(This was originally published as an article on LinkedIn on June 20, 2018)
Pick virtually any sport out there and at some point a professional level is created and competitions are built around it. Tennis, Golf, Skiing, Cycling (road, BMX, MTB), Snowboarding, Skateboarding, even Volleyball and Badminton offer professional competitions with sponsorships and prize money!
The idea of racing electric bikes has been confusing to skeptics as the marketing message for an eBike is often to attract aged-out riders with ailments that keep them from enjoying traditional cycling. But as we know, it's human nature to be competitive. Even logging in at just the right moment to get a lower boarding number on a Southwest flight has become a competitive sport!
Racing of any kind feeds three distinct objectives. The first is for the early adopters and purists who want to compete against each other for simple bragging rights. The second is where manufacturers use the competitive element to test new products, materials, and techniques to get the most out of their offerings. The third, is for marketing, where being able to promote a brand and the winners behind it, creates consumer demand.
Speaking about cycling and being even more specific, about electric, pedal-assist bicycles, the oxymoron is the idea of taking a bike that has built-in power assistance and adding a rider to compete in a race. Why? But truthfully, the analogy is similar to any motorized or gravity-fed vehicle used in competition. From NASCAR to the Soapbox Derby, each vehicle must meet very stringent specifications by class and often the driver’s skill is the tipping point.
It doesn’t take much prodding for two recreational eBike riders to start a friendly competition as to who can climb the hill faster or travel a particular length course quicker with the final accolades being given to the one with more stored battery power at the end. Compound that simple scenario into a multi-leg, multi-day, team event and you have a great race that combines human skills as well as technical management.
The biggest challenge for any cycling race, specifically Mountain Bikes, is that the race setting is often in remote areas and the course itself is long, often treacherous terrain, and certainly not spectator friendly. This can be the kiss-of-death for brand marketing because only the real purist is willing to travel to the remote race location and then hike up to a section of the course to potentially see a few key turns on the entire route. The purists are already the converted and marketing is not typically focused on preaching to the choir.
This leaves potential consumer interaction solely at the start and finish lines where pavilions, tents and team facilities can be set.
For traditional cycling competitions, at least in the US, roads and approved MTB trails can be secured for events with the proper permits, security, crowd, and traffic control. But for any type of electric bicycle competition this would be limited to a secured permitted or private facility (road route or off-road private land) as public federal land is typically out of the question.
In Europe where pedal-assist mountain bike competitions have become relatively normal, access to challenging trails through dramatic vistas like the Italian Dolomites, are available and offer a compelling backdrop, but still create a marketing challenge to get the public to venture to a remote site just to learn more about the sport.
While some brands attempt to avoid the obvious comparison between electric-assist mountain bike cycling and motorcycles, the reality is that 2-wheel off-road enthusiasts seek all types of vehicles to keep their passion going, and as pointed out before, the competitive aspect creeps in at every turn. Speed and endurance are the two most addictive aspects.
In full disclosure, we are the group that has cultivated the idea, along with major motorcycle industry publisher Bonnier, to integrate arena-based motorcycle racing with a modified version of the indoor track to accommodate performance-oriented electric-assist mountain bike racing on the following day. This collaboration has developed a new version of the nationally recognized EnduroCross Race Series, and will play host to four eMTB races inside of their six stop, 2018 tour.
The idea of building a competitive series that offers a highly compressed, indoor obstacle and “trials” style race track, while being located in regional suburban markets, addresses the consumer experiential and marketing objectives in one fell swoop.
During our own research to evaluate this opportunity, we learned that a majority of the competitive EnduroCross riders used mountain bikes as critical training aids for their motocross skills. We learned that the medium price for a used (but competitive) motocross bike would set a rider back $5,000.00 to $6,000.00 and a new basic motocross bike would run around $6,500.00. Most competitors indicated their true costs would be closer to $12,000 to $15,000 once they got done modifying the bike with performance aftermarket components to make the bike work for them.
Even the recreational off road rider assumes that they will upgrade a number of components shortly after purchase. In both cases once the motorcycle riders experience the added thrust from the electric-assist on an eMTB, they are hooked. It’s the speed, any speed that gets them.
For the eBike community, the traditional commuter bikes and street cruisers average around $2000 to $3500. Well constructed electric-assist mountain bikes tend to run from $4500 to as much as $10,000 with all of the technical advancements and performance components.
