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.
- 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)
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…