Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Travelling with a Bicycle, Evoc Bike Travel Bag

If you have travelled with your bike by air or rail, you would have gained a bit of perspective on the importance of having a good bike bag. My first couple of trips were with a cheap bike bag. I did not find them to be very good even though there are plenty of people who seem happy with these basic bags, which are essentially oversized  duffle bags. Then, I got one from Evoc a few years ago, and I am well pleased with it. I have a friend who has had an Evoc bike bag for much longer than me and used it more times than I have. He is well pleased too.

Eurostar recently changed their bike carrying policy and attracted more than a few comments from cyclists from both sides of the Channel. What was great about their previous service is that you could board with your bike without having the bike packed: just roll in, and roll out. For a price, of course, but for the convenience of arriving at the other end, say, St Pancras and be able to pedal off to your final destination, it was worth the premium. Now, all bikes must be in a bike bag or box. Your packed bike gets placed in a dedicated carriage, and you are charged a fee for it.

I can appreciate the thinking behind the change. Eurostar must have seen an increase in travellers with bikes. The old policy made it possible to accommodate only a few bikes on each train. In order to increase capacity, they had to figure out a way to use the same space more efficiently. However, what they could have done is to offer two levels of bike transport options: the standard one being the packed option and the premium one being the unpacked roll-on-roll-off option. There should be a premium for convenience, and I would be happy to pay a reasonable premium for the convenience of rolling on and rolling off. If not all premium spots are taken, then the space can be used to accommodate more packed bikes if required.

As for the standard service, there may be a question as to whether there should be a fee at all. Many airlines charge a fee for bikes, but train services tend not to charge for packed bikes. For example, it is free to bring a packed bike on board the TGV (or the Thalys). However, there is a slight difference.

When you board a Eurostar, you check in your bike at a desk dedicated to oversized luggage. The bikes are put on a separate carriage in contrast to your other bulkier luggage that are meant to be left on the luggage rack at the end of your carriage. When you reach your destination, you have to collect it from the specified area. It all seems like more hassle for you and for Eurostar, for no good reason. However, I do concede that extra-Schengen travel can require additional protocols, particularly with the UK having a history of being a high value target for terrorists, combined with the different types of risks arising from the train travelling underground.

In contrast, when boarding a TGV, you can pop your packed bike on the luggage rack at the end of your carriage. No special procedure or extra fee. It seems more convenient, more reasonable. However, there is a little snag: the permitted maximum length of the bike bag / box is 120 cm.

At 136 cm, my Evoc bike travel bag is 16 cm (about half a foot) over the official limit.

From the compliance standpoint, I have not come across anyone checking the measurements before boarding or during the journey. Actually, I don’t even know what would be the consequence of being found out that the bike bag exceeds the maximum dimensions.

On the practical side, the rule does make sense, given the depth of the luggage racks. The Evoc sticks out from the rack to the isle by more than 10 cm. It’s enough to get in the way of people passing through, which means that it is at risk of causing them harm. Conversely, they can potentially cause damage to your bike. The longer the train ride, and the more people there are on board, the risk level increases. For this reason, I was not entirely comfortable on the relatively long TGV ride from Paris to Turin a few years ago.

I suppose that I could have used a service like Sendmybag.com, but I think that would be my last resort in most cases.

What I would prefer is that Evoc introduce a bag that is 120 cm long. I would guess that there would be a limit to the maximum frame size that it can accommodate, so the commercial viability may be influenced by the limitation. However, I think that the desired solution clearly addresses a real, existing problem, so I would hope that there is enough reason to at least consider the potential market opportunity, before someone else does.

China, the Chinese Buyers and Luxury Goods

There was a time when it was almost impossible to avoid being confronted by this question at least once a day: what are your plans in China? And then, the market started cooling off, and companies stopped opening new shops like fast food chains, in towns you never knew existed, in some remote areas in mainland China. More recently, international ‘luxury’ brands whose core business is chasing the mass affluent segment started shuttering some of those locations because there is just not enough business to be had in some industrial or agricultural outpost. Even very large domestic retailers have started to feel the demand slowing, with their share prices taking a beating as both Hong Kong and mainland China markets continue to soften.

I really don’t know if the merchants’ previous exuberance was ever justified simply because I don’t know if much of the market data and economic indicators coming out of China were reliable. Chuck Prince, a former CEO of Citigroup, said in 2007, just prior to the unravelling of the US subprime mortgage market, ‘When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.’ The official market data published by the Chinese government was the music, and everyone was too keen to be on the dance floor although I suspect that anyone with any sense suspected, even at the time, that the music might be from the Milli Vanilli’s Greatest Hits album. They said, 8% annual GDP growth, AGAIN. Sure, why not.

