March 2020. Suddenly, our lives changed forever. And even today, we still struggle to understand the new reality.
In a context of global change, where our values of both existence and civil coexistence have been profoundly challenged, the bicycle world is just one element affected by the pandemic. As in most sectors, the cycling industry had to change rapidly, and companies had to adapt quickly. Fausto Pinarello, founding partner and chairman of the eponymous Italian bicycle manufacturer, was among them.
Fausto Pinarello (centre) at Rouleur Live with Matt Stephens (left) and Juan Antonio Flecha (right). Photo: Sean Hardy.
"In 2020 we started with intense, all-around activity across cycling, only to find ourselves a few months later in a flat, garage or terrace pedalling on our turbos. Working hard and sweating, and competing with people we didn't even know [in e-races on platforms such as Zwift]," Pinarello recalls.
"We have more people who have taken up cycling. That's positive," Pinarello continues. "Then many people moved from regular bikes to e-bikes (especially in the US and Japan). E-bikes are also very popular in Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and in northern Italy where we have mountains. And in these areas, the demand for bikes has grown beyond expectations."Fausto Pinarello controls the different phases of the bike production at Pinarello HQ in Treviso, Italy. Photo: Giacomo Frison.
Demand has increased unexpectedly (3.3 million units were sold in the UK in 2020, which was +22% compared to 2019 according to the market intelligence agency Mintel), so much so that the market can still not satisfy all customers. Still today there is a shortage of both bikes and components, and even giants like Shimano cannot keep up with bookings and deliveries.
"Absurdly," continues Pinarello, "we – like many of our competitors – could sell a lot more bikes, but there's too much demand. I hope that in a couple of years, this bubble won't burst. Shimano says it's delivering late because it didn't believe too much in this post-Covid phenomenon, and in the end, they're the ones holding the thermometer. We hope it's not just a bubble."Fausto Pinarello and some of the jerseys won by the athletes using his bikes. Photo: Giacomo Frison.
What has changed from 2019 is not just the demand for bikes, but also the way we cycle. If, at least for Pinarello, pre-Covid customers were mainly interested in road bikes, today the market has diversified more than ever.
"A separate world has been created, which is the world of gravel, MTBs, and pedal-assist MTBs," explains Pinarello. "And those who don't travel [abroad] anymore, now go on holiday – in Italy – mostly to mountain places, with pedal-assisted bikes, with gravel, or with assisted gravel. So it's a completely different way of cycling than before."Fausto Pinarello has witnessed a reduced interest in racing among amateur cyclists. Photo: Sean Hardy.
Pinarello has also seen the change within his team, a team made up of people who ride bikes and ride them a lot. As well as noticing interest in different disciplines, what he has seen waning is interest in racing, despite the positive trend.
"My guys in the Granfondo team in Italy have become lazier," he says. "This year, I had a hard time getting them to race. Because they've done a lot of kilometres (up to 10,000 kilometres in some cases) but when I ask them when we're going to race, they say: 'Eh, but I don't know, maybe I'm going to the seaside, I don't feel like it, let's wait.'"
That waning interest in road riding, in tandem with growing interest in off-road disciplines, could kill off events like Granfondo Pinarello, which reaches its 25th edition next year.A very colourful and light frame. Photo: Giacomo Frison.
"I don't know if there will be a 26th," confesses Pinarello. "It was a route I set for myself a bit as a joke, and we said we'd go up to 25, and I don't know if I'll do it anymore. Either people are tired of hanging a number on their backs, or they want to ride their bikes while having fun, but in a different way. A lot of people have bought a gravel bike, an assisted MTB. They go out with their wives, take the kids on their bikes, and always put in a lot of kilometres."
Statistics compiled by Pinarello's marketing department show that most customers who buy a gravel bike come from the off-road world, while a smaller number come from the road. The Treviso-based company is investing heavily in the sector though, partly because Pinarello believes people will be cycling more and more and partly because it is the fastest-growing part of the cycling industry.
One of the production phases of the Dogma. Photo: Giacomo Frison.
Despite significant investments in gravel, Pinarello's DNA remains tied to the road. And although road bikes remain a niche in the global market, it's a market that's "still growing," explains Pinarello. "Probably because people, after one, two months, six months of lockdown, want to be free to go out, feel different, enjoy the good weather, or go where they've never been before. Or do something new. And I'm sure the passionate cyclists will stay, and we will grow with them."
Just like their DNA, Pinarello's philosophy and identity will remain the same, even at the end of the complicated global climate in which we find ourselves.
"Pinarello is a small brand with a long history, heritage, culture and passion," explains Pinarello. "We create the best bikes, the best performing bikes. They are not cheap bikes, but they are elegant bikes. I'm sure our customers want to have a good bike, an exclusive bike, a beautiful bike. And I want to continue this philosophy. I don't want to change it. We will never become a big company or a big brand. There's no reason to copy or do otherwise. We are Pinarello, and we'll always be."