Chris Boardman interview: Bikes, Halfords, Pat McQuaid & changing the world

"I couldn't care less if someone wants to ride a racer, I’d just like to see people riding bikes."

by John Stevenson   October 3, 2013  

What makes Chris Boardman tick? In a word: bikes. Not just as a means to go fast in races and on the open road, but as a “simple machine” that can help solve problems of health, pollution and congestion. He’s refreshingly honest and unevasive as he talks about the government’s attitude to cycling and whether he’d take the job of UK ‘cycling champion’, UCI equipment certification, sticking up for sportives, and Brian Cookson’s election as UCI president. And he doesn’t duck discussing the poor reputation for customer service of retail partner Halfords, and what they’re doing about it.

We won’t need all our allocated 15 minutes, Chris Boardman says as we sit down to chat, as he’s only going to give one-word answers.


Chris Boardman  at the London launch of the 2014 Boardman Performance range (©Steve Behr/Halfords)

He’s kidding, of course. Such is Chris Boardman’s quiet but deep enthusiasm for all things cycling that we doubt he could restrict himself to one-word answers even with a gun to his head.

We’re in a quiet meeting room tucked away in the bowels of Kings Place, a swanky London food, music and conference ‘hub’ that seems to have mislaid its apostrophe. It’s close to King’s Cross, which hasn’t.

Christopher Miles Boardman, MBE needs little introduction. The first British cyclist in decades to win an Olympic medal when he took gold in the individual pursuit in Barcelona, Boardman went on to win three Tour de France prologue time trials, and the time trial world championship. He broke the Hour Record three times, one of them after the UCI imposed stringent equipment rules mandating use of 1970s bike technology.   

Since then he has been a technical adviser to the British road and track cycling team, harnessing the meticulous attention to detail that earned him the nickname ‘The Professor’ during his racing career. He’s recently stepped aside from that role to spend more time with the rest of his life. 

He’s also been a passionate advocate for ‘everyday’ cycling as British Cycling’s policy advisor, even joining one of the recent London protest rides in favour of the Get Britain Cycling report and Space 4 Cycling campaign.

And of course, he has this little bike brand.

Boardman the man is here to launch the 2014 line of Boardman Performance Series bikes, the machines that started it all for Boardman the bike brand in 2007, and that are still exclusively available through Halfords. An upscale range, the Boardman Elite Series, is available through specialist bike shops and has 26 UK dealers.

Boardman and Halfords have also announced a renewal of their partnership, extending for another ten years Halfords’ status as exclusive retailer of the performance range.

On his new range:
The cross bike is my personal favourite.

We kick off by talking about the new bikes.

Chris Boardman: The range has been literally two years in the making. We’ve stuck to a two-year life cycle from the word go. I think that's worked really well for us and other brands have now started to adopt the same thing. If you go for a one-year cycle, the people you’re selling the bikes to have to got to discount and they’re constantly trying to turn it over. You can't do anything meaningful really, or you are forced to keep doing constant changes, on the hoof, all the time.

It just works for us that we can do some meaningful changes. Take the  whole mountain bike wheel size changeover. To do that - we consider it to be correctly - you’ve to go give some time to building the prototypes, riding them, seeing if you think there's a real difference, deciding what's the trade off in 29-inch versus 650B and making decisions. I think they’re good decisions but that’s because you've had time to do it. I also watch trends of what people want to ride as well.

So it's just being able to incorporate it all and everything is developed as you’ve seen. We’re really happy that when you unveil something it isn’t just a colour change. You can see it in the cross bike which is one of my faves, my personal favourite really.

On disc brakes:
You could clearly see that that was an advantage, that’s going to catch on. It was the proverbial no-brainer.

Road.cc: The cross bike category is a really interesting one because that's the versatile bike that's really emerged in the last three or four years.

Chris Boardman: We went straight to disc brakes because you could clearly see that that was an advantage, that’s going to catch on. There’s an element of risk involved, but that was the proverbial no-brainer.

