Gloomy economics have failed to damage biking's growing popularity and has boosting its use as transport. Muc-Off’s Alex Trimnell gives his opinion on why the industry is pedaling against the trend, and how he thinks we can keep the momentum going well into 2009...

CHAIN REACTION: The feel good factor

It started last August. Whilst the Western world was bemoaning the rising price of fuel, a new generation of cycling fans were being recruited from inside a velodrome in Beijing. As the medal collection grew for Hoy, Pendleton, Wiggins and co, so did interest in cycling. To the shock of the initiated, there were even rumours that bikes were suddenly being given more respect by other road-users – surely a sign that cycling was increasing in popularity?

This led to increased bike sales as, perhaps in lieu of sunbathing opportunities, families took to the roads and singletracks during their summer holidays. Sport England’s December-published Active People survey revealed participation has increased by 132,000 people since 2005/06 – no doubt due in no small part to the successes in Beijing. By late summer, reports of an impending recession and the global ‘credit crunch’ had increased, perversely giving the bike industry another boost as consumers looked for ways to save money. The statistics speak for themselves – a report from Sainsbury’s Home Insurance found that by November one in eight commuters had switched from car or public transport to bicycle to save money. Having made the investment, it makes sense for non- enthusiasts to look after a bike rather than having to replace parts due to a lack of care – or worse, stopping riding altogether.

These are the customers that our industry needs to target – new cyclists who have had a few months on a new bike but are now dealing with wet weather, grime and a lack of knowledge of how to cope with either.

As much as enthusiasts are our core market, it’s more or less a given that they’re always going to buy product for their beloved machines no matter what. But there’s a big danger new riders will simply give up if their bike isn’t working correctly. Having better maintained bikes will keep non-enthusiasts in their saddles.

One problem facing non-enthusiasts is a fear about bike maintenance; that it is technical, time-consuming and a hassle. It’s not even just about the quality of the bike. Any high-end bike left in a garage without being looked after will need TLC. A novice rider will just see the bicycle as poor value for money and is unlikely to keep riding it; they’re the riders who are likely to retire their bikes unless they get some help and advice. The danger is that we lose new cyclists suffering from problems like rusty chains just from not using the right chain lube. So many non-enthusiasts bikes are poorly maintained and it’s difficult to enjoy riding a bike that’s creaking and grinding. These riders are unlikely to progress to becoming serious cyclists as their experience of riding is not ‘feel-good’ – a means to an end rather than an enjoyable pastime. For every new pedal commuter that was converted last summer and is still going, there will be many more who have given up by now.

The key is to educate new riders about caring for their bikes. It’s not enough to say ‘clean it’, and we can’t bombard them with technical products. As a company, we’re helping new cyclists keep their bikes running smoother. There are new products, such as our new starter kit, designed to be a one-stop maintenance shop for first-time users. We’re also educating people on how to look after bikes. Muc-Off has a step-by-step cleaning guide on its website and attends cycle and non-cycle events to tell enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts about bike care.

Our products are designed to be fun, easy-to-use and are developed to be the most advanced formulations of their type available. The last thing we want to do is scare off potential customers with technical jargon, hence our motto is simple – ‘bike cleaning made easy’.

Educating new or occasional riders about how easy it is to keep your bike in good condition could be a key factor in boosting cycling in 2009. By doing this, we can hopefully convert novice riders into repeat customers of not just maintenance products, but hardware, clothing and accessories – the whole lifestyle. The only way to do this is to ensure they enjoy riding their bikes from the very beginning.

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