Imagine youre a medium sized importer of mid-range bikes and you want a bit of extended credit. You go to your bank manager and in order to benchmark your turnover youre asked for the value of the bike market. What do you say?

How big is the bike market?

If youre British you mumble a bit and then give an educated guess. If you were Italian or French you could reel off a whole load of statistics and would know your exact place in the pecking order. Thats because those two countries have compulsory government-funded market monitoring units.

In the UK asking a company how many bikes they produce and sell is like pulling teeth.

Two years ago the Bicycle Association started paying for a members-only data collection service run by Mintel. Sales and production figures were sent to Mintel who then collated the results and fed them back to the contributors. These stats were never made public.

However, because the Mintel data collection was voluntary too many big brands either refused to play ball or were very slow in submitting their figures. This led to the BA suspending the Mintel service last week because the market research company wasnt being given enough solid data to make it worthwhile keeping the service going.

For instance, in the latest collation sent to BA members at the weekend the number of bikes produced in the UK in 1999 was said to be 1.5 million. This is nearly a million out from the more realistic figure of 2.3 million!

Cumulative sales of bicycle units by distributor, 1999

IBD Multiples Mail Order Other

January 34,713 3,948 3,755 2,700

February 72,298 29,402 8,493 4,299

March 124,137 76,770 16,253 6,778

April 187,768 110,144 26,352 10,302

May 249,486 151,290 37,971 13,283

June 317,657 201,497 52,482 17,778

July 392,373 265,251 66,684 24,607

August 451,028 315,582 79,190 30,393

September 521,911 361,991 86,658 35,635

October 599,038 417,897 105,316 43,766

November 655,725 529,810 133,270 53,786

December 712,412 580,941 150,658 66,186

Source: Mintel/Bicycle manufacturers

The lost million is made up of companies such as Magna and Concept and others, who did not supply their figures to Mintel.

The Mintel report also gives a monetary value to the bike trade but this is skewed for the same reasons as the production totals.

So, the best yardstick weve got for measuring the size of the industry is Halfords.

In the Boots The Chemists Annual Company report released on 1st June (and carried on this website on the same day) it was revealed that the Halfords turnover in 1999 was £457m. Of this 23 percent £105m was for cycles and accessories

Halfords believe they have 33 percent of the UK bicycle market although some commentators put their share at closer to 25 percent. If its this lower figure the UK bicycle market is worth four times £105m ie £420m. This is pure sales. Add in another, say, £100m for servicing and repairs and the bike market is turning over approximately £520m a year.

Shame its approximate but its the best weve got. Anybody with better inside information than ours is welcome to either agree with, or dispute, our figures.

Without accurate market stats its difficult to measure how the industry is doing as a whole. The BA estimates that the market grew by 4 percent in 1999. Halfords did better than this at 7.7 percent growth and many IBDs and suppliers did even better.

But to benchmark performance we need accurate stats, not guesses.

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