The Bike Club aims to provide high-quality, lightweight bikes via flexible monthly subscription. Founders James Symes and Alexandra Rico-Lloyd tell Rebecca Morley how it benefits families and why it’s important to get children cycling young
Buying high-quality bikes for children to learn to ride can be expensive and wasteful, forcing some families to compromise on size and quality. This in turn, leaves children less enthusiastic about getting on the saddle as they might otherwise have been.
This is why the Bike Club, founded by James Symes and Alexandra Rico-Lloyd, has developed a subscription service for kid’s bikes, allowing users to replace their children’s bikes as they grow. “I like the idea of trying to make consumer rental work for normal families,” explains Symes. “That was the idea. Utility on a kid’s bike falls off the edge of a cliff when they grow out of it, and that reinforces people to compromise.”
Since the company’s monthly subscriptions were made available in late 2016, it has seen over 25,000 people sign up to The Bike Club community, which has shipped bikes to all corners of the UK. Initially, Symes and Rico-Lloyd rented out bikes to family and friends while they experimented with different iterations of their model. They eventually settled on a hybrid of hire-exchange and a rent-to-own solution.
“There’s been quite a high demand for it,” says Rico-Lloyd. “The idea is to get kids riding better quality bikes because if you have a good quality bike that fits you, you’re going to enjoy cycling. When you have a poor-quality bike, you’re going to find it a lot more difficult to handle, to learn to ride it, and that’s when children get tired, grumpy and cold and the parents have to carry it home! And the following weekend, they don’t want to take their bike out again because of that bad experience.
“Lightweight kid’s bikes are something that’s relatively new to the market,” she adds, “Ten years ago, there was no idea of such a thing. People still haven’t come around to the idea that you have to spend £350-£400 to get a good kid’s bike.
“We’re keen cyclists, and when you love something, you want everyone else to share it. So that’s what we set out to do with The Bike Club.” “60% of our customers are mothers,” says Symes, “who are underserved by local bike shops – often, it’s a very alien environment for them. We discuss family cycling all day, every day, and it feels like we’re expanding that opportunity and that market.”
“Ultimately,” adds Rico-Lloyd, “these children wouldn’t have had a good quality bike before we came along. Now, they’re going to grow up to be cyclists.”
The next generation
Encouraging children to ride is something the Government is looking at as well, with last month’s announcement that all children in England will be offered cycle training under plans to expand its Bikeability training programme.
The commitment will see an additional 400,000 training places offered on the scheme each year, providing children with the core skills to cycle safely and confidently on the road. More than 80% of children aged between eight and ten-years-old own a bike – and since its launch in 2006, more than three million children have already taken part in the Bikeability scheme.
“There’s a burning ambition to help the next generation get into cycling young and use it as the obvious choice for mode of transport,” says Symes. “The idea of mobility and cycling is such an obvious way of getting around cities and open environments. By using higher-quality bikes that are shared and not just being chucked away, you’re cutting waste. That’s a really exciting side of the business.”
And because the company is getting those bikes back, it is able to see where they’re getting the most use, Rico-Lloyd explains. “A lot of the time, people don’t service kid’s bikes, so when they’re coming back to us we’re able to do that, which makes them last longer. We’re able to work with manufacturers to try to improve different components of the bike.”
The Bike Club now has over 25,000 members, but it has no plans of slowing down. “A big part of us is distributing memberships to families and we really want to start working with bike shops,” says Symes. “We’ve tested out a bit of click-and-collect with some local bike shops. We’re looking at how we can expand that and roll that out more widely, which is really exciting. It will be good because, ultimately, we want to increase our membership, and local bike shops want to service the cyclists in the area.
“We also want to create an opportunity where people who have a bike, but aren’t a member of the bike club, to part exchange. There are a lot of people who hear about us and say they have a bike – it would be good to get them to not chuck or leave their bikes in the garage, and get them into The Bike Club in that respect.”
Catering to women in the cycling industry
Promoting women in the cycling industry is also important to The Bike Club, and is something it is keen to promote and see more in the industry. In fact, Rico-Lloyd was shortlisted for BikeBiz Woman of the Year in the 2019 BikeBiz Awards.
“We’re seeing quite a lot of positive change,” says Rico-Lloyd, “I think there are some role models out there for other people nowadays. You’re not just talking about girls, you’re talking about people my age, you need a role model to give you the confidence to go out there in a male-dominated industry.
“There are definitely more women around, which is really nice to see. It goes back to us being able to speak confidently to a mother, a single mum with two kids who works full time, and they do not have the time or knowledge on how to put a pedal on. It’s quite important for family cycling.
“Entrepreneurship itself is also quite male-dominated, and then before being an entrepreneur in cycling, both male-dominated industries, I was in IT. I’ve always just accepted it, but it’s bringing other people into our team, bringing on female managers, anyone that we send out to a cycling event, and they really notice it.”
This year, the London Bike Show and Cycling UK have joined forces to launch the inaugural Women’s Cycling Awards.The awards will celebrate female talent and achievements from across the cycling world, from record breakers to neighbourhood champions, and will see the winners announced during a ceremony on the opening day of the London Bike Show on 27th March 2020 at ExCeL London.
The accolades cover the full spectrum of female involvement in representing, participating, supporting and inspiring others to stay active. An outstanding achievement award will be given to one of 11 category winners who, above all others, stood out in their efforts to promote women’s cycling.
“In a way, I’ve just battled through it, and it’s been fine, and I also love that there are women in cycling awards,” Rico-Lloyd continues. “Women in cycling do need to get a bit more credit for what they do, I think it is quite tough when you go out to these events and it is just full of men.
“It’s quite difficult to make yourself heard, and people almost exclude you, or they think you don’t know about bicycles because you’re a woman. There is progress, but it is still very traditional. It’s a really difficult one because you just get on with it. I think there has to be less negativity about it and more positivity, it’s more about let’s just get out there and have a bit of fun while we’re at it. Eventually, there will be more women in cycling because we’re out there doing our thing.”