No longer Coasting

Commuter, Concept 25 16

It should come as no surprise that I liked the idea behind Shimano’s Coasting group when it was announced about 4 years ago. I first mentioned in a May 2006 post that, despite the general negative reaction from many cycling enthusiasts to the look of the group, it was great to see Shimano making “an effort reach out to new customers”. Since that post, I have mentioned Coasting and the bikes (like the Trek Lime) based on the group many other times…and in all cases I was pretty optimistic about the concept. In one of those posts, I linked to this article from Design Council Magazine, which I think does a good job of explaining the basic idea behind the project.

Regardless of what you think about Coasting, it appears that the program is no longer active. Yannig Roth points out in a post on his blog, that the separate website for the program, Coasting.com, now redirects to the Shimano corporate site. Yannig investigated a bit further and was told by a spokesperson for Shimano France that the Coasting program had been “abandoned – or at least temporarily stopped.”

There probably were some issues that could have been addressed with the design, development, and marketing of  Coasting and the bikes based on it (easy to say in retrospect), but I still believe that the idea behind it was, and still is, valid. Toward the end of his post, Yannig said, “I hope that this promising approach of cycling’s marketing won’t be definitively abandoned, because it had (has!) market potential.” I agree with that statement, and I am still pretty optimistic. Shimano, and other companies in the bike business, know that they are missing out on a huge potential market with their current product lines. It makes good business sense for them to learn from past failures as they continue to try and expand the marketing base for their products. Coasting may or may not be officially dead at this point, but the pursuit of the untapped market that is the “blue ocean” of non-cyclists will continue.

On that note, I want to point you to Bike Radar’s synopsis of Mark Sanders’ “Imagine – Bicycle as consumer product” article. A few of the commenters take issue with the premise of the article…not all that surprising considering the fact that Bike Radar’s readership is made up almost exclusively of core “red ocean” recreational cycling enthusiasts. I know that the readers of this blog have pretty diverse cycling interests, from racing to utilitarian cycling and everything in between, so I am curious what you all think about Mark’s article and also about the demise of Coasting. What should be the next step (if any at all) for companies like Shimano, Giant, or Trek who want to cash in on a transport-oriented bike for the masses? It is definitely a subject that interests me, so I encourage you all to share your thoughts.

Image credit: Momentum Magazine by way of Yannig Roth

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25 Comments

  1. Human_Amplifier March 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm -  Reply

    Good to be reminded about Shimano’s coaster groupset. I recently bought a Lime (on closeout) .. and am very impressed with the 3 speed autogear – it works pretty well (apart from the occasional ‘graunch’ when it tries to change on a power stroke). I also like the Lime, and the clean detail around hubs – part of the groupset. I have put much shorter stem on to get the proper dutch upright position – I guess the designers at Trek couldn’t get this last ingredient past ‘died in the wool’ product managers who insisted on a slightly sporty lean forward :-).

    As for the Coasting group – the development program, with IDEO (as described in the James’ link above), was spot on. I loved how they took bike shop guys into a ladies make up dept. to show them how it felt to be a woman in a bike shop – great analogy ! But I feel that although Shimano followed ‘Blue ocean strategy’ on a whole it failed to follow the detailed mantra within: a key ingredient of reaching blue ocean markets is to combine Innovation AND value. ie good new stuff at affordable prices !. This is where I believe the bicycle industry is WAY behind the consumer product industry, where innovation is routinely combined with value, the consumer product industry know this is THE only sure fire way to reach the blue ocean, mass market .. universal, inclusive design for everyone.

    So if Shimano had asked its designers an engineers to jump thro maybe a higher loop .. to have an auto change gear, that costs only fractionally more (or ideally less) than manual changes – they would have had a winner. I find designing something to do a job, and even to be appealing is Quite straightforward – the difficult part where I really earn my money is to do all this AND with a tiny BOM part budget – its harder, much harder. But it is a win-win, the end user gets something that is better and affordable, and the company still makes a good margin. This is exactly what is NOT happening in the bicycle business , which does Innovation OR Value and not Innovation AND value.

    I rest my case m’lord :-) Mark

  2. sigh March 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm -  Reply

    Using gears is not hard, and operating a bicycle’s gearing is not what’s keeping the supposedly-untapped masses from riding bikes.

