Why have cycle sales in the Netherlands dropped to a thirty-year low?

Carlton Reid
Why have cycle sales in the Netherlands dropped to a thirty-year low?

Yesterday we reported on the stats that show cycle sales in the Netherlands have dropped to a thirty-year low. 928,000 bicycles were sold in the Netherlands in 2016, a year-on-year fall of nearly six percent and adding to what has been a steady ten-year decline in cycle sales. (It's important to stress that while unit sales are down, industry revenues are up, mostly thanks to costly e-bikes.)

Many on social media were incredulous that a "cycling nation" could be suffering such a sales slump. To find out what's going on, BikeBiz spoke with Jan-Willem van Schaik, deputy editor in chief of both Bike Europe and the Dutch trade mag Tweewieler.

"A decline for ten years in a row is not good although there are some good explanations," Van Schaik told us.

"First of all, there was a cancellation of a tax reduction scheme which had helped a lot of people to buy bicycles. This stopped in January 2015. At the peak up to 500,000 bicycles were sold annually under this tax break.

"Second, the 1.4 million units sold in 2007 was a record-breaking year. At that time it was obvious that the market volume would start to decrease.

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"Third, the increase of the average price of a bicycle was not only because of the e-bike, but also the improved quality of standard bicycles – bikes now last for years and years.

"Finally, regarding the poor sales in 2016, the weather last spring was not so good."

Van Schaik stressed that sales may be down, but cycle usage is not:

"People are cycling more often, and cycling more kilometres. Bicycle parking lots at railway stations are overflowing. The number of people going to railway stations by bike has been increasing by about 5 percent per year in the past decade.

"The advent of the e-bike has encouraged people to cycle more and further. Older people are now cycling at a more advanced age than before.

"That people are cycling more is also the result of the world-famous cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. Growing the fleet of bicycles is not the issue any more, that happened already in the past. Dutch cycling infrastructure doesn't lead to substantially more sales because everybody already own a bicycle, and probably many bicycles. That was a sales bonus that happened in the 1980s and 1990s."

However, just as in the UK and Europe, the number of Dutch bike shops has also been in steady decline.

"The number of IBDs decreased a lot in the past two decades," said Van Schaik. "Fifteen years ago there were about 4,500 independent bicycle dealers; now there are approximately 2,500. This number is expected to decline even further to 1,000-1,500," he added.

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