We’re selling lots of expensive bikes to the same few people. Should we be worried?

Does the n+1 syndrome mean boom or bust?

We’re all agreed: we want to sell more bikes. We also want to sell more expensive bikes (because quality costs and – from a consumer standpoint – quality lasts). But how many of the three million or so bike sales per year are going to the same people, building up a stable of bikes? We can discount the supermarket tat (the supermarkets do), let’s look just at sales of high-end bikes.

How much of the current boom, if that is what it is and not all are agreed on this, is due to a relatively small number of consumers buying two, three, four or more bikes? I’m almost a case in point, I have a portfolio of bicycles and can often ride four or more a day for very good, practical reasons. I say “almost” because I’m also an outlier in that I eat bikes for breakfast, owning lots of ‘em is part and parcel of what I do for a living.

There are folks out there who own more bikes than me and, no doubt, they are your best customers. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth etcetera. The classic 80/20 rule suggests you’ll sell more stuff to your top customers, but how sustainable is this model in the long run? If a sizeable part of the bike trade is relying on a small number of (ageing) individuals, and not a frothing, churning mass of newbies, could that fact chew our legs off, piranha-style, some way down the line?

Who cares, let’s take the money and run, some might say , while we’ve still got legs. For now, the omens look good, at least for high-end road cycling. Here are two emails and a tweet that show where we’re at. Wide-angle lens guru Steve Fleming takes gritty pix on Hardknott at the Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge. After this year’s event he tweeted: “I estimate that over £5 million worth [of bikes] rode past me! 2000 riders x £2500 average spend.” There are lots of British sportives, and now even themed ones, such as the L’Eroica Britannia. That trend doesn’t look in any way to have peaked.

Confirming cycling-is-the-new-golf, Highbullen Hotel, Golf and Country Club, “a luxurious estate in the heart of the North Devon countryside” has “launched a new cycling package – complete with bicycle butlers, hearty food and exceptional accommodation.” Yep, bicycle butlers. “The bicycle butlers are at hand to…clean bikes after a muddy day out on the road; so the only hard work that cyclists have to do is on the bikes themselves.” OK, “bike washer” might be more accurate than “bike butler” but, still, the fact a posh hotel is trying to attract the golf demographic with activity-based servants is telling.

And then there’s Etape Suisse, a new British company tapping into the sportive boom. “It is a new concept – Sportive Hospitality – in which participants can build networks and make new friends,” says a promo email. The first event is being staged in Scunthorpe. No, it’s not, it’s Davos in Switzerland. “Investment has come from high net-worth individuals – many involved in London’s financial services industry and themselves keen cyclists,” says a release for the business (the trips planned sound truly fantastic). After swanky Switzerland? The cash-soaked Middle East: “A winter schedule will be addressed by warmer weather locations such as Dubai.”

We’re riding a bike bubble at the moment. Bubbles burst; then what?

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