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FT comments on rise in cycle commuting

More cyclists doesn't necessarily mean more bike sales ...

This weekend's Financial Times analysed the recent growth in cycle commuting and reports on anecdotal evidence that the economic downturn has added further impetus to the growing numbers of people riding to work in British cities.

However, the paper also says that this isn't necessarily filtering through into more bike sales, or if it is they are for lower priced models, £600 rather than £1800. Apparently London bike shops may end up having to deal with a glut of unsold high end carbon fibre road bikes…

However, Central London bike shops might not be the best barometer of what is happening in the rest of the country where there aren't large numbers of people working in banking and the financial services industry who were flush with cash and now aren't. Outside of London top we'd say that top end bikes tend to be bought by enthusiasts whereas city wages brought them into the range of less experienced cyclists.

Another big contributor to the growth in urban cycling cited by the paper is the government's Cycle to Work Initiative which effectively gives individuals a tax break on buying a bike and paying for through deductions at source by their employer. The Cycle to Work Initiative caps the amount an individual can spend on a bike at £1000.

From what we have heard, talking to the manufacturers, trade at the higher end has been less affected than expected – demand has dropped off for really cheap bikes as people trade up using the government tax break through the various cycle to work schemes. According to Cyclescheme – the largest of the companies operating the initiative – the average cost of a bike they sold through their scheme last year was £600 and that figure shows no sign of falling this year as more companies see the value of the initiative as an employee benefit.

The FT also reports that urban bike shops are seeing a rise in servicing and repair trade as people dig out old bikes that have lain unridden in sheds and garages for years – or even decades. Part of the reason given for this is thrift and part is fashion with the London “fixie” scene influencing many returning cyclists. Whatever it is, London bike shops are experiencing unexpected demand for 27in tyres such as the Continental Ultrasport as born again cyclists find that their old bike's tyres have perished. Fewer bike sales and more servicing and repair is not necessarily bad news for the shops as there is more margin in repairs and servicing than in selling a bike.

As you would expect from the Financial Times the article is a thoughtful and well researched one with contributions from the great and good of the cycling world and it must have made a refreshing change for a paper that reports on matters financial to get to talk about something that is doing well and which looks set to do even better in the future too.


Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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