And sure enough those have done really well. I do a couple of thousand miles a year on the Team Aluminium the predecessor of that one; I've just ridden it into the ground. I’m  desperate to get a new one. That's my favourite bike in the range and I think for the same reasons I like it other people will as well.

You can stitch together paths and tracks and change your standard journeys. It gives you that little bit more versatility but it's still fine on the road. I rode it at the start of the year in sportives and it's absolutely fine though it's quite dangerous when you change back to a road bike and you've got no brakes!

I think that's the emerging bike actually, that's the one that's going to take over from mountain bikes largely. Having said that trail bike riding has become more and more popular for people going to trail centres. I think because they’re managed then its not scary for people who are not out and out cyclists to start with. It’s all done for you and there's a cafe at the start and finish and you just have to turn up.

Road.cc: And you don't have to get out your ordnance survey maps and compass and figure out where the bridleway is

Chris Boardman: I like that in Scotland because if you can see it you can ride it but if you do that in England you can't, you may find that you are not allowed.

Bike advocate


Chris Boardman shortly before the unveiling of the 2014 Boardman Performance range (©Steve Behr/Halfords)

Road.cc: I was quite surprised a couple of years ago when you really came out swinging in favour of everyday cycling and pointing out that in the UK growth in cycling was only going to happen if we made it easier for normal people to ride around the streets.

On everyday cycling:
Cycling is the answer to so many problems. Health, transport, pollution, all solved with this simple machine.

Chris Boardman: People don't know but at the back end of my pro career I used to sit on the national cycling strategy board which is about as interesting as it sounds. I resigned when it got to the point that I realised government action was to set up an advisory board and that was it. That was the action! It wasn't given any teeth and the advice wasn't listened to. That precedes having a bike brand by nearly a decade.

It's just infuriatingly the answer to so many problems isn’t it? Health, transport, pollution, all of those issues are solved with this simple machine.

It's maddening that 400 miles from here in Holland and Denmark they get it. And they made a conscious change in the 70s. I think people just assume that in Holland there is a bike culture that has always been there but it wasn't. They were going exactly the same route as we were in the 70s.

On Dutch cycling: 
They changed the laws, they said we are going to make cycling and walking our preferred mode of transport

It was planning a big motorway through Amsterdam in the 70s that made them go ‘woah hang on is this what we want the place we live to look like?’

It happened at the top. They changed the laws, they fundamentally said we are going to make cycling and walking our preferred mode of transport and then the policy was to reflect that decision.

In the UK we spend £15 billion on roads and £160 million for cycling, with no dedicated funding stream that would allow for authorities to plan longer than 2 years. They've made some good statements. They have said we're going to put cycling at the heart of our transport policy. Brilliant!

You've had cycling debated on the floor of the house so you've seen that you have gone forward by small amounts and you’ve seen the protest rides in the city - just amazing! We joined in one the other day. We’d been in Parliament and when we came out they were all there so we grabbed some Boris bikes and joined in.

The momentum is there but it could be lost quite easily. We’re at a fulcrum now. It could go either way because it's become fashionable but fashions change. If cycling isn't made the easiest possible option for people then they will choose the easiest option because that's what they do so. It's interesting times.

On sportives:
What a brilliant phenomenon.

The government refused to set targets after the Get Britain Cycling report. They say targets don’t work. Well I can tell you not having recognised, tangible targets to aim for doesn't work.

Another term for setting targets is being accountable for your performance, it enables you to measure progress against a meaningful yard stick. In my time at British Cycling, the only athletes who avoided setting themselves targets and measuring their progress failed.

I'd settle for a single sentence: “ALL future road design (other than motorways) and upgrades must accommodate cyclists." This would make everything else fall into place and funding be allocated correctly.

66% of UK journeys are under 5 miles, and in 2009 congestion cost us £10 billion in urban areas alone. That’s likely likely to rise to £22 billion in the next 10 years. Would the government like to see more of these journeys made by bike? What conditions would make a minister want to travel by bike? Are the measures proposed going to make this happen?

