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Is now the best time ever to buy a bike? What cycling industry turbulence and deep discounting could mean for you

As the bike industry is getting back on its feet after a miserable couple of years, inventory levels are plentiful and significant discounts seem far easier to come by – we've asked the industry experts for their take on the current situation

While bike sales as a whole might be experiencing a downturn, the proliferation of discounted bikes is becoming more noticeable. We're witnessing a scenario where the lingering effects of the pandemic, alongside issues like overstock, shipping delays and diminished demand for lower-tier bikes have converged. Strangely juxtaposed with these challenges, prices for high-end bike models are still high, and often rising. The cycling retail landscape has become increasingly cluttered with sales events, as major retailers strive to offload excess inventory. Yet, amidst the abundance of bargains, determining a fair price for any bike has become a perplexing task, especially for consumers.

It's pretty common knowledge that the cycling industry has been through turbulent times recently, with several retailers folding and even major brands grappling to survive, having to find creative ways to overcome the plentiful challenges. As the industry has navigated the post-pandemic lull in bike sales, a surplus of stock has burdened retailers, leading to aggressive price reductions. The prevalence of heavily discounted bikes might seem like this is simply an optimal time to grab a bargain, but it also prompts questions about the sustainability and market norms of the industry as a whole.

> Fancy a bargain this weekend? Star bikes, team bikes and a lot more

"There's no doubt about it – there's been some incredible deals available", says Ian Whittingham, co-founder and director of UK bike retailer Sigma Sports.

"The entire supply chain really isn't making much margin and then it's been a great time to buy. There has been quite a lot of inflation in the bike industry as well as through Covid raw material costs increased and shipping costs increased. Bikes went up quite a lot in price."

Evans Cycles Store Front

Bike sales as a whole have seen a sharp decline since the pandemic pinnacle of 2020. In fact, 2023 saw the worst bicycle sales in the UK since 1985, according to a Bicycle Association report. This followed the already drastic 18 per cent decline in 2022 amidst the post-pandemic downturn.

A total of 1.55 million cycles were sold in 2023 – the lowest the number has ever been since 1985 when the BMX bike bubble burst. In the decades following, bike sales have stabilised, with the UK cycling industry selling an average of 3 million units a year.

Whittingham is quick to agree that times in the industry have not been easy in recent years. 

"We all believed our industry was going to be, you know, 10-20% bigger than it was pre COVID, and the reality is obviously that at times in the last few months, it's dropped below 2019 levels. So it's been a really tough time, no doubt about it. By far the hardest time anybody's ever, ever experienced," he says. 

"The whole country believed that we've all found a new way of living and working and being fitter. And I think the problem is as rapid as that growth of sales was at the beginning of Covid, the unwind was as dramatic, if not more at the end of it. So obviously it just put the whole industry into a right old pickle because we'd all place the [bigger] orders. Of course, we never expected sales to display at the level of what we experienced during the lockdown period."

Is this what the bike industry will look like for years to come? Should you put your hard-earned money into a brand-new, discounted bike right now? We've talked to industry insiders to find out. 

How many bikes are discounted at the moment?

Bikes discounted

While working on this feature, we've had a look at five major UK online bike retailers: Sigma Sports, Tredz, Evans Cycles, Halfords and Wheelbase.

Looking at these retailers' selection of bikes, on average 48% of their road bikes and hybrid bikes are discounted at the moment. The sales across the different retailers didn't differ significantly, but it was evident that the prices fluctuated a lot, and bikes were added and removed from the discounted ranges as frequently as a few times a week. 

% of bikes discounted

The discounts in the five online retailers surveyed ranged from as little as a couple of percent to 50% off. A similar range is visible on most of the major bike retailers in the UK, and more prominent on the lower and mid-range bikes.

This indicates that margins on sales are very small, and there might still be an oversupply of those bikes. 

What has led to the deep discounting? 

Talking to the cycling industry retailers, it seemed that most of them had expected sales to be higher than they ended up being, even if they knew the huge boom in 2020 was not going to last. This then put the whole industry into a bit of a mess, because the belief the industry would emerge even a fifth bigger than it was before the pandemic got busted. 

> Cycling market downturn worse than expected, says Halfords

"You know, orders were placed by manufacturers and brands, and distributors and us which meant that there's been a huge oversupply of stock in the market since the end of 2021 really," Whittingham says.

"Most of our sales were discounted to help pay stock and inventory levels. But we're in a much much better position going into 2024 than we have been for the last kind of 18 months, and I think actually industry on the whole is in better shape."

