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John Burke CEO of Trek is ready to go where no bicycle company has gone before

John Burke is riding a smart race

John Burke (CEO of Trek Bicycle Corpoation) understands the Circular Economy better than he did when he was brainstorming on the white board. He highlights a two part strategy for reducing Trek’s absolute Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2032 from a 2021 base year. (Trek’s annual emissions are equivalent to the annual emissions of Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a lot).

Build with less impact: This means getting suppliers (all of the third party companies that make components, wheels, accessories, clothing for Trek) to use more sustainable methods of production. For example, this means asking or requiring a supplier to use renewable energy sources or recycled inputs (or both) to make the products that Trek purchases.

Create products that are used longer: This means making products out of more durable materials or designing them so that they are more easily repairable. This could mean for example increasing the percentage of framesets made from aluminum, titanium or steel and reducing the percentage made from carbon fiber. This implies making fewer products and “selling less”. 

Going where no bicycle has gone before

John is on the right track and he is ready to bring Trek and the entire bicycle industry kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. If there ever was a time for a serious restructuring of the bicycle industry it is now. I would add among other things, the following:

Increase domestic production: This means manufacturing more bicycles that use domestically sourced, repurposed or recycled inputs in a domestic facility that is powered by renewable energy. This will give Trek more control of Scope 3 emissions not to mention leveraging available government incentives and creating jobs. If a single mother can lead the development of a nickel cobalt refinery in Oklahoma for the nascent electric car battery industry, then Trek most certainly can build a facility in Wisconsin to make bikes that are manufactured more sustainability. 

Operate an internal deproduction division: This means setting up an internal operation that specializes in the disassembly of used and unused bicycles so that the parts can be resold, repurposed, or recycled (a production line that operates in reverse). This lowers greenhouse emissions (because products that have already been manufactured  can be repurposed), creates a new channel to liquidate inventory and facilitates the creation of programs that will allow Trek to buyback or take back End of Life Bicycles (ELBs) from existing customers. This is an increasingly common (and soon to be required) feature of the automobile industry and so far only one bicycle company, A-D Bikes, is doing it. 

Retire the Bike for Every Price: This means producing fewer versions of each model bicycle. Currently, Trek produces eleven versions of the Checkpoint gravel bike ranging in price from $1,800 to $11,000. This is too much variation even for the knowledgeable cyclists and could be very easily lowered to three options (Good, Better, Best) in three colors. Indeed, Trek recently announced that its “model year 2026 stock keeping units (SKUs) will be 40 percent lower than model year 2024” which is consistent with the messaging contained in the report. 

Retire the model year convention: This means ending the bicycle industry’s outdated and wasteful marketing strategy (known as N + 1 Thought) and replacing it with something more efficient and sustainable.  Retiring the model year convention complements the idea of reducing the number of versions of each bike model and  producing bicycles that have longer life cycles. And without the pressure to introduce something new when there really isn't anything new, manufacturers will have more resources to focus on developing new manufacturing techniques that have real long term benefits for the industry and the consumer.

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