The Bicycle Association of Great Britain met up last month to review the year and reveal some of the key issues set to affect the trade in the next 12 months. Jonathon Harker reports...

Bicycle Association AGM 2010: Imports hit, but cycling is on the up

The BA President, Philip Taylor, highlighted the continued good works of Cycling England and Bike Hub for driving numbers of cyclists and therefore helping secure the future of the industry. Taylor made the comments in his opening address to the BA members, including some of the primary movers and shakers of the UK bicycle industry.

Rising numbers of cyclists is a cause for celebration, said the BA president: “According to Transport for London, the trend of more people cycling continues to increase in the capital by nine per cent, and as published by the DfT/Cycling England, a 27 per cent average increase in six of the Cycling Demonstration Towns.”

The Association felt that rising bike values were a sign that the public was not taking industry-controversial BSOs to heart: “Not only did cycle usage increase, but also the average imported price of a bicycle in 2009 rose too by almost 15 per cent. This may, at first glance, not appear good news for our industry, but on the other hand it may signify that the bicycle market in the UK is beginning to mature and that consumers are becoming more aware that quality bicycles provide a far better and safer cycling experience than the cheap and cheerful, almost disposable, variety offered by discount supermarkets.”

The opening address also noted that despite rising cyclist numbers and a healthy industry, imports into the UK actually dropped. Bicycles brought into the country fell by around 12 per cent between 2008 and 2009, according to the Association.

Conversely, the BA noted caution over an ‘anomalous’ increase in the number of bicycle frames imported, as reported by HMR&C.

Taylor says: “It shot up in 2009 to just over 250,000, an increase of 112 per cent over 2008 and for which Taiwan was responsible for 144,000, almost quadrupling this country’s 2008 figure of 41,000.

“The trend worsened further in 2010 when during the first two months import figures for frames almost quintupled, from 2009’s 17,831 to 83,859 this year – of which 46,374 were from Taiwan and 16,820 from Malaysia, which appears in the category for the first time.

“The BAGB questioned the figures two years ago and has written again to express our concerns.”

Technical issues were also on the BA AGM agenda; BA technical advisor Alan Cater, a BSI representative at CEN, is tackling the issues on the Bicycle Association’s behalf, including drafting a response to the Department for Transport’s Consultation paper on Electric Power Assisted Cycles and Electric Powered Vehicles. Cater is also preparing a first draft document regarding UK
Bicycle Legislation, as Taylor explained: “it has become apparent that the industry, in conjunction with the DfT and Trading Standards, needs to be instrumental in establishing a voluntary code of conduct that promotes safety and quality standards.”

Ongoing work is continuing on new CEN standards for BMX, trailers and with existing CEN standards on city and trekking bikes, mountain bikes, racing bikes and young children’s bicycles – the latter group having reached their five year revision periods. Philip Taylor also paid tribute to the recent passing away of cycle advocate Don Wright.

The meeting gave the council chance to hear the first results of the Cycling Demonstration Town projects. As BA deputy president and Cycling England chair, Phillip Darnton revealed that those results, with recent studies, confirmed that investment in cycling pays.

Darnton explained: “The DfT measures every transport scheme, but cycling had not been previously measured in its terms. Cycling England has given it the data and the Department for Transport used its own regime and found that the benefit-to-cost ratio of cycling is at least three-to-one. It may even be as high as five or six-to-one if benefits are sustained over 30 years. Those calculations are based on conservative assumptions too.”

According to those results, those first six Demonstration Towns have, in their first three years, seen an average increase in cycling of 27 per cent between 2005 and 2007. Crucially, the results also saw that the increase wasn’t down to increased cycling from the same number of riders, but from a greater proportion of cyclists – 14 per cent in fact. Darnton added: “The schools in the Demonstration Towns also benefited from the investment. Through Bike It officers and Bikeability, the proportion of pupils cycling to school regularly more than doubled – increasing 126 per cent.”

Those three-year results for the Cycling Demonstration Towns also produced in a decrease in the proportion of people in towns classed as physically inactive – the group most at risk of premature death. Comparable towns not benefiting from the scheme didn’t see any such improvements, offering further indication of the effectiveness of the investment in cycling.

Taylor and BA vice president Philip Darnton both referenced a flourishing bike market. Taylor said: “Retailers have had, rather surprisingly, experienced a quite prosperous year during what was expected to be, and for many industries has been, a pretty severe recession.”

Darnton emphasised the reasons behind the prosperity: “Everything is going in the right direction for cycling. This age of austerity has to be good for cycling – and these rising petrol prices are too.”

The pre-general election meeting, set before we knew cycle commuter David Cameron would be our new prime minister, made reference to past support from Westminster – particuarly through the likes of the Cycle to Work incentive. The BA president said that he was confident that future Government support for cycling would continue.

Taylor said: “Despite the fact that we do not know which party, or parties, may form our next Government, what is sure is that cycling has many friends and advocates across all of the political parties and it will, I believe, continue to receive support no matter what the political hue of the next incumbents.”

With virtually all of the political parties offering pre-election promises to support cycling, let’s hope those words are borne out now that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition is in place.

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