Back in May 2009, from the pavements of Trafalgar Square, London Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled grand plans for cycling in the capital, drumming up awareness of a now familiar Cycle Revolution for London.
Dedicating £111 million in 2009 alone, the Mayor put flesh on the bones of TfL’s plans for a wealth of pro-bicycle initiatives, including thousands of new cycle spaces, plus the cycle hire and cycle highways schemes.
This summer saw some of those schemes come to fruition. Most notable were the first two (of 12) Cycle Superhighways, which opened in July, followed closely by the second Barclays sponsored bike project - London Cycle Hire, which launched to ‘members’ at the end of July.
While both have seen their fair share of criticism and set backs, they have, along with the rest of the ‘Cycle Revolution’, managed to put London firmly on the pro-cycling map.
Promoting two wheels
So how does this pro-bike bonanza affect retailers in the capital? Is it promoting cycling to the millions that reside, travel to and work in London?
Cycle Surgery’s head of marketing Kevin Young thinks so. He tells BikeBiz: “I have to say that all of the initiatives are very positive for cycling in London. I've used the cycle hire a few times and it’s a really convenient way to get around – it's like having an extra bike to use when I need it. I'm sure these rental bikes will get more people onto two wheels, which can only be a good thing for us – and the same goes for the new Cycle Superhighways and the Sky Ride.
“The more we can grow cycling, the better for the environment, health and congestion. Keen cyclists have known this for years; it's good that the message is now reaching a broader audience.”
Condor Cycles store manager Greg Needham is similarly optimistic. He explains to BikeBiz: “Pro-cycling initiatives, such as Cycle Hire, certainly help raise the profile of cycling as they bring new consumers to the industry. It is also thanks to the Cycle to Work scheme and free-to-attend events, such as the Smithfield Nocturne and Tour Series at Canary Wharf, as they open up all elements of cycling to the public.”
Bobbin Bicycles’ Tom Morris also agrees that high profile cycle projects can only be a good thing: “All these initiatives have definitely raised the profile of cycling in London. It's not just the physical reality of these schemes but also the positive impact of their PR I think: the idea that people are aware that the Government is behind cycling and is pushing it as a positive thing.”
Neil Fitton, head of marketing for Evans Cycles tells BikeBiz: “Evans Cycles has been part of the local landscape in London for many years and has seen initiatives come and go over time. However, the initiatives that have been in development over the past few years and come to fruition have really had a marked impact on the visibility of cycling. The Cycle Hire Scheme already seems like a fantastic success (almost too successful!) and we truly believe this will get both awareness of cyclists and participation in cycling to soar.
“The Superhighways will take time for people to fully get to understand but, again, expanding these will help. We have always been passionate advocates of cycling in London and support many of the cycling events. And this year we became an official partner in the Mayor of London’s Sky Rides and, with 85,000 people turning out, I think this shows that Londoners are cyclists. We also support smaller events in London, from the Leukaemia and Lymphoma research Bikeathons to the Open Garden Squares event with mechanical support.”
Brompton’s marketing manager Emerson Roberts adds: “Anything that gets cycling further up the agenda and more people on bikes is obviously a good thing, but I don’t think any of these initiatives is a magic bullet; some sales will result from these initiatives, but the most important factor in raising cycling on our streets is critical mass – the more cyclists are out there, the more others will see it as a viable, safe option.”
So is it setting bike retail’s tills ringing? Condor Cycles’ Needham reveals that those hopes for increased sales are bearing fruit: “We are already seeing a positive impact on sales as more people are getting involved in the sport. Consumers are realising that cycling is accessible, saves them money, and is enjoyable. The store's product offering is for both commuters and enthusiasts, and we're increasingly finding that the weekday commuter is thinking about using their bike in a different way. Our singlespeed customers are now looking to purchase road bikes to go further afield. Our sales this year have been very strong and have beaten previous records, despite the snowy winter.”
Bobbin Bicycles’ Tom Morris has seen accessory sales rise following the launch of the Cycle Hire scheme: “We're already seeing Barclay bike riders dropping by for a helmet. A lot of Barclay bike riders seem to be Londoners who are trying out commuting for the first time, and are perhaps wary of splashing out on a bike that they're not sure they'll use much. So it's quite likely that after a while they'll want to graduate onto their own bike after a few months or so on a Boris bike.
“They might want to get a fixie or a hybrid or a Brompton... but hopefully an elegant upright Bobbin!”
Evans’ Fitton adds: “I think that first and foremost the more people that are out riding the better and this will obviously have a positive impact on sales. Evans Cycles has expanded over the years and London is our heartland; we still consider ourselves to be a local store in whatever location we are in, with the added benefit that our size carries with range and stock holding.”
Fitton underlines the point that London’s cycling success story isn’t entirely down to the work of Government departments. He says: “It's not only TfL helping out cyclists in London. We recently opened a central London servicing warehouse. The demand for bike servicing in most London workshops is up to two weeks. Bikes can now be sent to our central warehouse for an overnight service at a cheaper rate. Having only been opened a month the reports have been great with some excellent feedback from customers. Furthermore, all stores offer free maintenance classes for all cyclists to learn a bit more on keeping their bikes in good working order.”
It’s a sage point that Transport for London’s Cycle Hire and Cycle Superhighways are just the high-profile face of pro-cycling projects in the capital. Aside from the headlines generated by Boris, numerous initiatives – like the cycle industry Bike Hub-funded Bike It officers working with London schools, and plentiful events like the Nocturne, exhibitions and many more taking place in the capital, all contribute to an increasingly ‘pro-bike London’.
While there is, clearly, plenty still to be done to improve its bicycle infrastructure, the city appears to be showing – according to the headlines and, importantly, to its cycle retailers – positive signs that London is entering a cycling renaissance.