Halfords bikes on sale on website

Pockets of oversupplied bikes still exist, though, and most of those seem to be in the entry-level ranges. Whittingham says he predicts those might take years to clear. 

While Sigma Sports has, according to Whittingham, been able to stabilise its situation across most ranges, the boom and crash of the last few years have made manufacturers more cautious of repeating the mistakes of the past. Keeping a larger stock of high-end bikes, for example, has become difficult because manufacturers simply don't produce them in the numbers they used to. 

"I think we all got so badly stung by the last 18 months," he says. 

"I think it was right to be prudent... people have cut orders back. We're still expecting '24 to not be the easiest year. I think we were all still dealing with coming out of the cost-of-living crisis, and the high interest rates that we're all having to deal with still. But I think we're all kind of expecting the normal markets to come back sometime in 2025."

Aren't ongoing sales just a good thing? 

London bike shop during lockdown

Though discounted bikes might mean that more people can afford a bike, having constant sales on bikes makes it harder to gauge what a 'normal', acceptable price is for a certain bike. At the same time, this is the time when consumers can grab an absolute bargain – especially online – and as Sigma Sport's Whittingham said: "Now is a great time to buy a bike as a consumer." 

The effect of the slashed pricing is most tangible at bricks-and-mortar bike shops, especially smaller ones. Fluctuating prices and hefty price drops have left customers coming to the shops with unrealistic expectations of the prices, and if the shop cannot match those, they lose the sale. 

Sigma Sports has three flagship stores, but 70% of its sales come through online shopping, and in the last couple of years – as has been the case for many others – those sales come from discounted products.

An independent bike shop owner told us: "Of course to them, the prices seem insane as they’re anywhere up to 50% more than what’s become the new norm over the past year. Worse, customers coming in with a budget that would’ve got them something useable, and now I’m like sorry you need to find another 35% on top of that, I’ve got nothing I can sell you for that price. 

"I’ve sold through almost all of my stock for bikes last year, heavily discounted of course. Not restocked as demand dropped off, so much so that I didn’t sell a single bike over the Xmas period. I’m being told bikes are effectively a loss leader, make your profits on servicing and P&A [parts and accessories] – make of that what you will, I’m sure in due course it’ll sort itself out, whether actual independents will be around by then though."

Others echoed this, saying if one brand offers massively discounted stock, it's hard to sell bikes that are not marked down. 

"The only way forward for the small independent is not to invest capital in bike stock to sit on the shop floor," another shop owner said.

"It is a bit at odds with the ethos of a bike shop, but we need to sell off the catalogue and utilise the importer's B2B system to get stock only when it's sold. Don't do the big buy-ins etc." 

According to the Bicycle Association, the price of bikes increased quite widely, from around 10% to over 40% depending on the discipline and other factors, between 2019 and 2022.

> The rising cost of cycling

With those increases, a bike priced at £1,000 in 2019 could now cost you £1,400. In addition to Brexit and the long-tail effects of the pandemic, new factors have pushed up average bike prices over the last few years.

Whittingham believes that prices are going to get to the "right level" sooner rather than later when inflation of the prices stop – though the high-end models are likely going to stay affordable only for the very few. 

> How much does it cost to get into road cycling now vs 10 years ago?

Sigma Sports website bikes discounted

Whittingham says: "As we're settling into what 2024 model pricing is going to be, you know, we are seeing some reductions as costs are back under control and inflation is down so, I think it is a great time to buy a bike. I say the right level but then you know, if you look on our site and see a £14,000 S-Works SL 8, but of course, top-end bikes are more expensive than they were pre-pandemic. That bike was probably a £10,000 bike in 2019."

It's not all that doom and gloom, though. While some bike shop owners expressed their concerns about the slow movement of bikes, others said they are pleased with the number of mid-range and e-bikes they sell. 

Similarly, brands such as Scott were very reassuring in saying they are expecting things will only get better in the coming months. 

What actually dictates a bike's recommended retail price?

2024 Taiwan bike industry Steve Thomas - 5

With prices being as fluid as they are now, it is somewhat difficult to establish general pricing trends. We can simultaneously say prices are going up, but they've also come down – take Canyon's decision to slash its prices last year, for example. 

Bike prices are dictated by a long supply chain and a plethora of variables from currency rates to geopolitics, and in the UK, Brexit has added to the costs in some cases. 

David Ward, Giant UK's product manager, says: "There're certain key price points that we want to try and achieve. But because of because of the time delay between the concept of the bike and speccing it and what can happen globally, between then and hitting the shop floor we don't always hit that retail price point we were aiming for.