Chinese buyers are still out in force, just not at home. You see them everywhere, buying. They are still a very important group of buyers. A recent analysis by a Shanghai-based consultancy, Fortune Character Institute (I love that name, and incidentally, I still don’t understand why the Korean conglomerate, Lucky Goldstar, changed their name to LG Corporation since nothing says ‘Asian Tiger’ like a fortuitous name) reckons that 78% of the luxury goods purchases by Chinese consumers will be made abroad and that only 10% of global sales will be generated in China. It is important to note that they have defined luxury goods to include jewellery, watches, accessories and apparel, but to exclude cars, yachts, aeroplanes or art. I don’t know how they arrived at those numbers, but they sound like reasonable projections for the next year or two.

As such, thoughts should probably focus on the buyers, not their country of residence. Perhaps easier said than done…

“Selecting the Right Tires For Wide-Rim Wheels”

For those riding road bikes rolling on clincher rims with a width of 24 mm or more, this piece by Paul Lew may be of some urgent interest when selecting tyres.

Or, consider switching to tubulars.

How to Do a Quick Litmus Test for Business Strategy

Many articles on business have me hearing the author fap, fap, fap to the sound of his own words. I know, it’s not nice to say. Not professional, you say. Guilty as charged. Admit it, you, as a business practitioner, have felt the same way from time to time. And then, every once in a while, you come across an article by an academic that actually reflects what they teach at every b-school: write with brevity and clarity. And to boot, the thesis of the article is practical, even universally practical.

Professor Roger L Martin of Rotman (U of T) posits that the first question to ask of any core strategy choice is if one could make the opposite choice without looking stupid. Simple, lucid, and eminently practical in coming up with a strategy that is not identical to what everyone else is doing (but might sound nicer). As I do not have permission to reproduce the article here, read it at the source. It’s well worth your while, it’s a quick read, and you can use his idea immediately.

Reputation Management in a Click

white pride world wide

 

Recent events and certain political campaign rhetorics reminded me of something by which I was bemused a couple of years ago. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me.

Earlier that year, I engaged a public relations consultant to give a couple of my non-marketing colleagues some media training. Whilst he was previously the regional head of a global, generalist PR agency, his private practice focusses on issues and reputation management. As he and I both cycle, when an intellectual property spat between a small Canadian bicycle retailer and a large American bicycle brand erupted, I sent him a link to an online article about it because I thought it would be interesting to see how the Americans will handle the situation. Legally, it was a fairly clear-cut case. Actually, it wasn’t even worth discussing. However, on the public relations front, the case called for a comfortable chair and a large tub of popcorns as it unfolded in the court of public opinion. It was a textbook case of both sides doing everything wrong: the ignorant, naïve, self-righteous shopkeeper and the big, bad, arrogant corporation. What made the case more interesting is the fact that a bike brand that is very adept at marketing was cocking it up like amateurs. Over the years, the purveyors of bikes mass produced in Taiwan have managed to develop and nurture, with the use of a very clever tag line, a very loyal clientele by making them feel like a rare breed of cyclists despite, in reality, rendering each customer merely One Of Countless Many. And here they were, making a mess out of a situation that could have been avoided in the first place.

In reply, the consultant told me about a case that a large British general merchandiser had experienced about 4 years prior when just about every business was feeling the impact of the Great Recession. They are known for value-for-money product assortment and have long enjoyed a reputation for supplying quality underwear at reasonable prices. They tweaked the pricing structure of women’s undergarments (big booby surcharge on DD cup and larger), and the members of public were outraged by that move, with the media egging them on whilst rivals gained market share. Under pressure, the retailer retracted the change. In doing so, they made a brilliant move in launching an advertising campaign to apologise for the offending move. The advert featured a model with her E cup assets encased in a pair of their previously premium category bras. The public was so taken by the model (and presumably the campaign message as well) that everyone forgot about the retailer’s offence and took their custom back to the retailer.

I knew about the outrage but didn’t know about the apology campaign since I didn’t follow the saga back then. Because he didn’t tell me who the model was (and obviously, I wanted to know), so I asked him who she was. What happened next had me perplexed.

He sent me a link to a thread in a well known internet forum founded and managed by a former Ku Klax Klan Grand Wizard, for white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The forum has sub-fora in various languages for members around the globe. In the thread, UK-based forum members were chatting about the model, and some members had posted a photo or two of her. Her photos explained why the campaign was a hit, but I simultaneously entered Bemusement Park quite unexpectedly.

Bemusement 1: These forum members were saying positive things in a polite manner about a British subject of Sudanese extraction. To say that the thread content was incongruent with the forum profile is perhaps an understatement. I wonder if the reputation of the thread participants amongst their peers suffered as a result.

Bemusement 2 (more important): Of all the places on the internet where photos of her can be found, the consultant sent me a link to a thread in that forum. If you do a web search on her name, the thread is unlikely to come up in the first few pages, not least because certain search engines in certain countries have excluded the forum’s URL from their index. In other words, you don’t come across the thread by accident if you enter her name in a search engine. You have to be in the forum first in order to find that thread, that is, unless someone sends you a direct link to it. So, is he a forum member?

I never asked albeit I still wonder whether it’s something that might hurt his reputation.

Cathartic?

