A bleak picture? Why children’s bike sales have dropped so dramatically

Recent Bicycle Association figures for 2022 showed a fall in kids’ bike sales compared to pre-Covid numbers – but how concerning is this for the wider industry? Rebecca Morley reports

This piece first appeared in the May edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Encouraging children to cycle is hugely important for all brands within the bike industry, whether or not it actually sells kids’ bikes. Many will agree that learning to ride a bike is easier when you’re young, and it’s a life skill that kids will keep forever.

But according to a recent report from the Bicycle Association (BA), kids’ bike sales were down in 2022 compared to pre-Covid levels, a decline that is “really worrying”, according to BA head of insights and report author John Worthington.

The BA’s Annual Market Data Report for 2022 – Riding out the Storm – revealed that total UK mechanical bike volumes fell by 22% to an estimated 1.88 million units in 2022. This was 27% below pre-Covid levels in 2019, and kids’ bike sales also fell by 28% below 2019 numbers.

Boom and bust 

“During the first Covid lockdown, there was a brief spike in kids’ bike sales during that April/May/June period,” explained Worthington. “But during the year as a whole, kids bike sales didn’t really change that much – it simply meant that a lot of people who were going to buy kids bikes later in the year probably bought them earlier in the year.

“The overall decline in kids bikes compared to 2019 is really worrying because they didn’t benefit from the Covid boom either. Kids bike sales were pretty flat in 2020 and it’s been down ever since. It’s really quite a bleak picture.”

But why is this concerning for the rest of the industry? Young riders are the adult cyclists of the future, and if a fall in kids’ bike sales means fewer children are cycling, the rest of the market could be negatively impacted in the long-term.

Balance bike brand Kiddimoto saw a big spike in 2020/21 for bikes, but founder Simon Booth said there was “no real change” in kids helmets, gloves, bicycle bells and other kids accessories. Wheeled products have come back down to probably below the 2019 levels, said Booth, and looking ahead to this year, he doesn’t foresee any changes in the short-term.

“A lot of it is weather dependent. If there’s an amazing spring and Easter, then it gets people into their sheds and they realise that the bicycles are a bit rusty. That will dictate what happens next, whether there’s going to be a refresh of the bicycles they’ve got, or will they go and buy new bicycles? Spring will tell us that.”

Healthy habits

Benjamin Smith, director of development at The Bikeability Trust, also said it is “concerning” that children’s cycle sales have been declining. “Bikeability’s mission is to offer cycle training to every child, and we have already trained over 4 million children. However, far too often children are unable to cycle beyond our training because they do not have a cycle of their own, 24% of five-16-year-olds have no access to a bike growing up.”

Teaching children to cycle is “one of the most important things you can do to support the next generation in living a more sustainable life”, Smith said, and learning to cycle with Bikeability “embeds healthy habits and protects the planet”. 

“It also gives children transport choice and independence, helping families save money on fuel costs and creating more pleasant places to live. Children will miss out on these health, environmental and financial benefits if they have no cycle of their own.”

But where does the bike industry stand in this – how much is the importance of children’s cycling recognised? “It’s fair to say the industry recognises the importance of it as much as we do,” said Worthington. “Everyone knows how important it is. 

“In the short term, I think it’s often easy for companies to focus on where the value is, understandably. There’s a lot more value tied up in adult bikes, particularly at the premium end of the market. That’s always going to be a focus for retailers. But we need to try to take the long-term picture – there may not be so much value to be gained short-term in kids bikes, but in the long-term it is the bedrock of the whole market.”

Kids cycling is also part of a wider priority of making cycling more diverse, with the goal to make everyday cycling for everyone. “We need to be looking at diversifying the whole market in terms of who rides bikes, who buys bikes. The kids market is a really key part of that,” said Worthington.

Skills over sales 

Cycling UK’s Sam Jones also noted how cultural barriers can be broken down if cycling is made a normal activity for people from a younger age. Jones also pointed out that bikes are easy to trade secondhand, and you can’t track the secondhand market in the same way that you can with cars. 

“If we notice child bike sales dropping as an ongoing trend over the next couple of years, that’s where we’ve got to be concerned, especially if we also see Bikeability and cycle training for children funding dropping,” said Jones.

“If we’re not giving our children the skills to be riding, then it’s not something that they’ll automatically pick up. We know at Cycling UK, from a lot of our projects, that it’s possible but it’s a lot more difficult to be teaching adults how to ride a bike. You’re automatically having to break down cultural barriers with adults while with kids you’re teaching a life skill.

“The issue is cultural background as well. If you grew up in a culture where cycling is frowned upon, or it’s seen as a derogatory status symbol if you have to ride your bike to work or if you ride your bike two miles to the shops rather than driving your car, it might suggest to some that you’ve not ‘made it’”.

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