We have 35,000 deaths a year from obesity-related illness, Over £4 billion cost to the NHS. Every extra regular cyclist saves £590 per year.

A mountain of evidence screaming this is the logical choice by any measure you want to use, health, economic or social, it isn't a choice for cyclists, it's just the logical choice.

I couldn't care less if someone wants to ride a racer, I’d just like to see people riding bikes.

Then there’s sportives, what a brilliant phenomenon that is! You don't have to be in a club; you don't have to have a license; you can stop at every pub with your mates or treat it as a race or anything in between. It’s not scary.

That's growing at 20% year. There are 800 now. They’re an amazing tool to help people go out and ride their bikes more.

On not going for President of British Cycling:
The role needs absolute full life commitment and I've done my 20 years.

Britain’s chief cycling officer?

Road.cc: If the government created a post of ‘cycling champion’ or ‘cycling czar’ would you put your hand up for it?

Chris Boardman: I have said before, ‘yes’ as long as it was given a proper mandate and reported to the minister himself then, yes it would be a meaningful worthwhile thing to do. But at the moment I see no desire to do that, which seems to be wrapped up in the ‘make nice noises but no real provision’ stance at the moment.

Road.cc: One actual job that’s vacant is president of British Cycling. Do you fancy that?

No chance! That’s because of respect for the role. It needs absolute full life commitment and I've done my 20 years in various roles; I’m out. That's why I've just got out of British Cycling. It was 80% of my life.

I had to stop doing the whole R&D and senior management roles, so no thanks.

I know how it is from being a pro. You watch how a professional team operates; team managers are awake more than I am. I finish a race and their priority is to get me on a plane so I can go home and do stuff with the family and then when I'm at home I train for two hours then my time is my own.

When they said, “Will you be a sports director of the team?” I said, “No chance.” It's the same at British Cycling. To do that job properly you have to live it. I watched Dave Brailsford come on board with Peter Keen and I watched him take it on, and I watched him eat, sleep and drink it and that's why it worked.

So no thanks.

On Pat McQuaid:
When it’s going wrong on your watch, someone’s got to go.

Road.cc: How do you feel about Brian Cookson as president of the UCI?

Chris Boardman: Relieved. I am still gobsmacked that it was 18 to 24 not to 2 to 40. I just can't believe it.

People underestimate Brian he because he is quietly spoken and he's not a fantastic orator and he is not powerful, charismatic person but he's got a quiet steel.

When it started to get really messy people thought he wasn't going to stick it. I think it made him a quietly dig in even stronger.

I think he showed that at the very last moment when he said: “Right I think we've all had enough let's have a vote,” and Pat [McQuaid], who didn't even have a mandate, went “Er... okay let’s do that.”

They were voting about whether they could vote about voting!

Regardless of what Pat has or hasn't done, with any company when it's going wrong on your watch, for people to emotionally move on, someone's got to go. That's what CEOs do. They take responsibility for things that happen on their watch.

Brian is a great character. He is as honest as the day is long. I have known him for 30 years from when he organised the tour of Lancashire. It's not going to be easy but I think he's a good person for the job.

UCI technical regulations

Road.cc: Do you think under Cookson we will see changes to things like the UCI technical regulations?

Chris Boardman: From running the R&D team I used to go over with Brian Cookson to see the UCI and now they're going to have to be whiter than white so the British team could find it actually more difficult!

I would hope they would simplify it. There's a lot of regulation that has come in in the last two years. “We are going to put a badge on the frame” and now they want to do it with handlebars and they want to do it with wheels and it's just adding a huge bureaucracy to making bikes.

The industry was already doing it all. The only change is that you put a badge on and you charge some money.

I’m not sure how much revenue it generates for them which I think is the real driver. It's reasonable that if you want extra doping controls and you want all those things then you've got to fund that so there's got to find a way to do it but it was monstrously administration heavy.

