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2023 saw the worst bicycle sales in the UK since 1985, reveals Bicycle Association report

The bike industry organisation has warned a “long-term continuum of decline is likely without Government intervention”

2023 has dealt another significant blow to the bike industry, with the Bicycle Association, the national body representing the sector in the UK, revealing that last year was the worst in terms of sales, with numbers falling to the lowest they’ve ever been in almost 40 years. There is further warning that the decline is likely to continue if there is no support from the Government.

In a members-only meeting of the organisation in Birmingham on Thursday, details of its Market Data Report were revealed, of which the full report is yet to be made public. It showed that the UK’s cycling market value fell a further six per cent, following the already cataclysmic 18 per cent decline in 2022 amidst the post-pandemic downturn, according to Cycling Industry News.

A total of 1.55 million cycles were sold in 2023, the lowest the number has ever been since 1985 when the bubble of the uber-popular sport/stunt BMX bikes burst. Since then sales stabilised somewhat, with the UK industry selling an average of 3 million units a year.

> Bike industry "on the road to recovery", new research suggests

The sale of mechanical bikes, referring to bikes lacking any hydraulic features, was down by 5 per cent, on top of a 23 per cent decrease in 2022 and fell to two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels.

Electric bikes — which have been the industry’s most profitable sector lately — were also hit hard, down by seven per cent in volume and the total sales figures falling to 2023. E-bike share in the market was nine per cent by volume, a “far cry” from the European average and three times lower than what it was in 2022.

Folding bikes’ sales were also down, reducing by 22 per cent, despite the success of Brompton and the affinity shown by consumers in recent years. Brompton’s CEO Will Butler-Adams agreed that 2023 had been a “terrible year” for bike sales in the U.K. and the EU, but since Brompton bicycles were sold around the world, the company was insulated to a degree.

More worryingly, sales of children’s bikes, which Halfords — one of the country’s leading retailers — claimed had been strong recently, was also down by eight per cent.

> UK bike sales fall to lowest level in 20 years

Castro bike shop exterior (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Michael Summers:Flickr).jpg

In October, the much-loved children's bike manufacturer Islabikes announced that it would cease sale and production after 18 years, with founder Isla Rowntree citing a shrinking market as the reason.

Sales of cycle accessories and clothing as well as the sales of triathlon bikes have also taken a hit, with an eight percent and 34 per cent reduction, respectively.

Meanwhile, The Forbes reported that a slide warned Bicycle Association members that overall market volume would “remain well below 2019 levels in 2026,” and that a “long-term continuum of decline” is “likely without Govt intervention.”

Members were also told that with fewer newbie cyclists, the slump will continue to worsen. Transport journalist Carlton Reid, further wrote that it’s “unlikely that the UK government — which pivoted to a populist pro-motoring stance last year — will support the cycle industry”.

This is not the first time that the Bicycle Association has sought government support. In 2018, it commissioned a report making the “industrial case” for government subsidies and support.

The report argued that the UK cycle industry was worth three times more than the UK steel industry and employed twice as many people. Cycling-related businesses generated at least £5.4 billion for the UK economy each year and sustained 64,000 jobs, according to the report.

> Cycling charity accuses Conservatives of "ill-fated attempt to win" votes with pro-motoring policies "undermining" active travel success

However, the Conservative Party under the current Prime Minister has shifted its efforts away from implementing active travel policies, and the results have been a decrease in cycle use ever since March 2021 during the height of the pandemic.

Sunak, who claimed last year that he was “on the side of the motorists”, has also been accused of seeking to exploit divisions between cyclists and drivers and “destroying any hopes of a cycle-friendly culture”, following his decisions to cut active travel budgets and review low-traffic neighbourhoods, along with unveiling a ‘Plan for Motorists’.

Bike shop interior (CC BY-ND 2.0 jun.skywalker:Flickr).jpg

The cycling industry, meanwhile, has struggled to find its footing after the lockdown boom. In February last year, Bicycle Association reported that bike sales had fallen to the lowest level in last 20 years, and in August, it subsequently warned that sales were slumping even more — the results of which are visible in the most recent report.

2023 has also seen a number of retailers go under, including the widely popular among British cyclists online store Wiggle Chain Reaction, which entered administration amid “severe liquidity and profitability challenges” in October.

And earlier in the year, FLi Distribution ceased trading with immediate effect, as the Huddersfield-based distributor’s director blamed the “red tape and barriers to trade” currently affecting businesses for his company’s demise, which came just two months after Livingston-based distributor 2pure entered administration.

> “You have to dig in for the next three to five years”: What lies ahead for a struggling bike industry in 2024? 

However, the Bicycle Association said there were some positive signs, although it might take some time to realise. John Worthington, from the organisation’s Data & Insights team, said that it is likely to take until at least 2025 to correct the imbalance between supply and demand, a sobering view supported by the majority of conference delegates in a live poll.

While the first few months of this year are expected to be difficult, volumes are forecast to grow in the low to mid-single digits between 2024 to 2026. This view has also been supported by latest research from Mintel, with the market intelligence agency predicting that new bike sales could grow by 12 per cent, with “easing inflation and wage growth helping to improve consumer confidence” and cycling for transport seen as an “effective means to reduce spending on petrol and public transport”.

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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12 comments

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Bigtwin | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Stupid pricing leads to the inevitable. There Is a Giant store near me that’s had the same mid-range bike in the window for a penny short of £5k for the past 6 months.  Last time I chatted they said sales were “dead”.  Join the dots...