"Brands such as Giant don't buy their supplies in British Pounds, but rather in US dollars or euros, depending on the factory. So we sometimes see quite considerable currency fluctuations. 

"It's worth it for the consumers to realise that there are a lot of factors which vary dramatically. And it's not just a currency that we buy the bike with, it's the currency that would buy the components – the factory is buying the components in as well, and there's ocean freight, plus various warehousing costs vary."

One of the fixed costs for bikes sold in the UK is the import duty. Every mechanical bike entering British soil (and made of less than 70% British parts) is affected by a 14% import duty, and this is something brands cannot affect or find a way around. The tariff is then reversed if the goods are moving from the UK into EU.

Once the bike has been manufactured (most of this takes place in Asia) shipping costs are imposed. With established transport links, the process should be relatively straightforward, but with the current geopolitical situation, even the price of a container isn't guaranteed. 

"We used to know exactly what we were going to pay for a container, then Covid hit and that price went up tenfold," Ward says. 

The brand tries to absorb the cost as much as it can, but there are times when that cost is too much and is then reflected in the recommended retail prices. Since Covid, other types of issues have put an added strain on the containers sailing from Asia to Europe, adding as much as 11 days to the shipping time. 

"What's going on in the Suez Canal at the moment, it is adding approximately $1,000 per container," says Ward.  

"How many bikes we're getting into a container varies depending on the size of the bike, you know if it's a kid's bike versus a big e-trekking bike for example, but we work on an average of about 200 bikes per 40-foot container. That increase at the moment is about $5 per bike, but we haven't adjusted the prices because we're seeing it as a temporary situation and we can absorb the small upcharge." 

2023 Liv Avail Pro 0 - head tube.jpg

Another aspect affecting the retail prices is of course labour, and the amount of time spent on each bike has increased as the industry has pushed technological advances such as internal cable routing ahead. 

An industry expert explains: "For example, if you've got a bike with a fully integrated hydraulic system, integrated electronic shifting, everything running through the head tube, that takes roughly twice to three times as long as it does to assemble compared to a bike that has everything external.

"The result of that is that the added labour cost happens right at the beginning of the markup chain. So it leaves the factory, it gets marked up, it goes to a wholesaler, it gets marked up, it goes to a retailer, it gets marked up."

With increasingly technical bike builds, more and more modern bikes are marketed similarly to our everyday tech items such as smartphones and computers. If the retail price of the newest model isn't higher than the previous model, the consumer might think it's not worth buying. 

Our industry source continues: "The result that is you now have these fantastically expensive bikes that cost 12 grand, but you've got nowhere for them to go. Because relatively few people in the current circumstances, at least in Western Europe, and to a lesser extent in the US have actually got 12 grand kicking around to buy a bike. So again, you've got this interesting situation of really, really high retail price."

Sigma's Whittingham says that their pricing is dictated by market forces, and tweaked as often as two or three times a week depending on the stock levels. 

"We, like the whole industry, have had to bring stock levels down as we came out of the pandemic, and our sales slowed," he says. 

What's the future like? 

Chain Reaction Black Friday sale

It's safe to say that the long-term sustainability of current pricing trends remains uncertain. While discounted prices may stimulate short-term sales and alleviate the cycling industry's wider inventory pressures, they could also erode brand value and profitability over time. Not to mention the effect they can have on smaller bike shops. 

Manufacturers and retailers alike must balance pricing strategies to maintain competitiveness without compromising long-term profitability – especially on the bricks-and-mortar level, where keeping stock in stores might become a thing of the past, as one industry expert predicts:

"I can see that in 10 years' time, it will be rather more the norm that multiple brands will either own retailers themselves, or have concept stores, such as Specialized Concept Stores, or they effectively drop bikes into retailers who will be solely a delivery and setup mechanism, and they will lose their stock holding function with the thing," they told us. 

Additionally, the global geopolitical and economic situation is hardly very predictable, especially with 2024 being a year of big elections across the world. Simultaneously, the UK cycling market is still in turmoil after the closure of the dominant online retailer Wiggle/CRC. 

> “The assumption was Wiggle Chain Reaction wasn’t going anywhere”: Ex-employee talks “shock” at retail giant’s demise

One thing that all of the people we spoke to agreed on is that cycling is a very seasonal sport, so some of the sales and thus, pricing, is dictated by the weather. As spring approaches, sales are likely to pick up – and the enthusiast market will want to invest in new equipment despite the challenging economic conditions. 

