Industry leaders rarely give talks at cycle advocacy conferences so the presentation given by Giant MD Ian Beasant at Cycle City in Leicester today was well-received. Beasant said he wanted to bridge the gap between the industry and cycle advocates and professionals.
He told delegates he was impressed by the “dedication, energy and enthusiasm” on show at the two-day conference and said he believed that a closer working relationship between advocates and the industry would pay dividends. Beasant reminded delegates that, contrary to popular perception, the industry was a strong behind-the-scenes supporter of advocacy and lobbying efforts, especially through the Bicycle Association’s Bike Hub levy fund. It is a core-funder of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. (Beasant is a board member of the Bicycle Association.)
“Through the Bike Hub program the industry contributes £350,000 each year to efforts to get more people on bikes.”
But, he stressed that individual bike companies were not cash-rich and that sales of bikes were currently in the doldrums, leading to even less cash being available than otherwise. Advocates often ask companies to “sponsor” their local initiatives but this isn’t the only way for the industry and advocates to interact, said Beasant.
“It often feels that our contact with advocates is limited to “will you sponsor us” discussions rather than asking how can we work together in other ways, and how the market is actually performing.”
He added: “The industry is not a margin-strong one with deep pockets, we are an industry of energy, passion, understanding and willingness to support. You will find few people in the industry who don’t care passionately about the future for cycling. Let’s work side by side.”
Beasant briefed delegates on the changing nature of the industry, especially at the retail coal-face, and how consumer tastes were also changing.
“Total unit sales has remained around three and half million for each of the past five years, and it’s anticipated that last year and this there will probably be an overall reduction in bike purchases.
“However, the value of bikes is rising, driven by an increase in consumer understanding of what the right bike can deliver. Today’s consumers don’t buy bikes to put in a garage any more, they buy bikes to ride for health and fitness, and for sport."
At a meeting organised by British Cycling last night for a small number of experts Beasant said:
“As a company we practice what we preach. We have daily lunchtime rides where all our staff are encouraged to take out bikes or e-bikes for a spin in the countryside. People who weren’t cyclists when they joined the company get turned on to cycling by these daily rides, showing that leisure riding can often influence people into becoming regular riders, perhaps commuting to work."
He told delegates at the conference that a mix of measures would be needed to get more bums on saddles, and that the provision of infrastructure was not a "magic pill."
“It’s important to attract new people into cycling, and infrastructure alone, although it’s important, won’t make people cycle," he said.
"Brits have long had a poor perception of cycling but this is definitely changing. If you want people to join your project, or ride on your cycleways, you need to ring the bells of this new audience.
“Not everybody is getting into commuter cycling, for instance, purely because it’s the fastest way to get from A to B. There’s also a self-image element, a fashion thing.
“I know “MAMILs” come in for a lot of stick but with better communication we could turn "weekend warriors" into commuters because they can see the impact it will have on their performance, and how they could easily fit cycling into their busy schedules."
Giant's womens' brand LIV now accounts for 25 percent of Giant's UK sales. Beasant said: "A great way for a female audience is to make it a social activity with friends. We need to be targeting the motivators who will drive the others to get on their bikes, too.”
However, the bike industry is facing many challenges, said Beasant.
“There’s a vast segmentation within the industry – there are over 45 different styles of bike available, and this segmentation looks set to continue.”
He called on cycle advocates and professionals to work with the industry, but also to understand that the bike industry is not as well-funded as the car industry, is not doing as well financially as many people assume, and is facing deep and abiding changes as the retail scene evolves.