The Long Tail concept says (and I'm way oversimplifying) that the sales potential of thousands of little niches equals more than the mainstream market; think Netflix (Long Tail) vs. Blockbuster (the old way) . Now, I've been thinking about this plays out in the bike industry.
Talk to anyone in the bike biz (including me) and they'll say how great the market is now for high-end road bikes. Of course the Lance effect is driving this and who do you think is coming into the party? Yep, mainstream folks who are inspired and excited to ride (which is great) for the first time in years. They're buying carboned-out, $5K rigs and doing all sorts of charity rides and having a great time. Cool. But on the other end are folks that just need a bike and don't have a dentist's salary to spend. They also want to find a brand that doesn't have the corporate shine of the big boys. Enter Surly.
It seems to me like Surly is the clear winner when it comes to tapping into niche riders. Their bikes are respected in many important niches; 29ers, touring, singlespeed, cyclocross, fixed gear, "all-day" road, utility/urban assault. They're now so successful in niches that more and more "mainstream" folks are getting turned onto the brand. I was at a local mom and pop bike shop the other day and they couldn't build them fast enough.
On the other end of the Long Tail is Giant. They're going for the "next big thing" that their dealer network can sell to anyone who walks into their shop...and that usually means at the expense of making bikes that are respected in the niche groups (example: a "touring" bike that doesn't accept racks easily...until Old Man Mountain (a client of mine) came to the rescue).
***This post is currently listed on The Long Tail blog (as of 5/19/05).