Some industry experts think we will be in this uncertain situation for some time, saying there is still a huge backlog of products to come through into the market, which would indicate that the discounts are here to stay for quite a while longer. This could mean that indeed, now is a great time to buy a bike if you can afford it. 

Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops. 

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17 comments

Avatar
john_smith | 4 months ago
0 likes

Why is it always Specialized these days? Do they and Trek do anything better than other, longer established manufacturers apart from aggressive marketing? 

Avatar
AidanR | 4 months ago
4 likes

Tl;dr bikes are being discounted but nonetheless are still more expensive than pre pandemic.

Avatar
richliv | 4 months ago
4 likes

£10K+ for a consumer bike, any bike, is insane. I don't care if it has trickle down tech from Space X or whatever, it's taking the p*ss. I do know one guy who bought such a bike and, whilst it's beautiful, I couldn't justify it. The extra features are never going to make sense for the average club rider and there aren't enough rich racers. It'll end in tears, some of which are the bike industry's fault for pushing prices up to a level which they thought the market could support. I feel sad for LBSs who have to suffer the fall out, though.

Avatar
Velophaart_95 replied to richliv | 4 months ago
1 like

Absolutely!!

 

And the discounts need to be better........

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Secret_squirrel replied to richliv | 4 months ago
4 likes

There is something utterly FUBAR about the bike industry.

How can the thing on the left possibly be cheaper than the thing on the right?

 

 

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
2 likes

Secret_squirrel wrote:

There is something utterly FUBAR about the bike industry.

How can the thing on the left possibly be cheaper than the thing on the right?

Well if you stick a big powerful motor onto something, then you don't have to optimise for it being lightweight. A lightweight, carbon-fibre framed racing motorbike is going to cost a lot more.

You could try comparing it with this beauty for £68,000:

//mcn-images.bauersecure.com/wp-images/4511/600x400/abmw-hp4-race13.jpg)

https://www.motorcyclenews.com/bike-reviews/bmw/hp4/2017/

 

Avatar
Paul J replied to hawkinspeter | 3 months ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Secret_squirrel wrote:

There is something utterly FUBAR about the bike industry.

How can the thing on the left possibly be cheaper than the thing on the right?

Well if you stick a big powerful motor onto something, then you don't have to optimise for it being lightweight. A lightweight, carbon-fibre framed racing motorbike is going to cost a lot more.

You could try comparing it with this beauty for £68,000:

//mcn-images.bauersecure.com/wp-images/4511/600x400/abmw-hp4-race13.jpg)

https://www.motorcyclenews.com/bike-reviews/bmw/hp4/2017/

 

The CBR600RR is not a low-end motorbike. Regardless, the amount of engineering that goes into making it is an order of magnitude more than the bicycle. It has a complex engine with hundreds of precision engineered parts, and complex assembly. It has complex suspension components. Electronics. The frame is more complex than the bicycle, etc. etc.

It's insanity, and there's something wrong in the bicycle world.

Avatar
stonojnr replied to Paul J | 3 months ago
0 likes

Honda have been making CBRs for decades though, they must have sold millions worldwide in that time.

It was the top selling bike in the UK for 20odd years.

So it's priced for all that complexity to be paid off over years and years of sales.

A road bike well if it's 10k it's a full carbon frame, and carbon anything isn't cheap because of materials, time to make, amount of manual work required to produce it, and the limited numbers they make, you are never going to sell millions of bicycles at 10k a pop. So the price is a correlation of its effort to produce and its sales numbers.

MotoGP bikes, which are prototypes for the complexity and tech that ends up in bikes like a CBR600, are measured in the millions of pounds bracket to purchase.

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mark1a replied to Paul J | 3 months ago
0 likes

Paul J wrote:

It's insanity, and there's something wrong in the bicycle world.

You make it sound like there's no choice and nobody can buy a bike without spending vast sums of money. £10k bikes are the exception not the rule and there are thousands of cheap bikes available if that's your thing. I've just acquired a brand new Vitus 29er hardtail MTB for £499 to take across the South Downs Way later this year. If I sell it after the trip, it will have been cheaper than hiring.

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hawkinspeter replied to Paul J | 3 months ago
0 likes

Paul J wrote:

The CBR600RR is not a low-end motorbike. Regardless, the amount of engineering that goes into making it is an order of magnitude more than the bicycle. It has a complex engine with hundreds of precision engineered parts, and complex assembly. It has complex suspension components. Electronics. The frame is more complex than the bicycle, etc. etc. It's insanity, and there's something wrong in the bicycle world.