On aerodynamics: 
Shape trumps size every time and with size comes compromise

Road.cc: Is the time trial bike that you are launching at Kona in a couple of weeks time UCI legal?

Chris Boardman: It will be. You'll have to see what we’re doing. It is legal but then we can do things to it so that it isn't. You’ll have to wait and see.

It’s a bit of a thing that if you make it for triathletes it must be faster but shape trumps size every time and with size comes compromise. That's one of the benefits of being in wind tunnels for up to a week a month for 10 years. I can't use that information but you get to understand that just making it bigger doesn't make it faster.

We've got a good compromise and we've got all the science and data to back it up, and nice pretty pictures to illustrate it. Now we just need Pete [Jacobs, reigning Ironman champion triathlete] to do the business on it as well.

Halfords' "Patchy" service & how it's changing

Road.cc: Something you see an awful lot in forums in criticism of Boardman bikes is people think the bikes are great, but wish they didn’t have to buy them from Halfords. Have you been involved in Halfords’ training of its staff?

Chris Boardman: Part of our team is involved in that all the time and I did get involved when this was looked at a few years ago but they had underlying challenges of staff retention. We spent a lot of time going to speak to the staff, making sure they were trained about all of our bikes but they weren’t retaining staff so that was an issue.

On Halfords:
They're not flinching from it. The service has been patchy.

I'm glad you raise this because of [former Pets R Us CEO] Matt Davies coming on board [as Halfords CEO]. He is Mr Service. He has taken some real big decisions about it. He's been to the city and said: “Look, no big dividends for the next three years it's all going into the staff and into service.”

He totally gets it. He rides a bike which is brilliant and that was one of the big clinchers about carrying on with Halfords because they really are getting stuck into it.

They're not flinching from it. The service has been patchy at best but there are genuine measures in place that give me a lot of confidence that they are really working.

We get an awful lot of “great bike but service hasn't been great.” They have some great shops but because they're all called the same thing everyone is tarred with the same brush. That's been largely justified until now but I'm pretty confident that they're making big inroads.

And with that, a very packed fifteen minutes were up. Chris Boardman’s managed to develop a bike brand in just the 20 percent of his life left over by British Cycling, though he’d doubtless credit the Boardman Bikes team with doing the heavy lifting. What’s he going to achieve over the next few years?

27 user comments

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Top chap. Cracks on and actually does stuff, says it how it is and very very proven. Plus he WANTS to be cycling tzar and I want him to be too!

I really hope Boardman DON'T thrive though. Not because I wish any ill towards Boardman, quite the opposite. But because if Halfords do manage to get their service up to scratch, and maybe beyond, our local bike shops are even more threatened.

I'm often asked by newbie friends what the best bike for a £1000 or less is, and I give a convoluted answer about how a Boardman is great value, as a collection of bits, but really poor value as a complete purchase, because the sizing and after service is so awful. Most people buy the Boardman, have a bad time, then never return.

That might change.

www.vulpine.cc
@aslongasicycle
@vulpinecc
@HOYvulpine

aslongasicycle's picture

posted by aslongasicycle [334 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 16:52

12 Likes

"Most people buy the Boardman, have a bad time, then never return". What a strange thing to say. How can you speak for "most" of the customers of a National retail outlet, do you work within either Halfords or Boardman?
The few people i have spoken to who have actually bought a Boaedman (and not anecdotal evidence read on some forum where people post anonymously) have been very pleased with their purchase. Maybe they dont return becaus they have a good product they are happy with. Please, keep your negative thoughts to yourself.

posted by Welsh boy [179 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 17:27

13 Likes

What exactly is " a no-brainer" when it's at home ? Does it mean the same as "brainless" because that's what it sounds like to me ? Nerd

michophull's picture

posted by michophull [109 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 18:01

13 Likes

good interview with Chris Boardman, and interesting news about Halfords' new direction

have also seen their recent announcement on their plans to make big investments into staff, stock and stores

hopefully they can move things in the right direction, as recent figures showed that 70% of their new starters left within 2 months; Halfords need to improve their terms and conditions for staff employment in order to attract and retain good staff, in order to build good relationships with customers.

to be fair to Halfords, its also an issue for the "other 2" chain stores in the UK.

