike, but it’s probably one in ten.
On the flip side of that argument, we’re seeing people talking about how these kids will pick up the bikes and give up because they won’t see BMX in the right light and just end up cruising up and down their street and then moving on to something else once they get bored. There’s undoubtably a different perspective of what is possible when you see BMX through a shop, but that’s not always accessible for people either. The next best thing is a skatepark. More and more skateparks are popping up all around the world and they’re playing to the advantage of getting and keeping riders interested.
Unfortunately without a support system, a good number of riders eventually get bored and do pursue new adventures beyond the skatepark. The car, a job and girls are frequently looked on as BMX killers. It’s inevitable… I’ve seen A LOT of talented riders move on from BMX because other interests or they didn’t have enough going on to keep them riding. At 27 years of age, going to the skatepark for a session can suck when you don’t have anyone your age around anymore. All your friends have moved on from riding to pursue something else, go to school, get a job, get married, pop some kids out, etc. and you’re stuck being the weird old guy playing B-I-K-E with a 12 year old… Who happens to be better than you, haha.
Do I feel like having a lack of that scene to motivate everyone to keep riding is partially to blame? Yes.
When I first got into BMX, there was a set of trails that a good number of riders called home. Once that place was plowed, a lot of those guys stopped riding because there wasn’t this place that kept everyone motivated. Then the local outdoor skatepark was built and a bunch of people got into riding or started riding again. It was wild. We probably had 25 guys who all rode BMX at least a couple times a week. But after a while, riding the same stuff faded out. Another set of trails got started, but eventually that faded out as well. You can see where this is going again… Ups and downs caused by new outlets for people to get excited about bikes then get bored again.
So, do I believe BMX needs these local shops, fueled by distributors and brands are important? I do. Do I think it’s because of their ability to supply the latest products? Maybe a little, but it’s more about having a community and epicenter that helps keep BMX riders riding. Does that require a shop? Not necessarily. There’s a lot of scenes that don’t have a proper shop in their area thanks to mail-orders to keep people riding. Does it require a skatepark? It helps .. But that isn’t all that will keep riders riding. What is it that BMX needs to survive? It needs community. It needs communication. It needs motivated people to keep pushing themselves and their friends to keep the fire burning. It needs jams and events. It needs ANYTHING that will keep everyone riding. Whether it’s a kid just getting started or that 40 year old guy who has been killing it for years completely wrapped in all the pads on because it’s secretly holding his entire body together from all the sessions over the years.
When you have that community, the local shop can survive, the local skatepark can have amazing sessions, the trails can keep running, the road trips keep happening, the jams and events are thrown… and RIDERS KEEP RIDING.
Do I think direct to consumer brands are bad? Yeah, I think it’s bad in the sense that it does kill shops and distributors and it does kill brands because there’s really no way to compete with that approach when trying to SUPPORT and motivate others to keep working on that regional or local level to help keep riders motivated. Do I think this is going to kill BMX? Right now… No. I’m sure if we surveyed BMX riders if they would buy a Mafia Bikes product, 98% would say no or “What the hell is a Mafia Bike!?”
Do I think things need to change? Do I think the current system is struggling? Yes. I really do. Do I have the answers as to what needs to change? No. But there are guys who have been in this industry longer than I that probably could solve this puzzle.
The industry does need to figure out a way to be competitive on and offline. We need to figure out how to fix the problems that are causing the problems versus just Tweeting vague comments about the issues. We have made it this far, this won’t be what kills BMX. It’s growing pains and it’s going to happen in every industry and every persons life.
All I can tell you is that I still want to open a shop and an indoor skatepark, I still want to be on a non-profit organization that is working to build up the local skatepark, I still want to keep throwing contests and jams and I still want to keep typing away on this computer keeping this website updated. Why? Because I want to keep people motivated on riding and being apart of BMX. I want to keep building up the scene and exposing BMX to more people.
Do I want to make more money? Yeah, sure… That would be great. I’d love to take a vacation some time… That’s not my end goal for wanting to keep doing all those things.
So, that’s my thirty four cents or so on the subject. Let’s hear what you have to say in the comments.