Xtracycle talks about pricing and going open source…

This is really savvy, if potentially a little too late, but I think it might be timed just right.

People who follow me on Twitter know that I am buying an Xtracycle conversion kit to overhaul my old steel-framed ’93 Raleigh Amazon MTB (aka “The Hybrid”, now it’s set up for comfort on the road) into a “longbike” that can haul supermarket shopping.

Major manufacturer Trek bikes (owners of Gary Fisher and others) have spotted the eco-upswing in longbikes and are publishing photos of their potential answer to the Surly Big Dummy, the latter being (AFAIK) the first company to license and build a longbike frame, licensing the specification from Xtracycle.

My take? Trek smell the money of creating a custom longbike frame, and then selling Trek-brand accessories like panniers, wide-loaders, etc, for their platform.

So far, so capitalism.

Let’s recap:

  • 10 years ago, Xtracycle come up with Longbike (aka: “Cargo Bike”) conversion kit.
  • In 2006, Surly builds niche Big-Dummy frame that uses Xtracycle specification and components
  • Longbikes become popular (just Google “Big Dummy“)
  • Future: Trek builds their own Longbike frame, selling custom/branded accessories for $$$?
  • Guesswork: Other vendors will jump on the longbike bandwagon

What’s the smartest thing Xtracycle can do to survive?

Open-source their product, or at least open-standards it, which is about as close as you can get in the hardware manufacturing world:

So you get this: (quoting from an Xtracycle circular)

Vik’s Big Dummy: Xtracycle talks about pricing and going open source…

[...]

What I’m clear about from some of the latests discussions is that our customers need more information about why our new products are useful and what value they offer. We trust that each person will decide for themselves what products will help to expand their Xtracycle lifestyle. We’ll be adding that content to our webstore in the weeks to come.

Furthermore, we’re excited to announce that we are officially open-sourcing the Xtracycle Long Tail Standard to encourage other players to make Xtracycle-compatible platforms and accessories. Surly has been a fantastic lead partner, and has aptly demonstrated a concept not altogether understood by the bike industry at large: that collaboration and partnership, built on trust and passion, lead to great solutions and a shift in the bike industry at large.

By “open source,” we mean that you don’t have to pay licensing fees or royalties, or get permission to make a product that works with our system. We want to lift those barriers to encourage a fertile environment for ideas, innovation, and partnership.

We’re looking at sharing our standard right now with independent US fabricators of Xtracycle compatible SnapDecks, fabric bags, new Footsies, etc. Wanna play along? We welcome your input, your products, and your thoughts about pricing. We will publicize the Xtracycle LT Standard developer kit on our website and within our online communities (Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, Rootsradicals Yahoo group, etc.) in early October, so keep an eye out.

Will these items be Walmart cheap? No way. Likely they’ll be competitively priced with our products, but in buying them you can feel great about supporting creative individuals and a movement dedicated to innovating something truly new and valuable within the bike industry.

Will there be Xtracycle knock offs in years to come, competing with us on price and quality? More than likely. Such is the way our economic system works. We feel that competition will only help us to refine our offerings and to better meet your needs, so as nice as it feels sometimes to have built an amazing platform and community, we realize that in order to be truly excellent at this, we have to give it away.”

[...]

To me this is the modern version of the (IBM PC-DOS / Apple MacOS) vs (MS-DOS / PC-BIOS) story; giant company with shrinkwrap product and lock-in on accessories, versus flexible company and/or one giving away a specification for free. It (more closely) analogies to Sun’s NFS specification, too…

So who wins the larger market share? We shall have to see – possibly Trek, since thet have the logistics, if they choose to take their “demonstration” into production; but if the independent frame-makers adopt the Xtracycle specification, then I doubt Xtracycle will be short of customers.

And if Trek adopt the Xtracycle specification then it’s big wins all round…

9 thoughts on “Xtracycle talks about pricing and going open source…

  1. Neil

    Wow, that’s news.
    …isn’t it?

    I keep thinking about a FreeRadical, but it always seem like so much money, especially at imported prices. More than the value of my bike. More than I have at present.

    “to encourage other players to make Xtracycle-compatible platforms” – so not just accessories, but anyone *could* make a FreeRadical or a Whole bike, without paying any license fee?

    Reply
  2. grrsh

    Absolutely the right move for Xtracycle. The emergence of new (large) players in the market like Kona and Fisher threatens to fragment this cool new trend… almost before it gets going. This is the best thing they could have done to accelerate this market. Let’s just hope that the big boys see it that way too.

    Reply
  3. alecm Post author

    More info and discussion via (the almost evangelical) grrsh’s blog, including the inevitable nitpicking of yet other manufacturer longbikes – also Kona jumped and produced their own, but they are way smaller than Trek:

    http://grrsh.blogspot.com/2008/09/xtracycle-goes-open-source.html

    http://grrsh.blogspot.com/2008/09/in-defense-of-xtracycle-standard.html

    http://grrsh.blogspot.com/2008/04/dear-kona-top-10-ideas-for-working-with.html

    http://bikehugger.com/2007/08/more_on_konas_ute.htm

    :-)

    My position? I am still not gonna say that Xtracycle are right in some godlike sense and everyone should drop alternatives and work with them (ie: “stifle innovation”) – but bigods I am happy to have an open standard on the market – one with a few years of design behind it, and from an independent who was “scratching an itch” has no axe to grind.

    It’s a microcosm of the open-source debate, in the real world.

    Reply
  4. BiggerDummy

    This could also backfire for Xtracycle if a big player sees that they can also make money off the P&A involved – like possibly more choices in the market for bags, racks, decks, etc. Nothing about going open source prevents a big player from supplying the full system instead of just purpose built longtail frames like Surly did.

    Reply
  5. alecm Post author

    @BiggerDummy : understood, but to me there’s a wider perspective; if a big manufacturer popularises the format, then with more people out there buying longtail kit, then more market demand will mean more sales for everybody…

    …and more market demand will boost the niche for conversion kits, of whom Xtracycle will probably remain the sole manufacturer…

    Reply
    1. alecm Post author

      got the free radical frame, but the donor bike has a shagged axle and the bottom bracket is wedged in, need to get that out first.

      Reply

Leave a Reply