Both are currently owned by private equity investors, who have made life somewhat unpalatable for their staff with ongoing cutbacks to maximise "profits"; introducing zero-hour contracts, no holiday pay, no training and 20 minute lunch breaks

for those of us who chose to work in the bike industry, we understood we would not make a fortune..

..but paying staff a 'living wage', offering reasonable terms and conditions and actually investing in staff especially technical training for workshop staff, and sales training for sales staff, is not rocket science if you wish to build a durable business.

the bike industry has become ever more technical, and there are certainly bosses making big money from the explosion in cycling, shame they have not chosen to take their staff with them on this adventure

posted by hampstead_bandit [247 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 20:16

15 Likes

Well, as one of the "most people" I also recognised the apparent value and balanced packages of Boardman mtbs a couple of years back - no skimping on particular components in order to make the price run to a headlining item. I got one for my wife, she loved it, so much so that I followed it up a year later with one for myself too - yes, I went back and btw, got excellent service from Halfords in Cowley, Oxford. Full marks all round, I say. Its probably not a brand that will attract those who want to be different or exclusive, but they are damn good value and are getting good market penetration from what I've seen round these parts.... Forza Mr B. Applause

It doesn't get easier, you just go faster.....maybe

pward's picture

posted by pward [88 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 20:34

15 Likes

I bought a Boardman CX with the cycle to work scheme last month. It's a fantastic bike, and certainly the best CX bike I could get for the money (£950). The service was actually great. The range of kit at Halfords wasn't great - they don't do Look pedals, for example, so I couldn't get pedals from there, but they guy knew what I was on about. The set up was great, they let me test it round the block, and I took it away very satisfied.

I am but one customer, of course.

Great bike though - I've put my mountain bike in storage.

posted by Faroon [21 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 20:42

13 Likes

"I couldn't care less if someone wants to ride a racer, I’d just like to see people riding bikes." Applause

Well Said Chris Boardman. few of his bikes added to my wishlist. Great interview btw

posted by CyclingDan [39 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 21:39

10 Likes

There's something about Chris boardman I find fascinating! Above all else he's clearly a cyclist who wants to see more people enjoying the sport as much as he does, whether it's in competition or not doesn't really matter! Bet he could spin a yarn or two out on the club run!

Getting back to the bikes, I own three boardman bikes, two of which are from the halfords range I would buy another tomorrow if I thought the mrs wouldn't leave me! I'll also tell anyone who'll listen how great they are! I know what people mean about the service from halfords, but no one really goes there expecting the LBS experience do they! I've tended to only go back if I have no choice and usually do any work my self or take it to my LBS.

Now...wonder if she'd approve if I sold the mountain bike for a cross bike.....???

posted by CallumC [2 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 21:49

12 Likes

Great interview I agree with everything he said about everyday cycling and the government.

But Halfords D Oh No, no I just cannot bring myself to do it, after several of my work mates bought through the cycle to work scheme and had horror stories about how the bikes had been built and set up. I'll stick to my local, and trusted, bike shop. DC Cycles in Ulverton, Cumbria. When your plunging down Honister Pass it's a very bad time to discover the "spotty teenager at Halfords didn't actually know what he was doing.

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [279 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 21:51

14 Likes

michophull wrote:
What exactly is " a no-brainer" when it's at home ? Does it mean the same as "brainless" because that's what it sounds like to me ? Nerd

The expression is from the American Colonies. It's been around for about 20 years and means that a choice is so simple to make a brain is not required. You're either having a laugh or been locked in Narnia since 1988.

Uncle Chris? Pop over to Liverpool. We need your help and you know Big Joe's Boris bikes are not the answer.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1099 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 22:00

10 Likes

I think it all depends on the branch of Halfords. I bought a CX from them and their mechanic PDI'd it in front of me. He took a lot of time setting the bike up and definitely knew what he was doing.

