INTERVIEW: Chris Boardman on campaigning, the rise of CX and IBDs

'Local bike shops are now more than just a shop, they are often the local hub for cyclists – I think this is the future'
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Did you know that Boardman Bikes is working with 45 ‘Elite’ independent bike dealers around the country? One of those – Shrewsbury’s Stan’s Cycles – hosted a Boardman Bikes Elite experience at the weekend.

BikeBiz took the opportunity to grill Chris Boardman on supporting the IBD network, the lack of a post-Olympics slow down in demand for bikes, as well as his role with British Cycling in pushing cycling up the political agenda…

Can you explain what takes place with the store visits/rides?
CB
For us it is all about supporting our dealers and getting valuable time with our customers. These events are about offering a ‘brand experience’ and are generally informal, consisting of a ride-out out and Q&A session. All offers quality time to interact with our customers directly – to pass on valuable information about our brand and products and crucially for us to receive feedback. It is also a great opportunity for me to pass on any advice or for anyone to ask me any questions related to my experiences or career.

We target stores for two reasons: Those who go the extra mile for their cycling communities (often a cafe or club orbiting around the business) and those that offer excellent service (usually with a bike-fit service and expert staff who still ride regularly). These fit with our core values so it only makes sense that we support the dealer in connecting with their local market.

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How important is it to get out there and support retailers?
CB
Very important! The company has a team on the road all year offering training and support to the shops we work with. We put a massive amount of effort into our product so we want to make sure our dealers know as much as we do so that they can pass this onto the consumer. For my part, I visit as many as I can each year, with a focus on those organising events and which are hubs for the community; sort of putting something back with those that have really gone the extra mile. It usually involves a bike ride and a Q&A session so people can ask whatever they want rather than me battering them with product info. I also prioritise those that have the best coffee!

Is this something Boardman Bikes has always offered or something recently introduced? Have you got a season full of similar visits with other retailers planned?
CB
This is a service we have offered since we first started to sell the Elite Series, we believe passionately in supporting those that want to put as much energy into the cycling community as we do, with many more being planned at the moment.

How many independent retailers are on your books now and are you looking for more? Have you got a sweet spot/ideal number in mind?
CB
As of today our Elite range is available in 45 specialist retailers across the UK. This is growing quickly as we are actively growing our dealer base, as outlined above, we are very careful with selecting the right dealers for our product and that fit with our philosophy. We don’t want to be in every shop, we want to be in the right shops and that philosophy is currently proving correct. We also like to give our dealers an element of exclusivity within their core area. Our sweet spot will be to ensure we have good geographical coverage without conflict with the Elite brands philosophy.

Supplying Halfords and the independent bikes shops sounds like a tricky balance to get right and arguably off putting for some independents. How are you managing it?
CB I
t’s a different product for a different customer, the independent bike shops we work with really get this and their sales reflect that their customers do too.

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Back in February you said you were struggling to keep up with demand with the latest range. Have the strong sales continued?
CB
The strong demand has continued and we are constantly reforecasting to ensure that we are reacting to the market conditions, which is essential for a complex and technical product like ours. It doesn’t seem to matter how optimistic we are, we are consistently taken by surprise by demand. I genuinely thought we’d see a slow down post London Games but in fact the opposite has been true.

At the launch in October you talked about the CX market seeing the most % growth - is that still true?
CB
Yes, definitely, I’ve been riding predominately CX bikes for over 2 years, with the versatility to ride at a reasonable lick on the road but also be able to incorporate tracks and paths, this was a coming trend. It’s why we invested in this area and it’s proved to be incredibly popular. I don’t expect CX growth to slow any time soon. Despite backing this range with volume our CXR models have repeatedly sold out but we have reacted quickly and good stock levels will be available during May.

Was the decision to ditch 26-inch wheel size the right one?
CB
Yes, there are performance benefits to both 29 and 27.5" wheel sizes over the 26" and we have utilised both sizes taking the benefits each offers and positioning it specifically with different frame platforms and across different territories globally. We say we are a performance brand, a company that puts function first and on that basis, you can feel the difference straight away. I’m confident in the decision, no reservations what so ever. The only place the 26” wheel still works is for smaller bikes, scaling the wheels with the frame, which is logical.

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The brand has been around since 2007 - what have been the biggest milestones? Has the industry changed since then?
CB
The industry has changed in this time but the consumers buying habits have probably changed at a faster pace. For us one of the most significant milestones has been the launch of our Elite Series of product through high end independent retailers, this is where the product can benefit most from my knowledge and experience particularly when it comes to aerodynamics. From a personal experience the launch of AiR/TTE time trial/triathlon bike has been a particular highlight as it encompasses the performance first philosophy of the Boardman brand. When it comes to buying habits it used to be that cyclists who wanted ‘the best bike’ looked to the Pros but the consumer has realised that they can have a bike weighing a kilo less than their heroes and with disc brakes, so they have got used to buying the best for themselves rather than the bikes in the Tour de France. I’m all in favour of a ‘best performance for the intended purpose’ mindset, it fits with my own philosophy.

Overseas where are your strong markets and have you any territories you are itching to get into/grow?
CB
We are available in over eighty countries now. We sell strongly in a really diverse geography. For example, more obvious territories like North America and Australia are fast expanding for us but we are also growing very quickly across Asia. We even have concept stores in Singapore and Malaysia!

Back at the London Bike Show you hinted that some political parties were talking with British Cycling about making cycling an election issue. Is that still on the cards?
CB
It is certainly still an issue for me! Campaigning work is my second biggest work area, I think we have 12 months to get cycling on track to become a normal means of transport for normal people and I intend to use the elections as a lever to get that to happen. I don’t know whether we will win, but it’s a worthy cause to fight and if you are going to fight, then you have to do it to the best of your ability.

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What are your feelings about the progress of cycling in the political sphere?
CB
Massive frustration. There isn’t a single logical argument to not back cycling, any battleground you want to fight: Health, pollution, transport, economic… it wins in every area, so it’s depressing that of all the politicians, only Boris has stood up and put targets and long term funding in place to make a difference. It makes me sad when people shoot at Boris when he is the only one who is having a meaningful go, because his head’s above the parapet.

How excited are you about the Grand Depart?
CB
I always look forward to working on the Tour but it’s an added bonus being in the UK. It’s another opportunity for our sport to be visible and mainstream too.

Was there a local bike shop that played a key role in your young career?
CB
Several, Geoff Hughes cycles in Heswall on the wirral, who gave me first sponsored bike. Ronny Quinn in Liverpool, who sprayed my first track bike (which my dad found in a skip) and Davis Brothers in Chester. But most of all Terry Dolan’s, he was a big part of my life, built most of the bikes I rode even as a pro and we still go on the odd holiday together now.

Any final thoughts for the bicycle industry?
CB
I’m enjoying watching the bike industry evolve, the independent bicycle retailer is now a highly professional business offering the consumer a very high level of product and service. I think it’s great that shops are now more than just a shop, they are often the local hub for cyclists and communicated with clubs and cafe’s to give people more of a reason to visit them. I think this is the future, let’s hope we have a load more cyclists come on board to frequent them.

For information on Boardman Elite Series www.boardmanbikes.com

Interested in becoming a Boardman Elite Series dealer contact adam@boardmanbikes.com

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