Avatar
David9694 | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Ah, spring 2020 - a few weeks' silver lining to a ghastly situation and people went out and got bikes to take advantage of it.  Hospitals got busy, but A&E majors was quiet for a short while as there were less car crashes to clear up after.  All goes to show people are longing to cycle, given the chance. 

I can count the number of complete, new, grown-up bikes I have had on one hand, (two of those were replacements due to crashes), yet mysteriously my garage and shed are full of bikes.  

I'm so so sorry LBSs, but you're all at least 5 miles away and (i) I almost never visit you - it's always Sunday when I need something urgently, so I'm down to Halfords, but normally it's internet sales and I hold my own stocks of common items; (ii) The local Repair Cafe will fix a bike for free if asked (just the cost of EBay parts), not that I want do anyone in the trade out of a living. 

 

Avatar
Ride On | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

New bikes are just too expensive. It's easy to make your old bike last another year or 4 when your disposable income drops due to price rises of essentials elsewhere.

It is nice to see some more reasonably priced bikes on the s/h market now.

Avatar
Ride On | 3 weeks ago
1 like

...and support from the government?

No the bike industry needs to stand on it's own feet rather than spend taxes propping up failing business.

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David9694 replied to Ride On | 2 weeks ago
1 like

One of my benchmarks is 40 year old Raleigh Record Aces, and I think £130 is the most I've paid for these,(in  "needs some TLC" average condition) - they're going for double that, or double again now for a really nicely turned out old bike.  

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/395185239428? £499 - excellent 

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/145560352136? - £399 good (no mudguards) 

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/304604059586? £325 - average (has lost a lot of the original style, but looks mechanically sound) 

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/276286241795? £250 average 

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/276286241795? £200 average (fairly local to me! - but I'd be turning into a Record Ace cat lady)

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Velophaart_95 replied to David9694 | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Some really nice examples there - a shame they're all too big for me.

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Simon E replied to Ride On | 2 weeks ago
1 like
Ride On wrote:

...and support from the government? No the bike industry needs to stand on it's own feet rather than spend taxes propping up failing business.

Handouts are good enough when they are grants towards buying electric cars.

Nissan will be getting what is thought to be in the region of £1bn from the Automotive Transformation Fund to build EVs in Sunderland, says the BBC) and there is apparently £500 million being given to Tata so that JLR choose to build an EV battery factory in the UK instead of Spain.

Sky News: UK government oil and gas subsidies hit £13.6bn since Paris Agreement and The UK government has given £20bn more in support to fossil fuel producers than those of renewables since 2015 while the insulation grants cut by David Cameron could have saved millions of households thousands of pounds each every year.

Drax set for three year extension for controversial subsidies

Lots more of those. Lobbying by big businesses - even entire sectors - for favourable conditions is rampant. MPs are raking in far more from lobbyists than their salaries etc just as the deeply corrupt Owen Paterson was doing.

2 years ago my LBS was selling every single bike they could get their hands on (though it was a trickle) before they even arrived at the shop. I believe sales have slowed in 2023. I certainly don't see that many more people cycling in and around Shrewsbury than before while car traffic seems as busy as ever.

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RoubaixCube | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

Current prices of new bikes are also causing a lot of people to check out the second hand market no doubt. I'm in the same position. I want a new bike but im not happy with paying 2k - 2.5k for one that comes with 10sp Tiagra and an heavy in house alloy wheelset (with limited colours available when it comes to frames.)

I've been looking on ebay a lot for a second hand frame. I've estimated I can piece a bike together that is closer to my desired spec for close to 1.5k maybe even lower than that if i get lucky - this is my estimate with an off the shelf groupset btw. Ive seen 105 groupsets go on sale for around about £400-500 but Im sure i can save even more lmore if i buy more pre-owned parts off ebay.

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FionaJJ | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

I'm guessing the glut in sales during lockdown is now being seen in the second hand market. Between the imbalance of sales during lockdown, supply problems caused by Brexit and the uncertainty that comes with inflation it's a tricky time. 

I wonder how many people bought bikes during lockdown they've never properly used because they weren't put together quite right for them and they don't know how to do simple maintenance and adjustments, or don't realise it's an option. Is there a way to persuade those people to take those bikes into bike shops to give them a new lease of life?

I don't know much about the business model of bike shops and bike sales. I'd like to think most bikes last for years with a healthy second hand market, so there's more emphasis on sales of spare parts, and accessories. 

People looking to make their money go further should be attracted to the opportunity to cut their fuel bills, but adequate infrastructure is still lacking in most parts of the country. 

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60kg lean keen ... replied to FionaJJ | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Those who I know bought bikes in Lockdown, bought cheap bikes from the big box stores.  Only this week I was aproched about a under £200 hybird that a freind of my parents wanted to sell.  These bikes I do not want or even need, some might have bought the top dollar stuff in lockdown and now want to get rid, but I am not that lucky.  Most of us just do not have the spare cash to spend on bikes that a few years ago we would have spent on a good second hand car! I work for coalface NHS and to spend money that bikes are today, yer, tell the wife and kids why there is no food in the house.

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stonojnr | 3 weeks ago
1 like

What's the average look like from 2018 to 2023 ?

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Pyro Tim | 3 weeks ago
1 like

Whatever they do, it's too late for my local bike shop. Been there for 35 years. Catered for the lower end, and although they sold every bike in stock during Covid, struggled to get any stock in thereafter. 

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