Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Model Year Conundrum - 1896 and Today

With the new year, one is reminded of the "model year" aspect of bike sales, which isn't (as it turns out) a new thing.

From the September 17, 1896 issue of Cycling Life

Probably the bicycle trade has now outgrown the necessity for a sharp distinction between models of one year and models of the following year. As a stimulant for new business this distinction has played its part, and a considerable part, in creating and holding the public interest in mechanical improvements and in [bicycle] shows.
Perhaps more a plea from the retail sellers' point of view, it would seem, than anything else. Already in September they state that ~
The large surplus of finished and half finished stock which remains on the hands of our manufacturers labeled with the numeral of 1896 brings the question of the best disposal of the same to the forefront and with it the question of price and production for 1897.

My "good" bike

My own "good" (carbon fiber with Ultegra components - shown above) bicycle is a "2006 Scattante CFR" (carbon fiber race) that I bought on a "year end clearance sale" in February of 2007 at what seemed like a good price. While there were some (very slight) changes in the design of the 2007 models, I was really more interested in the Ultegra components that were unchanged (since 2005, I believe). I do confess to some level of awareness that my now (apparently) four year old style of road bike is woefully out of keeping with present road bike designs but these days I'm looking more back, at older steel frame designs, than forward.

The Cycling Life writer was vexed by the model year situation ~
To accentuate a new year's model as such, so as to rouse the public's curiosity by loud emphasis on the recent date of its design, was among the adequate means for booming the entire cycle industry in its infancy; it was a resource open to all makers alike and of no more benefit to one than another. . . . . . In order to arrive upon a safe and sound basis for the bicycle industry it seems necessary to surrender all fealty to this idea of a fashion-plate regularity in changes . . . . .
I suspect however that the writer was giving far more credit to the introduction of new models with new features in stimulating demand than was accurate - the bicycle boom of the 1890s was driven by a certain segment of society deciding that they wanted bicycles - and could also afford to buy them. The real problem in 1896-97 was that this market was becoming saturated. Unless the prices dropped considerably many who wanted to own a bicycle, or at least a new one, were probably unable to act on this desire. (The issue of the used bicycle market in those days is a topic for another day.)

As an aside, I am once again amused by the prose style of Cycling Life.

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