Building an eMTB Experience that is set right in the midst of an EndurCross event introduces a strong subset of enthusiasts to test ride pedal-assist, electric MTBs and capitalizes on the riders energy already built into the surroundings. These are people that have traveled, paid to watch, and are wandering the paddock area to see the competitors and their machines up close. There are literally thousands of them that make their way to these races.
The idea of going from a passive role of watching to actually testing a full series of products on a scaled version of the indoor race track, with built-in dirt banks, obstacles, rocks, tires, hills, and trees is an adrenaline rush. For those that know anything about the true costs of off-road motocross riding, virtually any of the eMTBs they test will be a great value alternative.
Adding In Consumer IntelligenceAsk any product marketer and they will tell you that large crowds are important as opportunities for business development and consumer sales is a game of numbers. The simple math of a select percentage of solid leads grows proportionally with larger crowds.
But equally important to size is the level of pre-qualification and the data collected during the interaction. Understanding the consumer’s predisposition about pedal-assist cycling allows marketers to adjust the message and talking points. Just understanding whether they intend to take a product and compete with it or just follow along at a recreational level can be groundbreaking.
In a similar analogy, many golfers buy the latest driver because Dustin Johnson or Rory Mcllroy uses that exact same one on tour. Even with this new club, odds of them breaking 90 is still a pipe dream. This is the same mentality for the vicarious rider who wishes to be like motocross champion Cody Webb. Understanding that inner goal going into the conversation with a potential customer, strikes an amazing cord of opportunity.
Unlike a traditional cycling event with thousands wandering around aimlessly, knowing through advanced demographic profiles collected as part of the initial registration, what the majority of the attendee base knows about the products, has interest in, and what they perceive their own skill level to be, can change a brand's target and focus.
The debate then becomes, 'would I rather have thousands of unknown potentials, or hundreds of pre-identified attendees where I have measurable knowledge about the majority going in to it.' What if I knew significant details about everyone that tested one of my products? What if collecting this data didn’t require the staff to query every rider before they jumped on the product?
For the brands that participate in the eMTB Experience events that are associated with the EnduroCross eMTB Challenge race series, getting that consumer intelligence is part of the overall package. Capturing the enthusiasm from the motocross competition or witnessing for the first time, indoor eMTB Racing, can be contagious and motivate a consumer’s purchasing decisions. The use of passive RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags allows the collection of volumes of data without a forced interrogation of each attendee.
How would you handle a knowledgeable off-road dirt crowd where less than 50% had every ridden a pedal-assist electric mountain bike? What if you knew what type of mountain bike they currently ride and based on your own knowledge what they spent to get that? What if at the end of the event you knew every bike that a specific attendee test road before and after they tried yours? What if by looking on a live map you could see where all of the attendees that tested your bikes lived and how far they were from the closest dealer of your products?
What could you do with that data?
Building A Story To Enhance A Product’s Competitive CapabilitiesA common thread in off-road racing, whether it be motorcycles, cars, or bicycles, is often how the added performance aftermarket components made all the difference. Better tires with aggressive tread patterns and stiffer sidewalls, longer travel suspension systems, bigger brakes with more cylinders for stopping power, or stronger chains with more gears that can take the punishment of the added torque. All of these things can change the characteristic of the rider’s bike.
The challenge for many of these performance aftermarket brands, is how to showcase the actual benefits and differences these performance upgrades can deliver? One way is to take a closed-loop, outdoor terrain test track that can legitimately challenge a rider and let them experience the difference between a bike with and without the product. This is the best way to validate the offer of improved performance.
Feature by association, is a way for manufacturers to create links to those competitors who are currently using the brands products and how these items have helped a particular racer with a competitive advantage. Tying the point-of-sale messaging to the sponsored riders and teams, suggests to the consumer that by adding this component to their bike, they too will become part of the affiliate team.
The hands-on eMTB Experience with it’s professionally built terrain test track, custom manufacturer exhibit pavilions and associated retailers will sit adjacent to the EnduroCross arena in each of the four cities and provide a festival atmosphere for attendees interested in the motocross competitions as well as the eMTB series.
The venues are in or closely adjacent to major metropolitan markets, making it easy for even the casual consumer to make the short trip to experience, watch, and learn more about the eMTB competitive programs. Prescott Valley, Arizona; Reno/Sparks, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; Boise, Idaho. All of these are well vetted locations for the outdoor, off road riding enthusiast.
Electric Mountain Bike manufacturers and distributors, specialty parts manufacturers, performance safety and rider apparel suppliers and independent bicycle shops focused on mountain bikes will all find a place in these events and will have access to a trove of energized consumers.
For more information, visit: www.ElectricBikeEvents.com