Bicycles have been a part of our world for over two hundred years, and even now, the world of cycling is ever-changing. With fluctuating economic conditions impacting the popularity of cycling in the UK, and technological innovations enabling manufacturers to offer a wider range of products, the cycling industry is always changing.
Following the coronavirus pandemic and during a period of economic hardship in Britain, the demand for new bikes had lessened – but it looks to be increasing again in 2024. Electronic bikes are enjoying extreme popularity and interest from consumers, being the most popular type of bike cyclists planned to purchase in 2023. If the industry is recovering from a fallow period, where can we expect consumers to take us next? Join Mintel as we uncover the trends shaping the future of the cycling industry in the UK.
Cycling Industry Consumer Behaviour
There was an interesting dynamic at play in 2023 between current cyclists and potential cyclists. Although there has been a 5% increase in current cyclists from 2019 to 2023, there has also been a 5% drop in potential cyclists. Perhaps this is explainable by potential cyclists beginning to cycle regularly in the intervening period, and therefore fulfilling their potential.
If not, though, then why is participation in cycling increasing while interest declines? This can partly be explained by the fact that more than half of Brits are put off by the rising costs of bicycles, so we can see that the financial implications of an interest in cycling may be alienating to consumers. For those who are interested in taking up cycling as a hobby or mode of transport, the growing market of subscription services and rental bikes offers an alternative to inaccessibly expensive ownership. For brands, rentals may offer a creative solution to consumer reluctance to purchase bikes, especially eBikes.
With eBike product development accelerating at a rapid pace, and new launches, options, and varieties of bikes available to consumers, the participation has widened out – those interested in cycling can find a point of entry from more diverse positions than previously. With a greater variety of price points available to consumers, fewer cyclists are being priced out of using eBikes than in the past.
Cycling Participation in Men & Women
There is an interesting disparity in cycling between men and women in the UK. Of those who regularly cycle, almost twice as many men are represented than women. However, more than 95% of both men and women own a bike – so with almost the entire population, regardless of gender, owning a bike it is unclear why so many more men are cycling than women.
More men than women reported that reducing their transportation spending has pushed them into cycling more regularly, so to an extent this disparity can be viewed as a simple difference in budgeting priorities. Further, more women than men agreed that the cost of living crisis has put them off purchasing a bike, while more women than men see eBikes as being too expensive. For women, it appears cycling is not a budgetary priority, which is hampering participation rates. In Mintel’s UK Exercise Trends Report from 2023, we can see that 12% more men than women typically enjoy endurance workouts, like cycling, whereas women tend to prefer low-impact workouts.
Cycling can be a mode of transport, but it can also represent a form of exercise, and we can see how women tend to choose other forms of exercise and are not shifting their budget away from using public transport. These are key areas where men are more significantly represented than women, and where some of the gender disparity in cycling habits becomes evidenced.
Emerging Cycling Trends and Innovations
Despite growing interest, electronic bikes aren’t anything new, with major rental players like Lime Bike and Forest launching in the late 2010s and plenty of private ownership being fairly commonplace since the 1990s. However, it is undeniable that eBikes are a growing trend in 2024. Between 2019 and 2023, ownership of electronic bikes in the UK rose from 6% to 13%, more than doubling in just four years. Although cycling participation has increased in that time, the increase has not been so dramatic, which suggests that there is more at play than simply the appeal of cycling. Electronic bikes have an appeal of their very own.
This appeal covers several broad areas; health, convenience, cost, and sustainability. When asking potential and current eBike users what they would use an electric bicycle for, commuting, running errands, saving money on transportation, and meeting friends/family were all named by almost half of respondents. The most popular response was for leisure bike rides. This diversity in response highlights how versatile eBikes are perceived as being by consumers, who are interested in using eBikes for work and play; for budgeting and sustainability.
Another emerging trend that also speaks to the success of companies like Lime and Forest, as well as Santander Cycles in London, are bike rental and subscription services. With more than half of British consumers stating that the cost of living crisis is preventing them from being able to purchase a new bike, and expense being the primary impediment to buying eBikes, subscription services and bicycle rental offer an alternative entry point to cycling that is more immediately affordable.
More than 2 in 5 cyclists aged 16-34 said that they would be interested in a bicycle subscription for themselves, while a higher number would be interested in a subscription for their children. Subscriptions like Buzzbike offer flexible subscriptions to use a bicycle and access repairs without committing to full-time ownership or having to pay the upfront cost of a bicycle, which can be expensive. With parents particularly eager to buy into bike subscriptions for their children, at a stage in life where bikes can be outgrown quickly, subscription services offer an alternative method of participation that may work well for families struggling with the cost of living crisis.
Looking Ahead with Mintel
The cycling industry is in a precarious position in the UK, with major potential growth through innovations and new technologies, but with dwindling interest in cycling. Cycle brands have the opportunity to capitalise on the health benefits, sustainability credentials, and money-saving potential offered by cycling, so should focus on pushing cycling in non-traditional ways.
Instead of relying on classically successful branding and marketing looking at cycling as a hobby, businesses within the UK cycling industry could focus on commuters as a major market. Branding and marketing may also look towards a sustainability push, as this is an important issue for British consumers in 2024.
For brands which offer innovative, non-traditional entry points to cycling, this uniqueness should be a key to success. Price points of eBikes are typically a barrier to entry, so the alternative, more positive, attributes of eBikes should be focused on communicating how electric bikes are worthy of investment. Again, sustainability and long-term personal financial savings may be core aspects of this push.
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