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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.