Rebecca Morley looks at the demand for children’s bikes and the impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many families rediscover the joys of cycling, taking advantage of quieter roads to travel by bike and keep fit while also remaining socially distanced. And the Government has been encouraging everyone to walk or cycle where possible, with transport secretary Grant Shapps recently announcing £18 million for cycle training across the country to ensure children and their families have the confidence to choose active travel.
The funding, which is managed by The Bikeability Trust charity, will go toward delivering high-quality, practical, on-road cycle training as a modern-day equivalent of the ‘Cycling Proficiency’ scheme. The timing of this announcement is particularly welcome now as industry data gathered by the Bicycle Association has shown that in the second quarter of 2020, the number of children’s bikes sold was 35% higher than in recent years, and across the year just over one million children’s bikes were sold.
But while this uplift is certainly encouraging, how has the kids’ bike market changed over recent years – and what can we expect to see moving forward?
“The kids’ bike market has always been a reliable category for the industry with quite predictable seasonal demand, and with one of the most comprehensive kids bike ranges in the UK, if not world, it’s always been an important focus for us at Tandem Group Cycles,” says Gary Conway, senior product and marketing manager.
“There have been some ups and downs in recent years with younger generations paying more attention to the latest games consoles and mobile phones at Christmas time, but the demand for kids’ bikes, in general, has remained promising. We continually review all of our ranges for any areas of development but don’t rigidly stick to releasing new models/updates for every range, every year as it’s not necessary.
“We also find this helps our stockists range plan better and not have the imminent deadline of their stock becoming obsolete and with that, the expectation from consumers of getting a discount.”
More and more parents are also realising the benefits of buying their children better quality, lighter weight bikes, Conway continues. “Our Squish range has seen significant growth and received nothing but positive feedback from our stockists and consumers alike.
“Paying that bit more for lightweight, well fitted, easy to use bikes allows children to learn to cycle quicker and enjoy it more. And kids tend to give up on things they don’t enjoy quite quickly! Also, the long term cost of buying a quality Squish bike often ends up being less than you think due to their second-hand value.”
The last 12 months have been ‘somewhat of a whirlwind’, continues Conway. “When the pandemic began, no one was really sure how it would affect our business, but it very quickly became apparent that it would inject a new lease of life into the industry as a whole.
“Our team very quickly adapted to remote working and worked tirelessly to ensure that any localised lockdowns in our supplying countries had as minimal effect on our supply as possible. But nothing could have prepared us – or any bike brand you speak to – for the global spike in demand we saw throughout the entirety of Q2 to Q4 2020.
“Our business has continued to adapt by planning production for more bikes, much further in advance than ever, to try and regain control over the stock availability our customers rightly expect. We’re also seeing our stockists adapt in the way of forward ordering larger stock commitments.
“The luxury of ‘next-day’ delivery was something many stores have understandably relied on for a long time now, but I’d say 2020 and 2021 will encourage IBDs to hold more stock on their own premises which is a great way to help the bike industry continue to grow; consumers will have easier access to stock and the UK will have more capacity to hold bikes ready to buy as opposed to when it relies primarily on a handful of distributors warehousing.
“We of course expect the COVID-19 ‘bike boom’ to level out at some point. But when it does we’re certain that the new ‘normal’ will be significantly higher than pre-COVID and that it will leave a lasting positive impact on cycling. So our expectations for the future are very positive!”
Back in 2017, the Bicycle Association stated the importance of the early years stage age was to nurturing a lifelong love of cycling, and reminding families that cycling is fun and crucially safe, explains Simon Booth, founder at Kiddimoto. “Indeed, it recognised a sustained investment in cycling networks connecting urban areas, schools and workplaces was vital, and remains so today, for a healthy cycling future. Getting kids on bikes is never the problem, it’s keeping them safe while they’re on them.
“Fast-forward to 2020, the coronavirus pandemic shook the world, led us into lockdown, and the streets fell silent. During this time, the cycling community saw hundreds of towns and cities reconfigure their streets to support social distancing and make walking and cycling easier. According to the European Cyclists’ Federation, in 2020 Europe’s cities spent €1 billion on COVID-related cycling measures and saw the introduction of around 600 miles of new cycle lanes, traffic-calming measures and car-free streets.
“No one could’ve foreseen what was about to happen, but as we come out of lockdown I hope the legacy will remain, the cycling renaissance thrives and more families continue to fall in love with biking riding.”
Power of play
A 2021 paper by Professor Helen Dodd states that adventurous play provides a great antidote to anxiety, continues Booth. “These findings serve to underpin the Kiddimoto ethos. As a dedicated toddler balance bike specialist, toddler adventures are the cornerstone of our approach and view play as pivotal in child physical, emotional and cognitive development.
“With the nation’s children navigating these tricky times, learning to ride a bike and cycling can provide the perfect outlet that promotes instinctive child-led play where excitement, thrill and fear are experienced through non-threatening play. The importance here being that through this type of play, kids learn to better process and cope with feelings of uncertainty and fear.”
During the pandemic, parents have refocused and actively sought out shared experiences like bike riding, says Booth.
“They’ve been reminded of the value in their own internal curiosity and the power of trying something new or reconnecting with a pastime long since banished to the back of the garage.
“As a keen cyclist, I know ‘mucking about’ on bikes isn’t just be for kids, but it does allow children, especially toddlers, the opportunity to not only explore the world but see parents and siblings having fun together, serving as a reassuring reminder that everything is ok – all through the power
Love of cycling
Booth hopes the UK cycling boom of 2020 will serve as a step-change for the sector for years to come. Cycling enabled key workers to travel safely, he says, and provided an accessible way for the population to stay fit and sane during lockdowns.
“According to a Sport England survey, cycling rose from 16.5% to 18% during lockdown – that equates to an extra million cyclists on the road, and London alone installed or commenced work on 62 miles of cycle routes since the start of the pandemic. To this end, the opportunity exists for Kiddimoto to strive and encourage families to nurture a love of cycling in these crucial early years.
“Indeed, we approach everything we do from a holistic child development perspective – helping to develop the whole child – physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively – to lay the foundations for a healthy and happy life and to help each child reach their full potential. It is our responsibility to get children not just cycling, but love cycling. What’s more, with sustainability evermore in our minds, we don’t cost the earth either – figuratively and literally.
“We aim to be both pocket and planet-friendly in everything we do. We make excellent value, expertly made bikes that are designed specifically to be light enough for a toddler to lift and manoeuvre and for parents to chuck over their shoulder.”