Ended up in there because the service from one of my LBS was shocking and the Boardman ticked all the boxes.

I think the problem is there is a lot of 'stigma' of buying a bike from Halfords rather than a 'proper' bike shop.

Velotastic !

Too many hills, but too little time.

badback's picture

posted by badback [284 posts]
3rd October 2013 - 22:02

18 Likes

Chris for czar! Since reading Ned's anecdotes about him, I've really warmed to him.

posted by a.jumper [736 posts]
4th October 2013 - 7:35

15 Likes

badback wrote:
I think it all depends on the branch of Halfords.

That's exactly what's meant by "patchy"- it's impossible to tell on walking in the door of a branch whether you'll get top rate service or shoddy. No brand wants that reputation.

I kind of echo Nick H- whilst I love Chris, and anyone who sneers at Boardman bikes is a snobby fool, Halfords becomind uniformly comeptent does threaten local bike shops. However, it would help if LBS had opening hours more like Halfords. If you're only open 9-5 M-F and Saturday morning, then it's hardly surprising that busy working people will go the place that's open till 8pm on weeknights, all day Saturday and as long as England's outdated Sunday trading laws will allow them.

(or go online and order there, say buying their clothing direct from niche supliers of high end gear, eh Mr Vulpine?)

posted by Al__S [676 posts]
4th October 2013 - 7:50

19 Likes

What a fantastic interview, basically Chris is still the down to earth club cyclist. The fastest man in the club who didn't sneer at the lowly but respected their aspirations with advice and encouragement. Common sense dominates, support for the common cyclist, carry on Chris.

antonio

antonio's picture

posted by antonio [1038 posts]
4th October 2013 - 8:32

11 Likes

Al__S wrote:
I kind of echo Nick H- whilst I love Chris, and anyone who sneers at Boardman bikes is a snobby fool, Halfords becomind uniformly comeptent does threaten local bike shops.

Has the presence of Starbucks on the high street killed independent coffee shops? Far from it. The chain may be competent at selling overpriced brown water but the environment is uniformly sterile and bland.

Many Halfords branches are less convenient than a shop in a town street. Shrewsbury's small Halfords is in a retail park over 2 miles from the town centre. Not many people will walk or cycle there to get a puncture fixed or pop in to ask about a wheel upgrade or whether their bike needs a new chain and cassette.

I don't think it's a serious threat to a good LBS, which will have a number of brands and models in sectors that Halfords doesn't cover. They won't carry the stocks of spares or depth of knowledge you find in a proper workshop. And, of course, the personal thing, customer service.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2092 posts]
4th October 2013 - 8:36

17 Likes

I suspect the government have not been thrilled with the idea of a cycling champion because the two obvious candidates, Chris and Sir Chris, are the sort of folk who (a) have a Clue and (b) would drive very hard for things to Actually Happen, and however much that may save us in the long term the next election is not in the long term. Sigh.

My respect for CB just keeps on growing. Head very well screwed on, smart and lucid. The bikes look nice too, pity he doesn't do a 'bent!

Pete Clinch
often seen riding a bike around Dundee...

posted by pjclinch [74 posts]
4th October 2013 - 9:06

12 Likes

Not convinced that Halfords is changing much at all. It's one thing spending your profits on staff training and retention, but even in the redesigned stores the cycling areas are at the back next to the car wax or on the mezzanine - cycling stuff needs to be more prominent and staff need to be better trained before any regular cyclists thinks to go to Halfords ahead of an LBS or Evans.

Asolare

posted by Goldfever4 [170 posts]
4th October 2013 - 9:42

7 Likes

Welsh boy wrote:
"Most people buy the Boardman, have a bad time, then never return". What a strange thing to say. How can you speak for "most" of the customers of a National retail outlet, do you work within either Halfords or Boardman?
The few people i have spoken to who have actually bought a Boaedman (and not anecdotal evidence read on some forum where people post anonymously) have been very pleased with their purchase. Maybe they dont return becaus they have a good product they are happy with. Please, keep your negative thoughts to yourself.

