BA members attending its annual conference in Birmingham yesterday heard how 2023 saw a continuation of the post-COVID downturn in the UK cycling market with total market value for the year falling a further 6%, on top of an 18% decline in 2022.
John Worthington, from the BA’s Data & Insights team, took delegates through headlines from the new 60 page report, which is available to pre-order from the BA website for £1,499 + VAT.
Worthington surmised that the key drivers of the downturn continued to be a combination of two factors: a drop in consumer demand following the COVID ‘boom’ period, intensified by the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
The volume of mechanical bikes sold in 2023 fell a further 5% (following a 23% drop in 2022). This is likely to be the lowest level of bicycle volume sales during the current century to date. The 5-year trend picture shows mechanical bike volume sales in 2023 running 33% below 2019 levels.
Adult mechanical bike volumes fell 2% in 2023 versus 2022, compared to an 8% fall in children’s bike volumes. Most mechanical bike types saw volumes decline further with the exceptions of road and gravel bikes which saw volume increases of 8% and 11% versus 2022, respectively.
E-bike volume sales fell 7% in 2023. Volumes were still well ahead of 2019 levels, although sales have dipped since the end of the COVID boom. E-bike share of total bicycle sales has risen to 9% of volume and 31% of value but remains three times lower than the European average (27% of total bicycle volume in 2022).
The market has shown some signs of improvement during the course of 2023; however progress has been uneven. Adult mechanical bike sales were stronger during H2 2023, with volumes up 6% versus H2 2022. However, children’s bikes continued to decline, including a disappointing pre-Christmas trading period. E-bike sales also improved in the latter part of the year. The improving adult bike and e-bike sales picture in the second half of the year was triggered, to a large extent, by widespread discounting across the market.
2023 saw an estimated 34% reduction of mechanical bike imports versus 2022, with import volumes falling to 1.56 million units according to HMRC (in line with total UK sales). This was the lowest number of imports for at least 24 years, as the industry continues to grapple with the challenge of substantial oversupply. E-bike imports fell 18% in 2023, reaching 211,000 units (still well ahead of sales). Despite widespread price discounting, consumer demand is subdued and the industry remains heavily over-stocked. It is likely to take until at least 2025 to correct the imbalance between supply and demand, a view supported by the majority of conference delegates in a live poll.
While the first few months of 2024 are expected to be difficult, volumes are forecast to grow in the low to mid-single digits between 2024 to 2026. There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, trends over the second half of 2023 showed adult bike volumes and e-bike volumes improving versus 2022. Secondly, the macroeconomic picture is expected to improve incrementally (from a low base) during 2024. However, these increases would still leave bike, e-bike and PAC volumes short of 2022 levels.
Any faster recovery of cycling market growth is likely to be dependent on a step-change in government investment in cycling infrastructure, and the type of policy interventions proposed in Bicycle Association’s UK Cycle Industry Manifesto.
The Manifesto sets out the industry’s policy requests across a wide range of areas. Specifically, it highlights three ‘quick win policy’ asks for Government: a national e-bike subsidy scheme; zero VAT on children’s cycles; and securing funding for growing the UK cycle industry’s capacity to innovate. The BA will continue to advocate these policies and the strategic approach set out in the Manifesto over the coming year, in the run-up to the UK General Election and beyond.
The BA Market Data Annual Report draws on a multitude of other data sources in addition to a wealth of qualitative input from industry leaders within BA membership. Worthington himself has over five years’ experience of reporting on the cycling market, and over 15 years’ experience as an analyst across wider consumer travel, tourism and other leisure markets.
The full report is distributed free of charge to BA Market Data Service subscribers, and all BA Member companies receive a free summary. The full report is available to purchase here.