Market set to return to growth after oversupply and discounting led to dip in 2011

Sales of bicycles in the UK are set to hit an all-time high this year, thanks in part to Olympic excitement and the successes of British champion cyclists, as well as the rising price of fuel, according to a new market research report.

The market is expected to grow by a further 8 per cent on 2011 to reach £700 million in 2012 - around £2 million a day - a report from analysts Mintel suggests. The trend should continue over the next five years, forecast to increase by 23 per cent reaching £800 million by 2016.

Cyclists are also buying more expensive bikes, acording to Mintel, with the average purchase price up 40% in the last five years.

Michael Oliver, Senior Leisure Analyst at Mintel, said: “With obesity rates rising among both adults and children, there is clearly a political and financial imperative to encouraging greater physical activity and cycling is a relatively inexpensive way of doing this."

Mr Oliver suggested that cyclists such as Mark Cavendish, Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton becoming household names made it an ideal time for the business to try to boost sales further.

"Role models in the Olympics means there is now an almost unrivalled opportunity to try to stimulate cycling participation but it needs some central funding and co-ordination," he said.

The growth predicted this year is a reversal of a 7 per cent drop in sales in 2011, partly due to oversupply and discount selling, according to Mintel.

But cycling is on the up and today, over a third (34%) of the nation cycle. The ‘hardcore’ cyclists – those who ride about once a week or more often – account for around half of all cyclists (16% of UK adults), with 6% of Brits taking to their two wheels most days, said the company. 

However, some 5% of the country (around 2 million people) admit to not being able to cycle, while a further 1% of Brits say they can’t cycle but intend to learn to do so in the future.

There's a definite gender gap though, with twice as many men cycling 'most days' than women.

The report also hinted at an appetite for more cycle hire schemes like the 'Boris bikes' in London': 2% of Brits have used a self-service hire scheme, however as many as one in ten (9%) say they would be interested in using one in the future.

It also highlights the ongoing helmet debate: a third of cycle owners also have a helmet, but a third of helmet owners do not wear them.

Mintel's figures may prove to be the subject of some contention in the industry, and in the past the compay has admitted that this specific industry presents unique challenges when attempting to assess market size.

In its 2010 report, the company acknowledged: "Measuring the UK bicycles market is surprisingly difficult due to a number of factors. Imports fluctuate according to retailer stock levels, and volume sales are difficult to grow due to the lifespan of the typical bicycle and the prevalence of second-hand bikes in the marketplace."

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.