13 June 2010

Where Proud Old Bike Brands Go to Die

Where Proud Old Bike Brands Go to Die
A few years ago, many of the classic old bike brands in Denmark started to get bought up by a handful of companies. Some names disappeared but others were so ingrained in Danish bicycle history that they stuck, even if it was a massive company doing the selling. SCO is one of them.

SCO - or Smith & Co. was founded by Robert Jacobsen and Ivar Smith in 1905 and for many years was among the most popular brand in Denmark. You still see classic SCO's on the streets and they're lovely machines, like their mini-bike version below, from the 1960's.
A trend began not many years ago where bicycles started appearing in supermarkets, including many of the classic brands. Gone was the iconic sticker proudly proclaiming a 10 year guarantee on the frame and gone was that special sensation of buying a bicycle from a bike shop. Now it was broccoli, beer, butter and a bicycle. Like in the above photo from my local supermarket, where modern versions of the SCO are on sale like so many discounted cans of beans.



townmouse said...

It's happened here too. My old bike was originally made in the 80s by British Eagle, which is the brand now used by Asda for their 70 quid bike-a-like object. While mine was never a pretty bike, it was a robust one and gave me 20+ years of uncomplaining service; I suspect the Asda ones will be hard pressed to survive 20 months...

JH said...

Makes me think that the bicycle companies need to put up a fight with the car companies. They should be fighting for the road space.

Chris Searles said...

Isn't the ubiquity of the bicycle and defancifying it as an object part of the point? Like our vacuum cleaners, right? It's hard to lament the loss of the bicycle's special place in the bike shop while at the same time advocating for a more mundane view of this mode of transport on the way to Bicycle Culture 2.0. Either it should be a utilitarian object to be bought almost as an afterthought (perhaps with hand sanitizer and broccoli) or not, but isn't this part of Copenhagenization (and may in fact lay at the challenge of living in the worlds of Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic at the same time).

Chris Searles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mikael said...

hey chris
i was acutely aware of the contradiction between my soapbox rallying for the demystification of the bicycle and my sentimental sighing about the supermarketification of selling them.

i have no excuse. :-)

Passeio Completo said...

I sorry but I believe you are both, Chris and Mikael, wrong. Yes, you are right that the bike should be demystified as an object, but you cannot ignore that it is still a machine designed for transportation, and as such, it should be treated with a bit more respect than a vacuum cleaner when it comes to its assemblies and maintenance. A vacuum cleaner that is badly assembled in a factory can malfunction, and that is a nuisance. A bike that is badly assembled in a supermarket depot can fail and be more than just a nuisance. Even if you want to avoid building any kind of cult around the object, you still need something sturdy and reliable to serve the greater goal of effortless, practical, sensible transportation from A to B. And for that you should not shop for a bike in a supermarket. In fact you should not shop for a bike at all, you should look for the good bike shop in your neighborhood and let them help you out.

God, what happen to you Mikael? Do I really have to rescue you like this?


Kenneth said...

Agreeing with Chris - this goes to prove that the bicycle has been "commoditized", or whatever the economists call it.

But that appears to be both a good and a bad thing.
It's good because everbody can afford a bicycle now, and they don't even have to go special places to get it; just chuck it into the shopping cart with the groceries.

The bad thing is that the quality of modern bicycles reflects that it's just something you buy, use and throw away. Most of the new bicycles on the danish market are built for a few years of use, after which they will need so much work that it's cheaper and easier to buy a new one.
Even the "proper" bicycle dealers will tell you this about their "proper" brands and designer bikes.
Several times when I have been on the lookout for a quality bicycle, they have told me that if I have a 20 year old bicycle, to keep that and upgrade the parts as they wear out, because that will probably last another 20 years, whereas the new bikes they sell are built for 3-5 years of service. And that goes even for the nice designer bikes like Viva, Avenue, Micado, even the good old Raleigh "grandpa-bicycles" are apparently built like toys nowadays.

Passeio Completo said...

There is more to this. Bicycle design is not yet built to be fool proof. Wheels need truing, several nuts need tightening, and a bunch of other operations need to be performed before the bundle of parts that come out of a box shipped from any bike factory can be called a proper Bicycle. If the bundle of parts has any quality to start with, and are properly assembled by a skilled bike mechanic in a certified shop, what you have is a great and simple means of hassle free transportation. If that same bundle of parts is mishandled by a supermarket clerk, you may have a permanent headache.