    • James T March 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm -  Reply

      True… using gears is not hard. The same could be said about driving an automobile, but cars with automatic transmissions outsell manual ones by a large margin. The two different types of transmission appeal to different types of drivers, which is why a minivan is likely to be automatic while a sportscar is likely to have a stick shift. That type of choice based on user preference is the point here. It is not that the “supposedly-untapped masses” are incapable of shifting gears, it is that some of them would just rather not think about it.

      • JeffS March 25, 2010 at 8:47 pm -  Reply

        They would also rather not pedal. That’s why they’re driving the minivan while the Lime shelters spiders in the garage.

      • Jayzus H March 26, 2010 at 4:38 am -  Reply

        …but cars with automatic transmissions outsell manual ones by a large margin….

        Not here they dont, mate! Maybe in North America, but in Europe, manual transmission is by far the norm and I don’t see that putting women off driving cars. Automatic is available, but women CHOOSE to buy manual.

        Red herring, non issue, whatever.

  3. Wytze March 25, 2010 at 2:50 pm -  Reply

    Sorry no solution for you James, but just an observation and some unfounded conclusions:

    In holland lots of people cycle, but of course there is still a ‘blue ocean’ left. What I see is that this group especially seems to like the American style bikes; beach cruisers and mountainbikes. If they do leave their car they want to be seen in style, a tough style (same type of status symbol as a car maybe?).
    My guess (unfounded) is that non cyclists prefer not to be associated with the common cyclist in a certain country, so maybe the Shimano’s, Giant’s and Trek’s are not the right companies to address this group (thus the Trek Lime fail). For the U.S. (flat cities) the Omafiets could maybe be their ‘anti-product’
    Like in the MP3 or PC business it might require a new company or an outsider to win the hearts of the blue ocean.

    But then there is the next step. Like the bike shop owner who commented on bike radar: he says there is no problem and that he has ‘new’ cyclists that love the existing low end market Giants and buy it.
    I think he misunderstood Mark: it is not about selling bikes to the blue ocean, it is about getting people to cycle. Once that women who bought the Giant has the slightest problem with the brakes or gears (very probably, no blue ocean consumer understands those 27 gears), she’ll never touch that thing again. Sure everybody wants to be like Lance Armstrong and goes along buying that derailleur bike, that doesn’t mean they’ll use it. I wonder what the average milage on a UK bike parked in the garage is!

    For a successful product you need multiple ‘wow’ moments. Not only when you buy it. There were loads of MP3 players sold before the Apple came around, but I think the MP3 rage only took off when the Ipod was able to reach the blue ocean users, even they could now understand how to operate the thing and put songs on it. So they would actually use it and not leave it in the desk drawer (the MP3′s equivalent to the bike’s garage)
    So I don’t think a blue ocean bike has to be cheaper. It just needs to offers a better product experience then the existing bikes

    just my 2 cents

  4. Efried March 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm -  Reply

    Seems that people care mor about usability than design ;-)
    It is really interesting how Shimano steals out of the need to construct an every day bicycle.
    It seems that by “deoring” miserable frames and leaving out mudguards a lot of money may be made. The Duch Holland fiets on the other side has not seen a lot of improvements. One, yes the 8 and 21internal gears will help. But the big development is still ante portas – Please take some elements from the rental bike design and blend it with light high-tec forming a lightweight, robust all-weather bicycle!

  5. Josh March 25, 2010 at 11:23 pm -  Reply

    Where Shimano really missed the mark on this was that it didn’t rethink the sales experience. They created an interesting new product, then dumped it into the same old bike shop experience. It’s like they missed half of the insight of the IDEO work.

  6. Anon March 25, 2010 at 11:25 pm -  Reply

    The bicycle company that spends the most money on design (Trek) and the leading components manufacturer (Shimmy Shimmy Ya) teamed up to make a bike for the masses. Let’s look at the ideas that they decided to go with:

    -Automatic transmission, because if 21 gear hybrids confuse people, a manual 3 speed would never ever work either. Math and cognitive psych tell us that. Don’t try to argue, it’s science.
    -Detachable plastic pieces all over the bike for “customization”, so you can treat your bike like 13 year olds treat their phones, snapping cheap pieces of plastic on and off at will to match your mood ring or whatever.
    -Proprietary hubs that require special tools to change a flat and that the average person’s biker friend wouldn’t touch with a 10′ pole.
    -No fenders, because only fools would expect that paying more for a supposedly well-designed bike would actually get you a well-chosen set of features.
    -A la carte accessories. You want a light? More money. Basket or rack? More money. Why sell bikes to lots of people when you can nickel and dime a few fools?
    -Steel handlebars, because when we’ve spent all this money creating all this proprietary crap it would be a real sin to boost production costs $1.47 to make the bike lighter. People who buy these bikes would never want to say, carry them up stairs into apartments.
    -A $500ish price point. Any high school kid who has spent 10 minutes on the sales floor of a shop in Topeka can tell you that a bike for people who know nothing about bikes needs to cost about $300 to keep them from fleeing to walmart and target.

