While some British bike shops are today thriving, this is not the norm. It’s hard to calculate exactly because there is no settled definition of what constitutes a bike shop and therefore how many “quality” cycle retailers there may be, but, roughly, for every ten bike shops that have closed in 2017 only three have taken their place. This is the worst refresh rate since the 1960s when bicycle sales collapsed and when hundreds of Britain’s bike shops closed or moved into different sectors.
Part of the reason for the current decline is the internet: Raleigh’s new digital and online team estimates that 81 percent of consumers research their purchases online before buying, and many of them stay online to do the buying (including buying internet-only brands such as Canyon). But even the well-known online discounters – think Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles – have had to consolidate to survive.
In a 2016 interview in the print BikeBiz, the then Wiggle CEO Stefan Barden made it plain that he sees growth in the cycle market coming not from expanding the size of the pie but from capturing market share from competitors.
But, as BikeBiz reported last month, the pie is shrinking. It’s entirely possible that Brits will buy 1 million fewer bikes this year. Total employment across the industry is also down. According to a March 2017 report done by the SQW consultancy for the Bicycle Association, there were 12,400 people employed by cycle suppliers and retailers in 2016, down from 15,000 in 2011 – it’s probable that the figures for 2017 will be even lower.
The SQW report said that the “bicycle industry faces challenges arising from general market conditions characterised by slowing consumer demand and overall increases in the cost of imported goods. With declining cycling levels, this makes more difficult the task of persuading those who do not own or ride a bicycle that cycling could be for them.”
The report added that the “bicycle industry faces a present danger with fewer children and young people owning a bicycle and cycling today than a decade ago.” (To arrest this decline the Bicycle Association has long championed promoting cycling to children.)
While the European Cyclists’ Federation stresses that “to really push up average prices we need consumers who see bikes as a daily means of transport and a substitute for a car or season ticket on public transport” the UK market for cycles remains dominated by sports and enthusiast cyclists: they account for 46 percent of all sales. Commuter cyclists, said SQW, account for just 19 percent of sales. (That’s for the whole of the UK – there some pockets of high demand for commuter cycling, including in central London.)
There are some parts of the cycle-commuting market which are currently doing well, including folding bikes and cargobikes, but they still account for only a relatively small slice of the pie. (E-bikes had been a rising category, but sales seem to have slowed this year.)
On the password-protected industry forum BikeTradeBuzz a list has been started tracking the numbers of bike shop closures, and openings. The thread was started by Mark Sutton, editor of Cycling Industry News, and forum members have edited and added to the list.
Many of the closures have been stories on BikeBiz.com. Sadly, 2017 didn’t start well. The 105-year-old Ben Hayward Cycles of Cambridge closed in January. An even older shop shut last week – Tyneside’s M Steel Cycles had been trading since 1894. Ilkley Cycles closed with a paraphrasing of a Spike Milligan joke: "told you bike shops don’t make money”.
The chains are also struggling. Evans Cycles is rumoured to be eyeing up some store closures, and Cycle Surgery has already closed six of its 30 stores (some were rebranded as Cotswold Outdoor stores).
Full Gas Bikes of Sheffield was started in 2016, and there were high hopes this big-budget store – co-owned by property group Dransfield – would branch out to other towns. (“Our ten year plan is to have seven or eight stores nationwide,” said founder and Commonwealth bronze medal winner Tony Gibb.) However, this was not to be – it was acquired by Trek, and on November 3rd it becomes Trek Bicycle Store Sheffield Fox Valley. (This company-owned store joins Trek’s others in Wilmslow, Manchester, Milton Keynes and Shrewsbury.)
Meanwhile, and perhaps worryingly, the cycle retail scene has recently attracted serious investment from Sport Direct tycoon Mike Ashley. He’s opening a 25,000 sq ft flagship triathlon store and opening five other stores, all branded TRI UK.
Here are the recent bike shop closures, and openings, as listed by BikeTradeBuzz forum regulars. If you have any to add/edit, please let us know in the comments below.
At The Hub Swindon
Harveys Cycles, Bristol
Ben Hayward Cycles, Cambridge
M Steels, Newcastle
Chiltern Bike Barn, Chalfont St Peter
London Fields Cycles, Hackney
Cadence Sports, Needwood
Cycle City, York
Bicycle Workshop, London
Speeds of Bromsgrove
Skyline Cycles, Wales
Hinckley Cycle Centre
On Yer Bike, Oadby
Luciano Cycles, London
Stuart Barkley cycles
Independent Bikes, Weston Super Mare
Tarmac and Trail
2Wheels Better, Nottingham
Ratcliffe’s of Leigh
Simply the Bike, Torquay
City Cycles, Chichester
Rad Bike Shack
Rutland Water (acquired Pitsford Cycle Hire)
Velorution (acquired Mosquito Cycles and Fitzrovia Cycles)
Bike Stop, Glasgow
That Tiny Bike Shop, Flixton
Velo Works, Glasgow