And I hope that even if the bicycle design is very simplified, there is still place in this world for the neighborhood cycle shop. I sure don't want to see the "Supermarketification" of my world. Supermarkets should sell soap and not much else. As for my broccoli, I still prefer to buy them on the neighborhood "marchand de fruit et legumes", to whom's shop I can go by bike!

And I don't believe my view points to be necessarily clashing with either the Cycle Chic nor the Copenhagenize view points, cause if they do, then I am afraid I did not get them...

Chris Searles said...

Alas.. I'm not saying crappy bikes and shoddy construction herald the dawning of a new day of "citizen cycling." Bikes must be made to last... At the same time I think it is a mistake to say that increased availability must automatically mean poorer quality. This may be true, but it certainly doesn't have to be true. It is in fact quite possible (and I think necessary) to increase availability and maintain quality so that there is an increased perception that cycling represents the best way to complete the A to B equation.

The other interesting part of the post that has to do with Passeio's note that "A vacuum cleaner that is badly assembled in a factory can malfunction, and that is a nuisance." is this... There are in fact plenty of crappy vacuum cleaners (In fact a recent purchase sits, not working, in the closet - right next to my lycra vacuuming outfit). The post is also about branding, and faith in said branding.. and the irony that brand loyalty persists despite shifts in economic and company or brand ownership. The brand can represent quality, OR the perception of quality based on the visceral (and non-sensical) connection between consumer and the product.

I think Mikael's brilliance on each side of Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic is that he widens the conceptual "brand" to include not just the bicycle put what it can represent from 2 distinct directions - and sometimes, necessarily, the worlds collide in a clever blend of fashion, import, and the mundane... all with a means to an end.

Mark said...

I have no bugbear with people buying bikes from supermarkets, as pointed out here by others the 'normalisation' of bikes ultimately makes them out to be commodities, this is a product of Bike culture 2.0.

Too many local bike shops are DIRE at good customer service. The consequence of this is that people go to supermarkets instead and buy crap machines, have a terrible experience riding them and then give up on cycling.... If more bike shops sold the right kind of bicycle and set people up on them for a lifetime of cycling happiness the word would soon get out that buying a £90 bike from Asda is a false commodity and using the LBS is good value for money.

portlandize.com said...

I was sad to see this happen with Raleigh too - especially owning a couple of very old Raleighs, and seeing the differences in how they are made as compared to what pass as Raleighs now.

It's been said already, but I agree that the increased availability of bicycles is a good thing, however, that has in many cases (though it doesn't necessarily *have to*) meant that the bikes available in supermarkets and such are of notably lower quality.

What we don't want is everyone and their uncle purchasing cheap crap bikes, riding them for 2 months, having them break, and then thinking "why the hell would I want to do this all the time?"

philippe said...

Most french brand are now dead (Peugeot, Mercier, Motobécane...) too. And most bikes are now sold in supermarket or, and that's better, in big sport outlet like Décathlon (who has its own brand).
As a result, people have lost any idea of what a bike should cost. The bicycle has been cheapened so much that many french people think that 250E is expensive and that 150 is a fair price.
Of course, such pieces of crap are only good for the occasional sunday short ride, and useless for daily transportation. Thr bearings crack, the derailleur break, the pedals fall off.
When I was a kid (I'm 40+) , a bike used to be a great gift. Bikes were expensive. Now they're just another cheap toy.
But I can still ride the peugeot I rode and abused when I was 16.

William said...

It's a difficult thing.
We're impressed by the sporty super-bikes that cost a month wages, but we forget that in the olden times, the cost of a good bike was similar.
We think of sit-up-and-beg bicycles as oldfashioned and 'ugly' next to the sleek supermachines, but we forget that the ugly bikes are made out of the same steel, and so we expect to pay a pittance for the bike

I bought one of those supermarket bikes on an aution saturday, and it was terrible. The parts hadn't been oiled or greased properly before assembly, and one part had been installed backwards. I did manage to resusciate it, and I expect to get a few years of use out of it.

William said...

Ah, and I forgot to add:
I disagree with Michael about one thing - that it's not worth doing these things yourself.
When my vacuum stopped, I popped it open and rewired it. When my chain started slipping, I replaced the chain and front-rear toothweels.
I don't know how much money I've saved - I don't much care, either - but I do know that it gave me immense satisfaction to be able to help myself.

2whls3spds said...

Many other brands have gone the same way here in the US. When a brand shows up at Walmart you know it has hit the bottom...

Perhaps a bike is a commodity but there is no reason for it to become a BSO (bicycle shaped object).

But then again: There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey._John Ruskin