Hi Welsh, I was referring to the Halfords experience, not the Boardman part. Just anecdotal, no nationwide surveys performed. Overall I thought my comments were rather even handed. Don't take it personal like. Big Grin

www.vulpine.cc
@aslongasicycle
@vulpinecc
@HOYvulpine

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posted by aslongasicycle [334 posts]
4th October 2013 - 9:56

6 Likes

pward wrote:
got excellent service from Halfords in Cowley, Oxford.

Glad you did, they wouldn't let us test ride one outside. We had to ride it round the upstairs bit of the store!

Ride in Oxford? Come and join the Cowley Road Condors cycling club, Oxford's friendliest cycling club!

tom_w's picture

posted by tom_w [122 posts]
4th October 2013 - 10:17

15 Likes

Goldfever4 wrote:
Not convinced that Halfords is changing much at all. It's one thing spending your profits on staff training and retention, but even in the redesigned stores the cycling areas are at the back next to the car wax or on the mezzanine - cycling stuff needs to be more prominent and staff need to be better trained before any regular cyclists thinks to go to Halfords ahead of an LBS or Evans.

Bear in mind though, that these 'improvements' are still within certain parameters, one of which is the location of the stores; out-of-town retail parks, often just off an A-road, with no cycling infrastructure within a couple of miles. People usually drive to those places. Sure, most cyclists have cars, but I think the location and surrounding infrastructure will skew the customer base somewhat towards drivers. Also, as much as cycling is becoming viable for Halfords, it's still a minority portion of the business. The core customer base still expect to go in there and find all things car.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3535 posts]
4th October 2013 - 15:40

14 Likes

"Don't take it personal like." Nothing personal and no offence taken (or meant), its just nice to see Boardman being so passionate about something we all enjoy. I agree on the halfords being crap front though, from my experience they are pretty poor but i did pick up a wheel for the price of a hub once because they didnt know what they were selling!

posted by Welsh boy [179 posts]
4th October 2013 - 20:51

16 Likes

First, many thanks to everyone who has said kind things about this interview. I'd like to take the credit, but Chris is such a smart, engaging and articulate guy that I wa really just the typist.

Talk of Boardman always comes round to Halfords, but I have to strongly disagree with Vulpine Nick here.

I think an improved Halfords would the best thing imaginable for the UK cycling industry.

Halfords accounts for 25 percent of the UK bike industry, and given that it generally operates in the sub-£500 price bracket, it's the first place many people encounter cycling retail.

Imagine if its staff were trained to understand, enthuse and serve beginner cyclists well and to talk to them not in the mumbo-jumbo of tech and features that specialist shops generally use, but in the *benefits* of different bikes, and why you really will have a better time if you spend £400 instead of £150.

They will buy good bikes, not BSOs, go away and enjoy riding them. Some of them will 'graduate' to more specialist LBSes. That good first experience of the bike industry could help drive growth for everyone, and the training will put a big pool of service-orientated staff into the LBS labour pool, instead of the hyper-knowledgeable but lacking is social skills spotty kids you find at one extreme of the LBS range and the clueless minimum wage backpackers you seem find at the other.

I've known a few people at Halfords for a few years now and I've never heard them as excited as they are under Matt Davies.

A few people in Halfords have been talking about this sort of change for years, but the senior management was wedded to constant 50% OFF sales. That era is dead, killed by the internet. Now, you have to have service and to have that you hire good staff, train them well and give them reasons to stay. Davies did that at Pets R Us; I can't see any reason why he can't do it at Halfords.

And if you doubt how much difference one person can make, look at the way Harriet Green turned around Thomas Cook in a year.

May Halfords help rise the tide that lifts all our boats.

