Read our new manifesto
Feature

Get on your bike: can cycling brands keep wheels in motion post-lockdown?

When the UK was plunged into a Covid-19 imposed lockdown, cycling had a moment in the sun as people adapted their modes of travel in lieu of public transport. But with lockdown restrictions relaxed (for now) can bike brands maintain momentum?

If recent figures are anything to go by, then returning to cycling as an adult is indeed just like riding a bike.

When coronavirus caused public transport to shut down for all but essential journeys mid-March, people in the UK flocked to buy a new set of (two) wheels. According to the Bicycle Association, bike sales increased by 63% year-on-year between April and June 2020.

Elsewhere, the UK Department for Transport found that cycling levels increased by up to 300% in lockdown. Outdoor retailer Halfords noted a 57% bump in bike sales over the last three months. The chain is struggling to keep up with demand but expects the boom to continue long-term thanks to a continued desire to avoid buses and trains.

The UK government is also backing the shift towards pedal power, dishing out free £50 vouchers for bicycle repairs and pledging to increase the number of cycle lanes in the UK as part of a £2bn investment plan.

However, for brands attached to the mode of travel, questions linger about whether it will be an uphill journey to keep people on their bikes and build habits for life as convenience takes over and commuters return to road and rail.

‘Barely any Lyrca in sight’

For its part, the cycling industry has been quick to lean into its newfound popularity.

In June, over 50 relevant organisations (including Brompton Bicycle and Strava Metro) launched a brand-neutral campaign dubbed ‘Bike is Best’.

The effort has been billed as the “most extensive coordinated promotional campaign for cycling since the 1970s”, running across billboards, TV, digital and social. Its message? ’You don’t have to be a cyclist to ride a bike’ – a tagline designed to attract a new demographic of non-cyclists.

The collab is being overseen by Fusion Media, a marketing communications agency specialising in cycling and active travel. Adam Tranter, Fusion’s founder and chief exec, says that even before lockdown, bike sales were increasing.

“This uptake has become a catalyst for the government’s plans for a ‘golden age of cycling’,” he explains, arguing that this moment is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to instil behaviour change and change some of the perceptions around cycling”.

The campaign is on target to reach 30 million people in the UK by the end of August, and the group recently launched a petition to show the public’s support for better cycling infrastructure in the UK, which was signed by 10,000 people in the first 24 hours.

Tranter argues there’s an opportunity amid the crisis for relevant brands to redefine what a cyclist looks like.

“There is a new potential audience for the cycling industry and our creative reflects that – there’s barely any Lycra in sight. Our hero film and creative celebrates normal people doing normal things by bicycle and shows the benefits for everybody by using bikes for short journeys.”

While sales are on the up, however, he’s aware that nothing can be taken for granted. Just 6% of people in the UK say they want to return to the ”old normal”, but when it comes to public transport and car journeys, Tranter says we’re already “speeding back towards it”.

“The joint collaboration of the industry and advocacy groups is our best bet of lobbying to lock in positive change to enable people to cycle.”

Busting barriers to entry

It’s not just the UK that’s getting on the saddle. And it’s not all about push bikes either. Dutch-founded e-bike startup VanMoof is among the companies around the world seeing a rise in demand for their battery-powered products. The electric bike market is forecast to reach $46bn by 2026 – a figure that has doubled since the Covid-19 outbreak.

VanMoof’s director of comms and PR, Karlijn Marchildon, says the company realised 144% revenue growth globally as governments across the world started to impose lockdown. “E-bikes are having a moment and we’re riding that wave,” she says, detailing how the brand created an immersive online launch experience for its latest model in lieu of a physical event.

Now, it’s putting all of its efforts into breaking down the barriers to people riding. The first is tackling a shortage of stock prompted by a surge in demand for its products, which are all created in-house.

“Secondly, we’re expanding geographically to get closer to our riders,” Marchildon says, adding that 80% of its sales currently come from online. During the pandemic, this rose to 99%.

The brand is readying the launch of pop-up shops across Europe, next to its existing nine stores in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Taipei, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Tokyo.

Keeping the wheels in motion

Bike insurance firms are seeing an uptick in demand too. Among them is Laka, which operates a community-based insurance model where members “pay their share for claims that actually happen rather than ones that might”.

The brand made the decision to rebrand amid lockdown and offer customers more flexibility to pause their plans in a bid to appeal to a more diverse range of cyclists and communicate its unique approach to insurance.

Its vice-president of marketing, Kelly Barnes, says that in order to maintain momentum (sales and inquiries are both up year-on-year) the brand will continue to evolve its approach, including TV sponsorship of key European cycling races as well as investing in “highly targeted sub persona marketing in the UK and Europe”.

For Fusion’s Tranter, it doesn’t just fall on cycling brands to keep the wheels in motion. They can, though, play a significant role in lobbying for long-term, permanent changes to infrastructure that will go some way in keeping people in cycle lanes.

“Whether or not Britain genuinely becomes a cycling nation is down to national government and the delivery of local authorities,” he says.

“The way that our streets are redesigned will have a huge impact on whether people feel safe when cycling or walking. The cycling industry has an important part to play in breaking down other barriers to entry and positioning cycling more broadly than it has previously.”