For the times they are a-changin'

In which I channel Dylan, Hemingway and climate-change scientists.
By Carlton Reid,

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

This dialogue – from Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises – is often wheeled out to describe collapses that happen seemingly overnight but for which there had been portents. Climate change is an example of such. Naturally, one of the things we ought to be doing to save our world (and trade) is to dump motor vehicles, and get on bikes instead. The supposed reasons why that won’t happen are well-rehearsed: people love cars; bikes are dangerous, uncomfortable and unprotected from the elements; and bikes-in-boxes are delivered by HGVs.

True, many people are smitten with cars, but when there are too many around (or too little space on the roads) the love affair loses its sparkle. The theory of induced demand explains why building more roads doesn’t help. On the safety front there are plenty of ways of reducing the real and perceived dangers of cycling. Being exposed to the elements is a given, and no amount of there-is-no-such-thing-as-bad-weather-just-the-wrong-clothing will convince softies who fear that, in Dylan’s words “soon you’ll be drenched to the bone”. And, yes, bikes are delivered by HGV, but that doesn’t mean they have to be transported this way door-to-door. Cargobikes could provide many “last mile” delivery solutions.

Furthermore, climate change is not the only seismic shift we have to worry about. Globally less important but personally more pressing is the need to make a bike-trade buck. This is getting tougher: the ground underneath our feet has shifted. Shops that withstood many previous downturns have, this year, ceased trading. It’s likely that 2017 will see one million fewer bikes sold than in 2016. Losing this many sales – even if most of them are BSOs – is leading to an increasingly transformed market. Some distribution companies are expanding their ownership of bike shops by taking over those that fail to pay. This has always happened, but it is accelerating.

Chiggle and their ilk have transformed how many enthusiasts buy kit, but even the online sellers are having to coalesce to survive. As the market morphs (and the planet warms) some will profit from the tumult, others will hold on tight and hope for the best. Whatever your tactic it’s clear that the bumpy bike-industry ride is far from over.