The success of Britain’s elite cyclists in 2012 has been well documented.
Bradley Wiggins’ historic victory in the Tour de France and Great Britain’s dominance at the Olympic Games are frequently cited in discussions concerning cycling’s exploding popularity on these shores.
Victories for Wiggins, his Team Sky cohorts, and the national team, however, represent only one piece of a jigsaw that increasingly depicts the UK as a nation of cyclists.
The British cycle industry – manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, among many others – have all played their part in getting a million more people riding bikes regularly since 2008, according to a report from British Cycling and its commercial partner, Sky.
We’ve considered already in this series how our elite riders might continue their success in 2013. In this article, we’ll examine how the industry views the year ahead, and the potential for the sport to continue its seemingly relentless march from the margins to the mainstream.
The London Bike Show is the first major event on the domestic cycle market’s commercial calendar. Its relentless expansion in the last three years can be measured by the space it now occupies. This year’s show, which closed last Sunday after four days, took up 14,000 square metres of London’s cavernous ExCel Centre – nearly five times the space it required in 2011.
Geraldine Reeve is VOS Media’s group show director, one of a team responsible for the London Bike Show’s ever-increasing popularity. She believes the show’s position on the calendar, as well as its scale, affords it a positive influence on the coming 12 months.
“I think it does set the tone for the whole year,” she says. “We kicked off 2012 with a really successful show and in the last year we’ve grown hugely.
“It’s a chance for the trade to get together in January. There’s lots of networking that goes on, people generally having a good time. From what I’ve seen, everyone seems really upbeat and I think it gets the year off on the right foot.”
Last year’s expo, which also included the London Boat Show, the Outdoor Show, and the Active Travel Show, attracted some 88,000 visitors over four days. Reeve is expecting the final total for this year’s event to break the 90,000 barrier; a marginal gain, perhaps, but one she believes owes more to the bike show than to its other components.
As evidence, she offers a doubling in advance ticket sales for the bike show; proof perhaps of cycling’s increased popularity among the public at large. The industry responded earlier still, Reeve continues: the period immediately following the Tour and the Olympics prompted “a flurry of activity with the exhibitors”, with smaller companies following the lead of heavyweights whose presence at the London Bike Show is established, such as Madison, Xtra, and Yellow.
Some 165 exhibitors gathered at this year’s show, among them East Sussex-based ATB Sales, UK importers for Wilier and Marin, among other brands. Sales manager, Niki Elliott, shares Reeve’s view about the London Bike Show’s ability to set the tone for the year ahead, ascribing its influence to a date a few months after the launch of new products, typically in early September, and a month ahead of the first tranche of consumer activity in February.
ATB Sales was one of many UK cycling businesses to enjoy a record trading period in 2012: the company recorded its busiest two weeks during its 25th anniversary last September. Elliott believes the continued success of Britain’s elite cyclists is integral to the cycle market’s continued expansion. “I would like to see it continue,” she says of the success of athletes like Wiggins and Cavendish and Wiggins. “Quite often people have short memories. They jump on the band wagon and in six months if they don’t hear it continually in the press, it’s gone,” she says.
Last year’s seemingly endless downpour, lost to many among memories of a “golden summer” (a period almost as miraculous for a fortnight of sustained good weather as for the nation’s sporting success) is flagged by Elliott as evidence that 2012 had been a tough year for many in the industry until July.
She is optimistic about the industry’s prospects for 2013, however, and believes road cycling in particular will continue to grow, citing continuing sales in through the winter months in the road market as a new development.
Rory Hitchens of Upgrade Bikes, UK distributor for Lezyne and Kinesis among other brands, reports a similar phenomenon, one immediately obvious in the sale of the Kinesis TK3, a ‘four-seasons’ model that provides the chassis for the RCUK winter bike.
Hitchens also shares Elliott’s memories of a wet summer, and says event organisers might be a group with less rosy memories of 2012. Like ATB Sales, Upgrade Bikes enjoyed growth in 2012, he says, and, like Elliott, he predicts another successful year for the UK cycle industry in 2013.
But he warns that continued growth will not come without continued effort from all parties, and believes that independent bike shops, while still having a role to play, will need to become more specialist and to place a greater emphasis on service if they are to compete in a rapidly changing market place where on-line retailers are increasingly dominant.
Retailers will not be alone in facing competition, he continues. Hitchens predicts that competition among distributors, suppliers, and creators of brands will intensify, adding that the consumer will be the ultimate beneficiary of a process that he believes produces “better information, better products, and better price offers”.