The enthusiasm that consumers are showing for biking, particularly for recreational and family riding, has been an amazing phenomenon for the cycling community. We just issued news around the cycling industry’s April sales results. The unprecedented growth in March was hard to beat; however, April sales not only accelerated, but for the first time recorded $1 billion for a single month. To put this into even more impressive context, April cycling sales are typically between $550 and $575 million, making this a truly unique and standout moment.
This amazing growth is really benefitting recreational bike sales and categories that support non-performance riding activities. These are the areas of the market that saw the strongest year-over-year gains in April. Children’s bikes grew 107% in April compared to last year and lifestyle bikes, which are basic adult bicycles sold at prices under $200, grew by 203%. These are great entry-level bikes that support a first time rider’s needs.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t positive trends for performance bikes. In fact most of the trends were emerging in the spring and summer of 2019 continued with April 2020 sales. In particular, 29” full suspension mountain bikes grew by 87% in April and gravel road bike sales increased 30%. Electric bikes also continued their strong sales trend, up 92% for the month. Performance bike categories that were declining prior to the pandemic like sport performance road bikes continued showing declines, down 5%. Triathlon bikes also suffered a slowdown in sales, declining 64% for the month.
Not surprisingly, most of the cycling parts, accessory, and helmet categories faring well are those that support recreational cycling. Parts and accessory categories that are aligned to performance cycling, like high-end racing bike parts, for the most part were challenged to sell well in April. I suspect this is associated with specialty bike shops operating with sharply reduced consumer traffic during the month due to lockdowns. And with no bike events or races scheduled there is little need for the performance rider to upgrade their parts or bikes.
Bike parts and accessories that are typically used by riders who are commuting also struggled during the April lockdown period, including bike locks (-18%), lights for commuting (-20%), and bike bags for commuting like panniers (-21%). As we emerge from the pandemic, I am most curious about these items typically purchased by bike commuters. As cities reopen, and commuters seek new ways to travel to work that are more socially distanced, I expect to see sales growth for these items.
As I take a step back and look at this incredibly positive moment for cycling sales in the United States, I think about how this trend can be continued. Without a doubt, two areas can provide ongoing growth.
First is servicing the recreational and family rider. There are many new riders who purchased bikes during this pandemic and likely many more who are riding bikes that were previously collecting dust in their garages. Retailers and manufacturers should look beyond the need to address emerging inventory challenges and think about supporting new riders, with the hope that they become a permanent foundation for the bike industry. Cementing cycling as an everyday activity for those who purchased cycling gear during the pandemic, is an effort with immeasurable returns for both retailers and manufacturers. Providing basic education to these new riders is a marketing task that is straightforward and will greatly improve the odds that these new consumers will be riding in summers well beyond this one. Teaching basics like changing an inner tube or helping new riders find safe trails to explore are huge opportunities to create loyalty for brands and retailers.
Equally important, the industry needs to take advantage of the interest in cycling as a fitness activity. Presently, much of the support found—whether it is an online training program or an immersive virtual cycling environment—is geared to the biking enthusiast. To me, the path of success is to make bike fitness fun, easy to follow, rewarding, and non-technical. That is the lesson all should learn from the successes of SoulCycle, Flywheel, and Peloton.
I also expect bike commuting to be a growth opportunity for later this summer. Retailers and manufacturers should strongly consider this as a possible emerging trend. Commuters, particularly those in dense urban areas, need to consider how to safely move about. Retailers should focus on that need. Those who purchased bikes for “socially distanced” fun and fitness have already indicated that cycling is seen as relatively low-risk. It isn’t a stretch to message cycling as a safe commuting option as cities reopen.
The growth of cycling equipment and bike sales has been unprecedented over March and April. Continuing this trend will be challenging but rewarding for an industry that has experienced soft sales over the last several years. Right now, retailers and manufacturers have a unique and powerful chance to adopt new riders, and keep them engaged today and down the road.