    Meanwhile, over in reality land, Indian companies continue to produce the reliable, stylish, and user-friendly British style 3 speeds and sell them for about $60 there. You can walk into Walmart here in the USA and for $84 buy a cruiser with every feature the Lime has except for gearing, and they’ll even give you fenders in the deal. For $120 you get a rack, basket, and even a friggin’ cup holder. They also do geared bikes at around $80. The quality of the builds may be a little bit lacking, but if the bike industry wanted to get serious about cheaper, more accessible bikes there would be no problem cracking that nut at not much of a price premium.

    The blue ocean consumer wants bikes as cheap as possible. The industry knows how to make good, cheap bikes, they just refuse to. Bring us the $120 retail 3 speed with fenders, chainguard, and a basket for women and rack for men and we will bring you legions of customers. Get it to $89 (50% more than they cost in India for chrissakes) and they will line up around the block.

  7. Ross Nicholson March 26, 2010 at 2:10 am -  Reply

    Small electric cars can be made with bicycle components. Americans are willing to pay for pedal power with electric auxillary for small automobiles. Trek is the natural leader and they should develop mass produced velomobiles for the American market.

  8. Greg March 26, 2010 at 2:30 am -  Reply

    I think the major design problem is with US cities not US bikes. All the survey’s I’ve seen suggest that folks would happily ride if they thought they’d arrive alive at the other end. Getting dead is the most serious fashion flaw :-)

    Portland shows how a steady improvement in infrastructure makes a substantial difference in cycling levels (still too low but steadily improving) at a very affordable cost.

  9. Tom March 26, 2010 at 8:41 am -  Reply

    Coasting was for folks who can ballance, steer and pedal but not shift.

  10. Philippe Payant March 26, 2010 at 9:16 am -  Reply

    To be truly useful and habit changing, the bike needs to useful and usable in any situations.

    That means mudgards: <>

    That means a basket or some other storage device: look at the people walking on the sidewalk, 3 out of 4 are carrying at least one bag, backpack or suitcase.

    That means a locking device: you are going to need that thing outside. It also means the bike also has some level of vadalism/steal resistance.

    That means at least blinkers: <>.

    That means zero maintenance: obviously, and you would not want a contraption with tires that need patching more than once a year, a real problem here and a place for innovation – I do not know how blue ocean riders can be spared punctures. Maybe some in-tube sealant?

    That means no need for special clothing: you can just hop on with your daily clothes and go to work or to the hardware shop. No need for pant clips. You do not get dirty.

    That probably means automatic shifting: everybody has seen some rider pedaling a gear that is just too high, which most probably affects their enjoyment of the ride. They just do not get ‘gears’ and how they work. Automatic switching ensures riding is fun.

    That means you offer a solution for the helmet: where do you put that helmet while you work or worst, go to the restaurant? A helmet is cumbersome.

    That means, like somebody mentioned, that it is safe to ride: better cycling access and respect. And good places to lock your bike: finding a spot can be frustrating.

    And this is just the bicycle aspect. To get it to buyers, it would need to be sold through regular channels like Walmart and Target.

    We bicycle enthusiasts do not realize how much we put up with to ride, simply because we love it so much. We put up with things few people could, and all these difficulties must be lifted first.

  11. Adrian March 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm -  Reply

    I think you have to take into consideration a major factor for biking in Europe and other temperate /maritime climates ..the weather. The blue ocean group are not really prepared to tolerate getting to work wet and sweaty. Cycling demands exertion, even at a minimal automatic transmission supported level, a large proportion of the blue ocean group are not into that.

    This my be a putative solution for a climate like Southern California, but as some body mentions above , getting dead ,tends to put a crimp in your day and the majority of road conditions for cyclists there are not great even if the weather is.

    and bye the bye , the IPod was not sold in supermarkets at a low price point until it had reached critical mass and acceptance by the early adopters/ fanboys.

