Cycle companies still talk like trainspotters and there’s a long way to go to communicate effectively with mainstream consumers, says award-winning consumer journalist and copywriter Simon Munk...

OPINION: It’s time to dump the jargon

Active Braking Pivot… Functional Advanced Composite Technology… Quad-Link Suspension… the cycle trade loves jargon. Bandy around a new trademarked bit of tech, slap on an acronym and the punters lap it up. That’s if your market is nerdy blokes in Lycra.

If you want your market to include the mainstream consumer – commuters on hybrids, hip kids on fixies, mums on ebikes – then the last thing you want to do is blind them with science.

At last year’s Cycle Show, designed to attract mainstream interest in cycling, there was little evidence that parts of the industry understand how to engage with the mass-market consumer. While it was a storming success in terms of visitor numbers, how many people actually came to buy a bike and left any wiser?

I write about cycling (as well as consumer technology, video games and more) for national newspapers, mainstream magazines and a host of websites. I also know bikes – I’ve been riding and tinkering with them for decades. I even know the jargon – I have to, to spot what’s new and exciting and cover it. Yet I was mystified by the show, and so were several fellow cycling consumer journalists I know. What chance, then, the dads, grannies and teenage non-hardcore out for the day?

Row after row of near-identical bikes with nothing to differentiate themselves. Stands with brochures full of buzzwords, but no information labels on the bikes themselves. Some stands – the public face of many major cycling companies – reminded me of the average bike retailer.

Bike shops are the public face of the entire industry for most consumers. Many are a modern-day trainspotter’s paradise: uninformative and unwelcoming to anyone who doesn’t wear the right clothes and speak the lingo.

From one end to the other, it’s time for the industry to learn to communicate with consumers on their terms. The jargon has to go. What’s desperately needed is clear, simple communication on the merits of cycling in general, and the merits of the individual bike or piece of kit you’re trying to sell in particular.

My local IBD, one of those who seem to get it right, once summed up a new ‘hardcore hardtail’ mountain bike as “just fun for messing about on”. That’s the right idea – it told me what I needed to know about both the pros and cons of the bike. And all in six simple words.

So, how to grab a share of the mainstream? Start talking sense.

I would say this – I’m co-founder of a new copywriting agency of three award-winning consumer journalists who love cycling and the outdoors – but what’s needed across the entire industry is more consumer-facing savvy.

It might make perfect sense to employ an ex-pro racer as your marketing manager if you spend all your time talking to whippets. But it’s time to start talking to more mainstream communication experts if you want to talk to more mainstream audiences.

Copywriting for cycling
From something as simple as the information cards printed to display alongside bikes at shows and in shops, to instruction manuals, marketing brochures, press releases, websites and adverts – written communication in the cycling industry could be much clearer and better. And the answer is simple.

Magic Number Creative is a small copywriting-and-more agency formed by three award-winning consumer journalists. By using a freelance, out-of-house agency like us, it’s possible to get high-quality written materials to deadline, at a relatively low price.

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