COMMENT: Mixed Messages

So, we’re out of the recession, but what does the bike trade care? We’ve been immune to the downturn, right?
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Well, not entirely. There is plenty of news out there of bike firms exceeding expectations, including Continental and Abus in the latest edition of BikeBiz, and from the evidence we have to hand (and we have few agreed statistics) the trade is succeeding where others industries have been punished by tough conditions. It was the story we reported on time and again in 2009.

But now it seems there is another side to that coin. ACT research has revealed that bike dealer sales have dipped (in the month of January 2010, and not across the whole of 2009), with tough and prolonged weather conditions taking their toll – and that’s without taking into account February’s typically poor performance (not available yet, but set to appear shortly on the ActSmart site).

Last month even saw the dreaded redundancy word being uttered across the trade, apparently with some justification. But perhaps it’s not surprising that even a usually strong retail environment has taken a few knocks after a long-winded recession and frankly rubbish weather.

If I may head off on a tangent: recent stats from COLIPED make for sobering reading. Aside from a largely robust cycle retail market, UK manufacturing offers a stark contrast.

From 2000 to 2008 bicycle production plummeted from 1,200,000 units to 28,000 in Great Britain, less than three per cent of what it was at the start of the decade. We’ve not got the 2009 data, but it’s safe to guess the trend hasn’t reversed.

While it’s no surprise that UK bike manufacturing is a pale shadow of what it was (with a few exceptions), the figures make for hard reading. Just how well would bikes have had to do at retail in the 21st Century to have sustained UK manufacturers? But that’s just the way it is for the whole of Europe facing cheaper manufacture in the Far East, right? Well, no. GB is languishing almost at the foot of the table of bicycle production in Europe, never mind the world (see Vital Statistics on page 74 of the latest BikeBiz - here, or here).

So just what is the state of the UK industry? Is the bike trade still victorious over the economic climate, or not? Despite the continuing stream of positive messages and results, it would be remiss to ignore the brutal reality that it’s still tough out there, and that the trade has to continue to make the very most of the opportunities it is afforded – whether it’s supporting Bike Week, continued involvement with Bike Hub, making the most of online or just continuing to beat the drum that the future of transport is two-wheeled.

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