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N + 1 Thought drives the global oversupply of bicycles

What is N+1 Thought?

N+1 Thought is the belief that more bikes is always better. It originates with the marketing campaign from the 2010s that announced “The correct number of bikes to own is N + 1”. This campaign sprung from the bicycle industry’s realization that it is easier to sell a new and higher priced bicycle to an existing cyclist every year or two than it is to try to convince a football player, a sailor, a golfer or a tennis player to buy a bike and take up cycling. (It was further embraced and sanctified by the false gods of cycling, The Velominati). The campaign was funny and popular and it resonated with cyclists. Coffee shops are named in its honor. It features on vanity license plates across the country. There are posters on the walls of bike shops. It appears on merchandise. 

N+1: Stupid message. Stupid math.

But it is embarrassingly out of touch. It sounds like the Schaefer beer commercial from the 1970s that went “Schafer is the one beer to have when you are having more than one.” No marketing professional would try messaging like that today. “N + 1” is also stupid math. It means infinity. Does the consumer have an infinite supply of money to buy bikes? Does the consumer have an infinite amount of time to ride all of these bikes? Does the consumer have an infinite amount of space where they can be kept? And Is there an infinite supply of aluminum, steel, rubber, wood, petrochemicals and oil to produce all of these bikes? Furthermore, do consumers practice N + 1 when it comes to houses, cars, cell phones, computers, shirts, shoes, pants and pets? Even for Jeff Bezoz and Taylor Swift at some point the answer is no. 

N+1 Thought drives global oversupply of bicycles

It seems that the industry has adopted and internalized the message and has made N+1 Thought the core of its vision for the future. According to the World Bicycle Industry Associate (WIPA), a trade group, global production (supply) of bicycles and e-bikes increased 11 percent to 193 million units in 2021. During the same period, global sales (demand) of bicycles and e-bikes increased only 2 percent to 136 million. In one year alone, the industry successfully created a surplus (supply less demand) of 57.3 million bicycles and e-bikes or 30 percent of annual production (or 3.1 times the annual sales of the United States market). Please see An Industry Addicted to N + 1.  

In the basement, on the walls, from the ceilings

Where are all these surplus bicycles and e-bikes going? They are going to the inventories of the manufacturers. And from there they are going to the warehouses of wholesalers and distributors. And from there they are going to the retail networks where some of them go to the floors (and walls and ceilings) of shops while many others go to the shop basements or off site storage containers. In case you are wondering why there is so much discounting going on at your local bike shop and with the online bike brands, this is it. There are too many bikes around.

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