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posted by John Stevenson [1299 posts]
4th October 2013 - 22:18

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John Stevenson wrote:

Imagine if its staff were trained to understand, enthuse and serve beginner cyclists well and to talk to them not in the mumbo-jumbo of tech and features that specialist shops generally use, but in the *benefits* of different bikes, and why you really will have a better time if you spend £400 instead of £150.

They will buy good bikes, not BSOs, go away and enjoy riding them. Some of them will 'graduate' to more specialist LBSes. That good first experience of the bike industry could help drive growth for everyone, and the training will put a big pool of service-orientated staff into the LBS labour pool, instead of the hyper-knowledgeable but lacking is social skills spotty kids you find at one extreme of the LBS range and the clueless minimum wage backpackers you seem find at the other.


Couldn't agree more. But if that's the plan... They need to stop selling the real Trax/Apollo BSOs. If I go into Pizza Express, they don't have Chicago Town microwave options at the bottom of the menu.

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

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posted by Gizmo_ [1001 posts]
4th October 2013 - 22:52

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It's an interesting argument John. But I think your logic is that Halfords own the entry level market and people naturally move on as they improve.
But Halfords now stock Pinarello. Boardmans go up into the thousands of £. Why would Halfords be happy simply to corner the entry level market and see those customers go elsewhere? They want to sell across all price ranges. Halfords want to beat Evans and Cycle Surgery. Companies of their size (like any company to be fair) require growth. That means constant expansion into the market.
Now there is s a Darwinian argument which says that if they're better, let them take over. But as we've seen with Tescos and the like, choice is crushed, the workforce is pulled into one gravitational field and suppliers must compete on high volume prices with aggressive buyers or die.
I'd certainly argue that LBS need to improve their game. And Darwin will have his say. Your argument about an improved pool of bike staff is an engaging one. But would they ever move, if there are no other choices and the LBS have no margin to pay them ages to entice them away?

It's a biggie! Right, who fancies a seminar?

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posted by aslongasicycle [334 posts]
5th October 2013 - 8:08

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Sainsburys having fresh fish stalls didn't increase the pool of fishmonger talent. It closed almost all the independent fishmongers and now all the fishmongers work at Sainsburys or stack shelves.*

*generalisation for purposes of example. No fishmongers were consulted.

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posted by aslongasicycle [334 posts]
5th October 2013 - 8:19

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I don't think the supermarket analogy applies. Fish isn't an enthusiast product, it's a commodity that for most people is convenient to pick up with your baked beans. And specialist fishmongers do still exist - I have no idea if there are fewer than there were as having been veggie for almost 30 years I just wouldn't know.

Good LBSes will survive because they are more than commodity retailers. They are often at the heart of their local enthusiast cycling community, offering a level of knowledge and advice that I doubt Halfords aspires to.

Poor-to-mediocre LBSes are no real loss, I'm afraid, and there are still far too many of them.

I don't know the scope of Halfords' ambition. My guess is that the high-end of the market is an expensive and fickle one to dominate and they will steer clear, especially as it accounts for such a small percentage of sales. The mid-range is where the money is.

Fascinating topic. I'll have to see if I can get an interview with Matt Davies and Karen Bellairs and get some insight from them rather than the testiculating* I'm doing here.

*Talking bollocks while waving your hands around a lot.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [1299 posts]
5th October 2013 - 9:03

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I always read with interest when Boardman is in the press. As others say, he talks such sense and is clearly passionate about all things cycling. His non appointment as cycling "tsar" is the nation's loss in my opinion as I do think he is the one person with the knowledge, the contacts, the enthusiasm and the drive to knock heads together to push cycling on as a sport/a hobby/a mode of transport thus getting more people active which is vital for the nation's health. More power to his elbow please !

I think the Halfords/LBS debate is not one to worry about. Good LBS are choc full of servicing/maintenance/upgrading work and that is where they differentiate themselves from the chains who have the advantage of huge inventory turnover allowing thinner margins.

posted by arfa [557 posts]
5th October 2013 - 15:26

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