    I love cycling but we are to far into the industrial and consumer revolution for this approach to work.

  12. Shozaburo March 27, 2010 at 8:19 am -  Reply

    What did anyone expect from “Coasting”? They gave it a big push off, it rolled along for a while but eventually came to a stop.

    Think about it.

  13. Eric March 27, 2010 at 8:59 am -  Reply

    The basic premise is this: “Imagine there was no bicycle industry as we know it. Now imagine that Apple, Samsung, Phillips or Ford introduce a ‘Consumer Product for Personal Transport’ that is small, lightweight, and takes less effort than walking, yet travels 4 times the distance. It would be beautifully designed, well made, easy to use and affordable.” While I am enticed by the idea of the bicycle as consumer product, (and in fact much of my work is devoted to the Blue Ocean cause), I believe the Consumer Product for Personal Transport represents a whole new challenge for designers: Who said it has to be a bicycle?

    Aside from the shortcomings of most entry level bikes, there are many reasons why most people prefer other means of transportation:

    People don’t like to pedal or balance on 2 wheels.
    People don’t like to be exposed to the elements and arrive dirty and sweaty.
    Most bikes are uncomfortable for long distances.
    Most bikes are unsuitable for hauling cargo.
    People feel unsafe on bikes.
    Bicycles are considered by many a “lower” form of transportation and convey low status. High status only exists in high end bikes among hardcore enthusiasts.

    While better infrastructure and improved bicycle designs could help to improve upon many of these shortcomings, the ‘Consumer Product for Personal Transport’ represents an opportunity to completely rethink how we attack the problem. Reading again the original premise, you might envision a vehicle very different from a bicycle:

    Does not need to be balanced. Perhaps it is lean-steering or self-balancing. Does it have 1,2,3, or 4 wheels?
    Electric powered, electric assist or alternative human powered drive system.
    Comfortable and easy to enter/exit, while providing weather protection and secure cargo capacity.
    Seamlessly integrated with existing forms of transportation, including cars, buses, trains and planes.
    A feeling of safety and security in any traffic condition.
    Affordable (Does that mean cheap as a bicycle?)
    A fresh, “gotta have it” appeal that attracts people emotionally and conveys status. “Fun to ride” factor.
    The auto industry has been experimenting with some very interesting new concepts in personal mobility that shatter the conventional notions of cars. Honda’s U3-X and GM’s EN-V concepts represent very different takes on the possibilities in personal urban transport.

  14. Sprocketboy March 27, 2010 at 9:30 pm -  Reply

    I wrote about the coasting idea in my blog two years ago (http://www.tindonkey.com/2008/02/coasting-bikes-road-ahead-or-dead-end.html) and have to admit I am surprised that the idea lasted even this long. As Greg posted, the problem is that non-cyclists are not put off by shifting but by the danger of cycling on American streets. Shimano, being tech-oriented, looked for a technical solution instead of an advocacy one. At the time the coasting bikes came out, you could get a far more practical and attractive Raleigh One-Way singlespeed for not much more money. However, as other posters have noted, if you are just wanting to ride around your neighbourhood, the bike from CostCo or Wal-Mart works perfectly well for half the price. Coasting was a solution in search of a problem.

  15. Patrick Mc April 7, 2010 at 1:47 am -  Reply

    I’ve never been able to understand the attraction of coaster brakes and why these would be a positive thing for entry level riders. As a rider I find myself prone to accidentally braking when using them and your feet end up in the wrong place to start riding when the light turns green. If you want a low-maintenance brake then build it with a drum brake, but not coaster brake (always seems ironic because you can’t put weight on the back pedal when coasting with a coaster brake).

  16. Cap’n Thunderchunk April 28, 2010 at 10:40 am -  Reply

    I like coaster brakes. Simple, durable, quiet, immune to the elements, doesn’t require any extra cabling or dashboard real estate. I’ve had a 5sp IGH cruiser and a SS cruiser with coaster brakes when I was living car-free in New Orleans and Daytona Beach, respectively. The only real problem I had was sending the rear wheel of the SS out of true by standing on the pedals to accelerate from a stop.

    My 21sp Townie needs constant maintenance… things need to be constantly tweaked, aligned, lubed, de-greased, washed and re-lubed, adjusted, replaced and bodged back into shape. Next bike is gonna be a 9 or 11sp IGH, with the new FSA Metropolis cranks.

