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Geared up for success – can cycling keep up with the industry boom?

By Abby Cooper



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July 28, 2021 | 9 min read

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The lockdown-fueled surge in exercise and heightened anxiety over public transportation has meant that more and more have chosen to use one of the most basic forms of exercise – cycling.

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How will the cycling industry fare after the last 12 months and will retailers be able to keep up with the pace?

In 2020, approximately 7.5 million people participated in cycling: either for sport, leisure or travel. Data from Mintel shows that the total number of bicycles sold in the UK in 2020 reached an estimated 3.3m units, a 22% rise on 2019 sales.

The ‘bike boom’ has meant unprecedented and increased sales for bicycle retailers, with stats showing a 63% increase year-on-year.

Boris Johnson said the post-pandemic landscape should be the “golden age for cycling”. How will the cycling industry fare after the last 12 months – and will retailers be able to keep up with the pace?

The cycling boom of 2020

During the height of the pandemic, it was compulsory to stay at home, exclusive of one hour’s exercise outside. Some opted for walking or running, but 83% of people picked up cycling as their exercise of choice during the lockdown period.

Initially, interest in casual riding surged first, with the search term ‘kids bikes’ increasing by 300%* on Decathlon (Bosco Index: 650). Cycling became a favorite pastime and form of exercise for many families in the UK, bolstering their enjoyment of the limited time outdoors.

High-end road bicycle and triathlon retailer Sigma Sports (Bosco Index: 665) reported that its year-on-year sales of entry-level (£500) bikes were up by 677% in April.

Wiggle (Bosco Index: 730) has also reported an uplift in sales across all fitness categories, with a 138% increase in bike sales year-on-year.

As well as new riders, empty footpaths and minimal traffic enabled enthusiasts to rediscover their passion for cycling, and the fashion that comes with it. The search query ‘cycling jerseys men’ rose by a massive 2850%* in 2020. The cobwebs were also blown off old bicycles, and sales in tools and maintenance at Sigma Sports were up by 255%.

For many, the prospect of leaving their home or limiting exercise to just one hour meant an investment in indoor turbo trainers. Sigma Sports reported that the early days of the pandemic saw the biggest surge in sales and year-on-year sales in this category increased by 997% in March; a trend that continued in the month of April by a staggering 1,150%.

Cycles UK said that the entire industry was “caught off-guard” by the increase in demand for bikes, and that most UK distributors have run out of any bikes under £1,000. The popularity of both entry-level bicycles and road bikes meant that customers had to wait for their orders throughout the pandemic, but haven’t been deterred by the wait. Even today, some back orders aren’t expected to be back instore and/or online until 2022.

In the midst of the crisis, Brompton (Bosco Index: 725) ran a campaign to provide bikes to NHS staff to prevent overcrowding on public transport during the pandemic. As word spread, over 500 NHS staff registered for the free rental service. The success of the campaign lead to further investment in its production capacity to cater to both frontline staff and its customers.

Will cycling be a victim of its own success?

As government restrictions fully ease and there is no longer an enforcement to wear masks or abide by two-meter social distancing, and no limitations on indoor and outdoor activity, we’ve been left wondering whether the bike boom will just be another craze – or if it will lead to lasting change.

Cycling enthusiasts and retailers believe that this will continue long after the pandemic. Halfords (Bosco Index: 696) considers this to be a permanent change in the market: “This marks a change in how people are moving and underlines the importance of bikes to health, fitness and as a viable alternative to public transport.”

Such unprecedented demand for bicycles and equipment is predicted to continue over the course of the next 12 to 24 months. Sigma Sports is still experiencing increased sales, leading to limited and unavailable stock.

One of the downfalls of this rapid growth could mean that retailers will struggle with comparable year-on-year data, and campaigns and seasonal promotions could be difficult to plan or even execute as a result.

However, Google Trends shows that the results for the search term ‘cycling’ is almost identical to that in April 2020.

Since the coronavirus crisis, Brompton has boosted production by 30% and has plans to recruit nearly 200 workers within the next year. Wiggle is seeing interest in bikes increasing by 417%.

Brompton has expressed that its #WheelsforHeroes initiative will be ongoing post-pandemic and will actively encourage travel among NHS staff. Since the initial campaign, Brompton is working with several NHS Trusts to ensure the bikes it provided in March are worthwhile beyond the pandemic and will continue to be used by NHS staff to enjoy the benefits of cycling long term.

We analyze retailers’ online performances using the Bosco Index, a measure of how well you are exploiting your digital opportunities compared to your competitors. The index is computed 0-1000, with 575 being the average score for retailers.

In March 2021, we scored the top UK retailers in the cycling industry. The top five average was a score of 679. As of July, we’ve seen further Index improvements on this set of retailers, with an average score of 685.

The future of cycling

The National Travel Attitudes Study has revealed that 93% of survey respondents would continue to cycle and walk more once restrictions were removed. This has prompted many cycling brands and organizations to question and challenge the government on cycling roads and paths in the UK to help these new riders feel safer on busy roads and to maintain the momentum of cycling for travel.

In Paris, the government has introduced temporary cycle lanes, many of them on key roads in the heart of the French capital, including Rue de Rivoli. The temporary roll-out has found that six in 10 users of these pop-up bike lanes are new to cycling and would like to see the lanes made permanent.

86% of respondents in the National Travel study expressed concerns for their health when thinking about using public modes of transport. Understandably, most people will carry this concern as restrictions ease, leading to permanent change in cycling for travel, as well as leisure.

As sales continue to soar and bicycles remain out of stock for months to come, at most large retailers the future of cycling looks bright with increased sales in additional parts and accessories, including seasonal gear such as clothing.

Cycling analysts believe that this trend was already on its way up and has simply accelerated at a faster rate as a result of the pandemic. In the same way e-commerce, gaming and food deliveries have scaled much quicker, with no sign of slowing down.

Bosco gives brands and agencies the power of predictive analytics, connecting and transforming your marketing data to provide powerful dashboards and insights. Book a demo to find out how Bosco can help your business.

*Research from Google Trends, July 2021

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