There's a good discussion going on now over on the www.portlandtransport.com blog, where Bob R. said:
"What would really give bike commuting as serious boost among the general populace would be to promote a simple, durable commuter bike for under $500 (even under $400 if it can be managed.) Something with fenders, a unisex design, a comfortable adjustable seat, and easy shifting."
This was in response to a post about Portland's announcement of its mission to achieve Platinum certification (it currently has Gold) as the most bicycle-friendly city, anywhere. It's attempting to get 15% of its trips to be made by bicycle. In response, Trek has produced a new model of bicycle, called the Portland, which retails for about $1500.
I agree completely with Bob's comment, which was in essence that $1500 was a bit steep for most Portlanders, and that there needed to be a good mike for the masses. When I was in Amsterdam, I noticed how the same bike was *everywhere*. It was called the AmsterBike, and it was what most people rode in the central city.
Of course, the AmsterBike was really heavy, like 45 pounds or so, which doesn't matter because the tallest hills in Amsterdam are the ones that you climb as you go over the little bridges arching gently over the canals. And, I don't know exactly how much an AmsterBike actually costs, as I only rented one for $6/day, rather than purchasing one.
Still, it seems like some Oregon-based bicycle manufacturer could probably provide some living-wage jobs for some employees, and some affordable, good-quality bicycles for the riding population, by stepping up and designing an OregonBike that would be light enough to make it up most hills, cost $400 or so, have fenders and a rack, rechargeable lights, and either be unisex or have enough models in the same price range that it didn't matter.
Any entrepreneurs care to step up and fill this market niche?