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.