Last night's BBC Panorama programme was one long advert for the practicalities of cycling. BBC economics reporter Stephanie Flanders was filmed cycling around the UK, with lots of bike-cam shots. She wore no special equipment, and looked quite at home on the bike. The full programme is available on demand over the internet.

Flanders goes Dutch

"I got on my bike and took a tour of [Chancellor Gordon] Brown’s Britain, trying to resist the temptation to talk about the ‘economic cycle,’" said Flanders.

Flanders wore a blouse, a skirt and flat shoes. No helmet, no sunglasses, no base layers or gilets.

On the one hand this lack of equipment could be seen as a negative for an industry which relies on sales of such items but the perception that ‘proper cycle gear’ has to be worn for every bicycle ride could be a disincentive for some would-be cyclists so the ‘normalisation’ of cycling, evident in last night’s programme, could be a good thing.

Flanders said the so-far flourishing British economy was a miracle "built not on investing, or exporting, but on a miraculous capacity to spend. Even the Treasury accepts that the consumer spending spree cannot keep the economy going forever, all the more so after the slowdown of the past year. The Bank of England would claim its part in the low inflation story. But it might also draw your attention to the declining price of a bike."

She cycled to Raleigh in Nottingham, "where they used to have a workforce of 10,000, and a factory the size of an aircraft hangar in the middle of town. Now they are on the outskirts, in a warehouse, with a workforce of around 200."

She interviewed Raleigh MD, Mark Goulthorp:

"Our lowest competitor is bringing in some Indian full spec mountain bike for forty quid…You know, [laughs] how can they do that? The thing will probably fall apart in about a minute flat, but that’s not the point really, is it? Some people will be put off by that, but it’s an expectation that bikes can be bought for that kind of value," said Gouldthorp.

Flanders asked him what difference sourcing from Asia made to the retail price of bikes.

"Singlest best indicator is that retail price of bikes pretty much stayed still for last twenty years…At the kind of specifiction of a bike Raleigh’s doing now for say £200 retail would have been £500 retail only five years ago. That has been a symptom of heavy competition, Far East sourcing, [and] fantastic economies to be derived in terms of labour and materials."

Flanders had a warning to impart: "Any given business can only outsource to China once. You get the big price drop the first year when you switch to Chinese imports. But the next year the price is the same. There’s a limit to how low the price of a bike…can go. And of course, there’s the soaring price of oil to add into the mix."

Streaming video of the broadcast requires Real Player or the Windows Media player. There’s two minutes of news and the weather forecast to scroll through before Panaroma starts.…/4280818.stm

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