    A 9sp IGH that shifted itself with coaster brakes and a belt drive would be awesome… Shimano’s problem was that they should have merged the Alfine and Coaster product lines, and had them borrow technology from each other.

  17. Ross Nicholson May 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm -  Reply

    The Lime was too heavy.

  18. Tinker August 7, 2010 at 10:12 pm -  Reply

    The LIME was too Heavy?

    I have a Torker Cargo T, it comes from the factory at ~45 LBS~. THAT’S heavy. And it comes with a drum brake front and a coaster break rear so you don’t have to restrict your tires to a narrow subset of the tire spectrum, to make them removable.

    And yes, I wanted big fat tires, for a nice soft ride. (I weigh 325lbs, tires/wheels are always a concern.) No, I didn’t want a humongous heavy bike, I just figured, it’s what you get with fenders and front and rear racks. (The average pickup truck weighs in a good deal heavier than the two seat commuter car, too.) If you want that sort of load carrying, its what comes with it.

    So why not the Torker Cargo T as a paradigm for modern bicycles? It is stout/sturdy, and if it had more gears, 8 or 11 speed, it would be almost perfect. Add a couple of lights, swap out the steel frame for aluminum, put 2.35 Schwalbe Big Apples on it, and Bob’s your uncle.

    Even better than the 8 speed would be the Nu Vinci CVPT (continuously variable planetary transmission). Unlimited gears!

    Why not the shaft drive, or the belt drive? Are you sure from looking that you can use any tires you like on them, without rubbing on the drive shaft or the drive belt? I declined to buy the belt drive for precisely that reason. (One of three finalists, all around $650) If I could look at it, I might have decided differently. When the other choice turned out to be over my price point I bought the Torker. Yes, sight unseen but at least it was available at a normal shop.

    Would I do it again? No, I’d have bought the Torker but with an after market rear wheel with the Nu Vinci tranny (from Joe Bikes, Portland, Oregon). Not bad for my first attempt though.

  19. OldPeddler September 27, 2010 at 10:19 am -  Reply

    I am not a “avid” cyclist, but have owned a 10 speed bike in the past. I live where the geography is pretty flat (biggest hill we have is an overpass over I-12). I have not had a bike in about 10 years, have aged a bit and just wanted something simple to commute to and from the coffee shop (about 4 miles round trip), to a couple of local restaurants (now can have a couple of margaritas and not worry about driving home), and I just want to hop on a bike, go, and not worry too much about anything else. In other words, a nearly perfect commuter bike!

    I bought a Trek Lime Light for its styling, simplicity, and it was on sale. Being a bit older (61) my two boys tell me I buy nothing unless i have a coupon or it is on sale. While purchasing my Lime Light, also bought my wife a Trek Coaster. We are enjoying them, and I really like the fact that I can get out and ride 10-15 miles pretty much care free and just peddle.

  20. Robert Reid Welch May 1, 2011 at 10:31 am -  Reply

    I certainly appreciate the effort that went into the Coasting program.
    I have a Trek Lime Lite for about two years now.
    Was ill for a time, but the bike has helped me regain health.

    I ride about four to six miles per day, and now have about a thousand miles on the bike.
    Put an orange “Peelz” kit on it
    (cost of the color kits is low, as they are close out, and the shipping was free for me, a reviewer).
    People love the bike and always ask questions.
    I explain that it’s fun to just hop on a cruiser,
    one that starts off in low, and then, like your auto transmission car,
    shifts up and down, while you just cruise along.

    The Lime was geared too low for my age, sex, and flat terrain.
    A simple swap of the rear cog from 22T to 18T makes the bike better for my wants;
    this bike is a fifteen mph cruiser now, though I am now a fifty seven year old geezer ; )

    PS: a Trek Lime turns heads. I wear a Lime safety shirt.
    No cars ever come near to hitting me.
    I won’t wear a helmet, either: helmets and Lycra
    take the fun out of the ride, imo,
    and cars don’t seem to respect you as much
    as when you look like a fluorescent parade item ( :

    The mild exercise and the mental benefits of biking in full upright,
    comfort seating, and I put a Thudbuster to it too,
    make this Lime like a boat ride on gentle waters.
    Fun. Snicks up and down through the gears with rarely any “grunch”.
    A future collectible bike, perhaps. I’ll keep mine for life. It makes me and others happy,
    this fun, now-rare bike. It is a sorrow that there won’t be any more of them, not likely…

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