The British bicycle market lags behind European growth

After years of growth, 2022 has been a difficult year for the UK bicycle market. According to John Worthington, Head of Analysis at the Bicycle Association – the UK’s leading industry organization – the current landscape is complex, marked by worrying economic and commercial signals.

What’s holding back growth in the UK bicycle market?  

In the UK, despite positive indicators, major challenges persist and are holding back market growth.

A social and economic context favorable to the electric bike market

After the pandemic, interest in cycling increased considerably in the UK. This trend continues, with a 33% increase in the number of people cycling daily compared to the pre-pandemic period, according to the UK Department for Transport. In March, with the rise in petrol prices, this proportion climbed to 39%.

Despite this favourable context, there are still a number of challenges that consumers are reluctant to face.

Rising prices, insecurity and infrastructure: why British people are reluctant to bike 

The rise in the price of e-bikes, a barrier to consumption

According to the British Cycling Association, between 2019 and 2022, average selling prices recorded increases ranging from 10% to 40%, depending on the segment. For example, a bike costing £1,000 in 2019 could cost up to £1,400 in 2022.

These increases are attributed to several factors, including :

  • The depreciation of the pound sterling, which prompted professionals to buy their raw materials at higher prices
  • The effects of Brexit and the introduction of new taxes in relation to the European Union
  • Rising energy prices

How the lack of infrastructure is affecting cycling in England?

According to Shimano’s annual State of the Nation survey, 36% of potential e-bike buyers cite safety conditions as the main barrier to cycling. For Steve Garidis, Executive Director of The Bicycle Association, despite a positive perception of cycling in England, reluctance persists due to a lack of infrastructure to make life easier for cyclists, including a lack of parking and charging points.

Un homme à vélo dans les rues de Londrès

2022, a mixed year for the British bicycle industry

2022 has been a complex year for the UK industry The 16% growth in value terms needs to be qualified, as it is mainly due to inflation and rising prices for specialist bikes and electric bikes. In reality, it conceals disparities between market segments, as well as the fact that the UK market is lagging far behind European markets.

Traditional bikes and children’s bikes: segments in strong decline

The Bicycle Association report reveals that by 2022, the sales volume of non-electric bicycles has fallen by 22%, even reaching pre-pandemic levels, with a 27% drop compared to 2019. Thus, with just 1.88 million units sold, conventional bicycles saw their biggest drop in twenty years.

This drop in volume can also be seen in other segments, such as children’s bikes, which recorded a 28% decline in 2022, totaling 700,000 units sold.

In a slowing market, these two segments, considered the most popular, are no exception.

Electric bikes: a segment that’s lagging behind in the UK

Once considered the future of the UK market, with just 165,000 units sold, the e-bike segment has recorded a 3.1% decline in 2022 compared to 2021. This situation contrasts with the European markets, where, despite the tense context, the electric bike segments are carrying the growth of the entire industry. According to Bike Europe, e-bikes only represent a 7.5% market share in the UK, which, in addition to being low compared to other countries, is not enough to give the segment any real impetus, as sales have stagnated since 2020.

In comparison, the UK and German markets are similar in size. However, only 165,000 electric bikes were sold in 2022 in the UK, compared with 2 million in Germany. The development gap between the UK market and the rest of Europe is becoming increasingly marked.

MTB and cargo bikes, the best-selling bikes in the UK

Despite the recession, sports bikes and cargo bikes stand out.

Cargo bikes seduce professionals as well as individuals

Electric cargo bikes are gaining ground. In 2022, this sub-segment of electric bikes grew by 37% in volume, reaching 10,000 units sold. Reliable and practical in urban environments, this bike is appealing to professionals and private individuals alike. In London, major delivery companies have already taken the plunge by equipping their fleets with these bikes.

E-MTT; E-Gravel and road bikes: outdoor bikes are a big success in the UK

In terms of performance, outdoor bikes like the Gravel are a big hit. Between 2021 and 2022, there was an increase of 8% (59% since 2019). This niche sector developed during the pandemic in response to consumers’ need for discovery and the outdoors. Today, enthusiasts don’t hesitate to invest in premium electric mountain bikes.

How is the UK revitalising its bicycle industry?

Faced with this mixed situation, the British industry is sounding the alarm and seeking the support of the government, whose ambition is that half of all short journeys should be made on foot or by bike by 2030.

What is the UK’s cycling policy?

With a modal share of 2%, the UK takes a segmented approach to cycling policy. In fact, it is up to each country making up the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) to implement its own cycling policy in order to achieve the overall targets.

England: an ambitious approach for 2040

Instituted in 2020 and renewed in 2022 for a period of 3 years, the main aim of the English cycling plan “The Gear Change” is to remedy the lack of infrastructure by deploying an extensive cycling network by 2040, along with the facilities needed to do so.

Other objectives of the plan include:

  • A change in legislation to bring greater clarity to the priority given to cyclists
  • Increasing the maximum penalty for drivers who cause the death of a road user through dangerous driving or drug use
  • Promoting intermodality by installing bike racks on trains

Wales: towards active mobility

In 2013, Wales passed an Active Travel Act aimed at establishing a sound legal basis for active mobility. Subsequently, in 2017, a new cycling plan was launched with the main aim of increasing the proportion of people cycling at least once a week from 6% to 10% by 2026.

Scotland focuses on investment and promotion of cycling

With a plan to increase the number of bicycles on the road between 2022 and 2030, Scotland is focusing on investment and promotion. To achieve this, the country plans to devote 10% of its transport budget to bicycle development. A more social approach is also planned, with the aim of making cycling accessible to all, whatever its form, and including committed cyclists in the strategy for creating cycle paths.

A first cycling plan for Northern Ireland

Launched in 2015 and running until 2040, Northern Ireland has implemented its first cycling plan. The first review of the plan is scheduled for 2025, with the following objectives:

  • 20% of all journeys of less than one kilometer will be made by bicycle (40% in 2040)
  • 10% of all journeys between 2 and 3 km will be made by bike (20% in 2040)
  • 5% of all journeys between 3 and 8 km will be made by bicycle (10% in 2040)

Efforts considered insufficient by the industry

Despite these measures, industry players feel that these efforts are minimal compared to those made by other European countries, which also have an important economic dimension. The Bicycle Association said it wanted to see greater support and attention given to the role of cycling in the UK’s economic growth, as well as to the “net zero emissions” strategy, with local investment, and called on the national government to commit to multi-year funding.

After the crisis, what are the prospects for 2024?  

Plunged into a period of unprecedented uncertainty and challenges, the UK bicycle market is currently marked by an imbalance between supply and demand. After a difficult year that continued into 2023, players remain optimistic for 2024, betting on a return to consumption thanks to falling bicycle prices linked to an overstocking problem. This situation is similar to that in the United States, where the stock problem is announcing a massive arrival of American brands on the European market in the hope of selling off their stock.

The arrival of American brands on the European market heralds an increase in competition. In this difficult context, brands will have to call on new differentiation levers, such as connectivity. Made possible by the insertion of IoT devices capable of receiving and sending data, connectivity enables brands to propose a differentiating and innovative offer with new services such as theft protection, real-time geolocation, alarms and remote actions. In view of the investment that the purchase of an electric bike represents, these services respond to the real concerns of cyclists.

What’s more, beyond its functionalities, connectivity is an opportunity for the brand to make itself visible to its cyclists. Thanks to a mobile application, the brand can connect directly with its customers and create a real community around its universe.