It's certainly not a low-end motorbike, but it does sell well and that's probably the biggest difference. You can get insanely complex bits of hardware like mobile phones, but due to their number of sales, the cost comes down to just a few hundred quid. High-end bicycles just don't have the sales volumes to make them cheap to manufacture.

Avatar
Simon E replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
1 like

Secret_squirrel wrote:

There is something utterly FUBAR about the bike industry.

There's no point comparing those two things. Manufacturers only price an SL8 at £12k because people will buy them. But Specialized will surely sell far more of the £1,000-£1,600 Allez models.

You could compare tyre prices too if you cared. My 165/70/14 car tyres are about £50 each and do 15,000 miles or more (at a guess). My winter bike's 700x28c Durano DD bike tyres were ~£30 each and last 5,000 miles. I can buy lighter, better rolling bicycle tyres that wear out after fewer miles for rather more.

Tyres for the CBR may cost £200-£300 each time and my memory is that sportsbike tyres don't last very long before the profile goes triangular on the front and flattened off on the back.

As for the question posed by the headline, I'd say it's only a good time to buy a bike if you want/need a new one and find the model and spec level you are happy with at a discounted price compared to what it would have cost a year ago.

I would venture that most people reading this article have enough bikes already and would benefit from spending the money on doing something new / interesting instead.

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to Simon E | 4 months ago
1 like

Simon E wrote:

I would venture that most people reading this article have enough bikes already and would benefit from spending the money on ..

a motorbike instead smiley

Avatar
Simon E replied to wycombewheeler | 3 months ago
0 likes

wycombewheeler wrote:

Simon E wrote:

I would venture that most people reading this article have enough bikes already and would benefit from spending the money on ..

a motorbike instead smiley

Oh I wish I could!!!!

indecision

Avatar
cyclisto replied to richliv | 4 months ago
0 likes

It is easy to disagree. If as Suvi writes "cycling is a very seasonal sport" people see as that, then given that the products are safe, then almost any price can be justified. And since even the most basic £400 Decathlon disk road bicycle is probably less like likely to fail than the everything carbon 15k bikes and brakes better than the TdF winner bicycle 10 years ago (just imagine if your brand new Smart passenger car could outbreak a 2015 Formula 1 car) is as safe as the most expensive ones, any excess money that one has, he may throw it on bling cycling stuff just for the bling factor since it is his/her hobby.

But there are two problems in the above claim really. Cycling is not a sport/hobby for the majority of the world. It is a great tool to achieve sustainable transport and improve public health, both by health improvement of cyclists but also by better air-quality, reduced noise, less money spent etc etc. The other problem is that in our system people are allowed to spend money that they don't really have. It is amazing how easy it is to get in debt for silly excuses, or create a system that your children or grandchildren will mathematically end getting in debt as nations are allowed to overdept themselves.

In my opinion anything above a disk braked bicycle that can get a 32c tires so that you can brake and turn and has more than a 9 speed cassette (if there are no mountains near you, 8 will probably work too) is an overkill. And you can definitely commute with less too.

Prices have definitely spiked up, but I believe most in this site are in pain because they have to pay 3K for their dream bicycle and that 2K would be a bargain. Surprise, it is still not a bargain at 2K, it costs 5 times more than a bicycle that has practically similar performance for the average buyer.

 

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to cyclisto | 4 months ago
2 likes

cyclisto wrote:

The other problem is that in our system people are allowed to spend money that they don't really have. It is amazing how easy it is to get in debt for silly excuses,

a feature, not a bug. for the rich to get richer it requires everyone else to work. many people do not actually enjoy working, how then to incentivise them to work? Load them up with debt for shiny unnecesary things.

Avatar
john_smith replied to wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
0 likes

People load you up with debt for unnecessary things? Have you ever asked them to stop?

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to richliv | 4 months ago
1 like

richliv wrote:

£10K+ for a consumer bike, any bike, is insane. I don't care if it has trickle down tech from Space X or whatever, it's taking the p*ss. I do know one guy who bought such a bike and, whilst it's beautiful, I couldn't justify it. The extra features are never going to make sense for the average club rider and there aren't enough rich racers. It'll end in tears, some of which are the bike industry's fault for pushing prices up to a level which they thought the market could support. I feel sad for LBSs who have to suffer the fall out, though.

Compared to the cost of merely average cars, £10k is not much money (disclaimer: I think it's a lot of money) and I doubt if there's many cyclists who'd take out finance in order to spread the cost over years like they might do for a car.

Also, some people would happily pay over £10k for a wedding, but surely a nice bike is a far better investment?

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