Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The End Complete

There's something you need to know before we go any further. I am not a BMX industry insider, nor have I ever claimed to be. I have never even worked for a bike shop. I don't know about sales numbers or production costs or profit margins or anything like that. I don't even balance my checkbook. The views reflected on this blog are mine and mine alone, and if anything is blatantly wrong, please feel free to correct it. We're all in this together.

(The headline today is the name of an Obituary record. It only marginally touches on the subject matter, but that's OK because it's the name of an Obituary record.)

Not sure whether you've noticed, but there seem to be a lot of bike companies offering completes these days. And it's not just the usual suspects like DK, GT, Haro, WTP, 2-Hip, Mirraco, and Fit. Nope. There's Stolen and Verde, and Subrosa and Kink, and now FBM has thrown their hat into the ring. I'm sure there's others I'm not thinking of, but providing a comprehensive list wasn't what I was going for. Let's just say that there are a lot of companies offering complete bikes and leave it at that.



This is a good thing, right? After all, it was hard to find a decent complete BMX bike as little as 10 years ago (unless you were looking for a hefty Mirra Pro, a Dyno VFR, or the infamous Poverty Buck Ninety Nine or whatever the hell it was called). Now you can choose from a wide variety of completes with all the trimmings—full chro-mo frames and forks, internal/mid, 25/9 cassette (or freecoaster) gearing, Pivotal seats, big bars, name-brand tires and grips—that are rideable out the box for right around $500. If you're willing to ride a bike with some hi-ten steel tubing, you can get a decent complete for less than the cost of a new frame. Not bad. And with rider-owned companies entering the fray, it finally means even the low-end steel frames have proper geometry. These aren't box-store Mongeese.

But what does it all mean?

Chances are, if you've been riding for more than a couple of years, you won't be purchasing a complete bike anytime soon. There are a few reasons why you might—your bike gets stolen, you want a backup bike, or to have a spare for friends—but most people who've been riding for a while have gotten used to the idea of building up their own bikes piece by piece. Or maybe you insist on a 21" frame, which is somewhat rare in the complete world.
So the main target, best that I can figure, is beginners. Get the kids riding an entry-level steel bike, then, as they get older, get them on the next-level complete, and so on and so on. (Mirraco offers sub-20 pound aluminum 16" and 18" bikes for even the littlest rippers.) Then eventually, when they're on the top-of-the-line complete, they upgrade or replace broken parts with aftermarket stuff. The hope being that by then maybe they'll have developed some brand loyalty. It could work.

In the meantime, who benefits? Riders, especially those just starting out. Virtually any bike that shows up under the 2008 Christmas tree will be a good one. And with so many companies jumping into the market, pricing should stay competitive. Parts companies, for another. Someone has to spec all these bikes, and from the looks of them, it's not all generic stuff. Legit companies like Sun, Odyssey, Animal and Tioga have been tapped for componentry. (FBM even started their own house brand, Nice, to equip their completes.) How far the humble Twisted PC pedal has come.

What I'll be most curious to see is how the individual companies fare, especially the newer ones like Subrosa and Verde. It seems to me that there are an awful lot of eggs being placed in this particular basket, and seeing that riders have long been assured that the best way to get a bike you liked is to DIY, now things need to swing back the other way. At the same time, will affordable completes make consumers less likely to buy a $360 frame from the same companies? It appears—to me—that this is a gamble that BMX is just going to continue to get bigger. And maybe it will. Maybe if a kid starts out on an affordable, properly built complete, like an FBM or Kink, he or she will be more likely to stay with BMX and not move quickly on to skateboarding or soccer or Grand Theft Auto.

And of course if it doesn't work, completes will just end up costing even less. Win-win!


EDIT: Good interview with JPR about the FBM completes here.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

You complete me.

Colin Williams said...

I'm starting to reach a point where I need a completely new bike, so buying a complete is at least slightly compelling. And it's comforting to know that my options are becoming so much better with our traditional parts companies offering completes.

All in all, it sounds good for the consumer, which means it should be good for the companies.

One day, it may become ubiquitous and unchallenged as new riders are brought up on good completes. But I know for me, there's a bit of a relationship with each part, as odd as that sounds. So, buying a complete seems like a cold emotional investment for me, and I'll probably slowly build up a new bike, starting with the frame. In that sense, a bike is like a family growing through different generations. Completes won't necessarily kill that notion, but it will change things.

Anonymous said...

COmpltles r 2 hevy 4 strret

Coloured spokes said...

I agree with your article to some extent and i definitely commend you for keeping a fairly balanced article but i still feel as though, just like in most fassets of bmx, not a whole lot of new ground is being made.

Sure the fit completes were a big leap
and the geometry and quality of bmx bikes have improved but wheres the next step ? Does the industry continue to make bikes aimed at younger kids with some good parts or are they going to create bikes aimed at experienced riders which cater to there needs ?

Should they continue to make bikes
that are cheap and are only bought
by new riders like they have been or should they make extremely refine high end completes that a rider would actually buy over a DIY ? Personally i would support either step so long as its an actual step forward rather than just another complete bike which is essentially identical to others already in the market...

ronan said...

Best blog in the world - great design and engineering insights from someone getting older but still on a 20 and Obituary song titles - keep it up!

Anonymous said...

if a company does its job, it makes a complete bike that is not just a mish-mash of parts but a coordinated unit of function and color. I like seeing how well each company pulls that off because it tells me which company is tuned in or just trying to make some money from the industry. Thankfully we have a a few companies that are really doing it right.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right that there are going to be some problems for the industry with the shear number of completes comming in. To get these awesomely low prices you have to order a LOT of bikes, and cut the margins to the bone, AND order them well in advance. So even as it looks like the economy will take a bit of a downturn and people are tightening their belts, there are an absolutel shit load of cheap completes steaming their way over here. The question is, as you point out, are there enough people wanting to buy them all? Are there fuck...

In a few months there will probablu be a glut of these cheap completes and in a desperate attempt to shift them the prices will get slashed, quite possibly to the point that the company is losing money on them. And when next years model starts flooding in, will there still be last years bikes sitting massively discounted in the store that are a much better deal.. So it seems likely that a few people could lose their shirts on this...

Anonymous said...

www.paydaybitches.blogspot.com

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT PUSSIES!

Russ said...

I'm just curious whether they'll be a shift in the BMX market as a whole. Complete bikes are a huge part of the industry when it comes to mountain and road biking, from entry-level to full-on pro. If you're a competitive road racer, you don't have to build a bike piece-by-piece--plenty of companies offer race-ready completes.

Is BMX ready to take that step? And, if so, what will it mean for companies making aftermarket parts? Now that there are dozens of companies making viable completes, will there still be a need for 30 different companies making CNCed sprockets?

Smitty said...

Mang Russ, your last comment here is more insightful than the original post...what, are you holding out on us?

Russ said...

Uh, I think it's more of a sign that I need to start working on these entries a little further in advance.

That, and I have a bit of a messageboard-driven brain that leads me to make an initial statement (or ask a series of questions) and then build off the ensuing comments.

Anonymous said...

Hey Russ, you mention there are dozens of companies making viable completes. I'm not going to demand a list from you but I seriously believe there are only about 3-4 companies making viable completes and the rest are smack-dab in the cross hairs of this SPRFLS blog thing you started. How about listing who's doing it right and for what reasons?