  

Polishing old Weinmann brake calipers must rank rather high on the list of pointless things to do on any given evening. Highly recommended if you are seeking that magical what-did-I-do-that-for feeling.

The Euro, the Misguided Adventure

Despite the successive UK governments in the last 20 odd years seeming a bit farcical, one thing that they, along with Denmark, did get right is to opt out, and stay out, of the euro.

I tend not to discuss matters of politics for a variety of reasons, but the subject of the euro and the Frankenstein called the European Union is proving to be too strong a temptation.

image via Swedish Canary

The European Monetary Union reminds me of collateralised debt obligations with collaterals of mortgage backed securities. Mix a few good apples with a bunch of rotten ones, shake it around a bit, and voilà, you have a large, good looking basket of apples with multiplying worms.

I don’t see how a monetary union can be workable without a political union. I think that a free trade zone is a good thing, but to actually have a fully fledged common market requires a political union. I appreciate that there are plenty of politicians, bureaucrats and academics who believe that having a monetary union will eventually force a political union given its necessity. Money talks, as the theory goes.

Except the logic seems to ignore a critical factor or two: human beings and regional history.

It’s tempting to buy into the idea that ‘Europe’ must be equipped to compete with large economies like the US or China and that the way to remain competitive is to have a common market. However, buying into it requires that one starts with the fallacious premise that is held by many Americans: ‘Europe’ is essentially one entity inhabited by one cultural and ethnic group called ‘Europeans’ who live ‘European lives’, that just because these people inhabit the same continent somehow makes them culturally homogeneous or that they share enough characteristics to form one big nation called United States of Europe or whatever. Just because a famous crook like Kissinger once wondered out loud about whom to call when he wants to speak to Europe doesn’t give rise to a singular entity called Europe rather than just a designation for a geographic region. The popularity of conflating and confusing discrete elements does not transform a fallacy into a cogent inference.

It’s hard to imagine a viable monetary union without the platform for, at minimum, a common fiscal and monetary policies. I cannot see that platform being anything other than political union.

During the dot com craze at the turn of the millenium, there was no shortage of pundits extolling the inevitability and strategic imperative of convergence: media channels, content, distribution, etc. all coming together. Anyone remember the Time Warner – AOL tragicomedy? It was not the first or the last time that some people got all excited about convergence whilst history has proven many times that diversification or replacement, not convergence, is the likely outcome as new innovations enter the market. Convergence foretell a theoretically simplified world, so I can appreciate how sexy it sounds. However, it tends to betray one’s ignorance of history, if nothing else. Some of it isn’t even in the past; it is in the present.

I live in a tiny country with disproportionate problems related to unification, harmonisation and trust. Despite covering just 30500 sq km with only 11 million residents, Belgium has 3 officially recognised languages. The crown prince, now the sovereign, even has had for many years a foundation whose mission is to promote harmony amongst the 3 linguistic communities in the country. It sounds like a bad joke, but it’s anything but: the problem the foundation wants to address is real. Not a few in Flanders desire secession. Politically, it’s a mess partly because the Flemish politicians are not accountable to Walloon voters and vice versa, and the Brussels region exists in its own bubble.

Belgians are keen to refer to their nation as the capital of Europe given that many EU institutions are based in Belgium, namely, in Brussels. They are right in more ways than they perhaps intend. It is a tidy little illustration of why a Europe-wide political union is a pipe dream.

Belgium is not unique in having a segment of population who desire secession. Some Basques in Spain, northerners in Italy, Scottish and Catholics in the UK, just to name a few. All these people wanting to go their separate ways, and some well-meaning but unenlightened geeks want to force a larger union. Then, there are some deep-seated distrust of neighbouring countries based on history, preconceived notions and prejudices.

The lack of a common language is not to be underestimated. French has been designated as the final word in all official EU / EC documents mainly because the French language apparently is the most precise and the least vulnerable to diverging interpretations. Does that provide comfort to the Irish? I think not.

In theory, none of the above is insurmountable over time. I am more than happy to be proven wrong, but I think it is more unlikely than not. Regardless, implementing monetary union before achieving political union puts the cart squarely in front of the horse.

More recently, with the migrant issue hitting the headlines, there have been talks of re-introducing passport controls for movements between the Schengen Area member states. The irony.

Having a common currency is very convenient when travelling from one country to another. Trading with counterparties in other euro zone countries is easy and free of forex risks. I think that convenience should be available not for free but at a cost, whether direct or indirect. However, the cost of this particular convenience seems too high for the privilege. It seems evident that a collective of sovereign member states driving in different gears and in different directions cannot be expected to manage a single currency properly.

As far as I can see, the euro is a failed experiment, collapsing under layers of delusions and pretences. One cannot be half pregnant. It would be better for all concerned to cut the losses and revert to national currencies and the ECU. The cost savings from dismantling the enormous EU / EC machinery in Brussels might be sufficient to pay for the cost of discarding the euro. The euro can be revisted when political union is within reach, but I am not holding my breath.

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