How LBSD provides a chance to get people back to cycling

Researchers have long concluded that the start of a new school year triggers a powerful sense of renewal in adults as well as children. For parents and pupils, the rituals of buying new uniforms, rucksacks, and schoolbooks beckon in a very literal sense of change. Even for those of us no longer governed by classrooms, the effect is very real. Changing weather and light; transitions in the UK from cricket to football or rugby, or in the US from the NBA to the NFL; the swapping of winter and summer duvets or wardrobes; all these things create a sense of newness at this time of the year.

It is apt then that in this strangest of years, cycling shops should be gearing up for Local Bike Shop Day, originally scheduled for May, and now, as lockdown conditions are generally but not universally easing, arriving instead with the new school year. Could there be a better moment to think about the renewal of the cycling industry?

Whereas retailers in other sports and leisure pursuits suffered dramatic declines in sales in the early months of the pandemic, sales of bikes, parts and accessories, apparel and services within the cycling sector blossomed.

While this boost in sales buoyed both the specialist and generalist sectors, it is worth pausing, as we celebrate Local Bike Shop Day, to recognise the efforts of IBDs over recent months. Although eventually allowed to remain open, IBDs had to run a gauntlet of challenges which threatened to depress sales. Staff illnesses, imperilled supply chains, social distancing restrictions, and consumer anxiety could all have taken a toll on bike shops and reversed some of the excellent progress we have seen. Instead, bike shops across the country rose to the challenge.

According to the Bicycle Association’s Cycling Market Data Service, powered by Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS), overall value sales across the IBD sector rose by 25% in the first half of 2020 with e-bikes, in particular, playing a significant role in driving the growth.

The challenge for IBDs is to keep the momentum going, but all the signs suggest that the conditions are there for the UK’s new affection for bikes to become a long-term partnership rather than a summer fling.

The Government bike repair scheme, despite a number of reported teething problems with payment processing, is introducing new prospective clients to IBDs. At the same time, investment is pouring into safer, more connected cycle routes, which remain the big barrier to growing cycling participation. According to the ECF’s COVID tracker, across the EU over 2,300 kilometres of cycling infrastructure has now been announced. Additional UK funding of €4.8 per person is towards the upper end of grants across the continent, comparable with France and Italy, if lower than Finland (€7.8 per person).

Such infrastructure will offer an alternative route back to offices as furlough schemes unwind and companies move staff back towards offices on a part-time or full times basis. SMS data already suggests, for example, that even with many office workers continuing to work remotely, the number of people cycling to work remains high, and is currently almost double what it was in June.

Even as low traffic networks change driving, walking and cycling conditions in cities, the new school year might offer the perfect time for returning pupils to think about going to school by bike.

Marc Anderman of SMS commented: “IBDs are the lifeblood of the UK cycling industry. It’s very exciting to be able to talk about extreme short-term growth, and it’s worth highlighting that cycling is one of the very few categories that have seen this. However, it’s arguably even more important to be seeing stable growth which has the potential to become a long-term trend. That’s what we see across the IBD sector when we look at the first half of 2020. The fact that new categories are driving growth suggests new cyclists buying bikes for commuting, leisure and exercise. That, combined with changes to infrastructure, provides a great degree of optimism for the future of the industry.”

If the story of autumn is that repetitive behaviour rapidly becomes habit-forming, isn’t that also true of research and the cycling industry? Starting a new school year at the same time for 16, 18, or 20+ years moulds us faster and more enduringly than we realise.

A good experience in an IBD encourages repeat visits. The same is true of good data, which can foster better decision making in the long-term.

The Market Data Service offers a powerful tool, one which is refreshed and renewed each month for suppliers, and one which, with regular use, can create powerful behavioural change for retailers, distributors and brands alike.

Sports Marketing Surveys is a specialist research agency with global reach and 35 years of experience. Its full range of quantitative and qualitative approaches provides comprehensive analysis in more than 100 sports. The resulting insight and strategic recommendations support some of the biggest brands, retailers, events, venues, federations and governing bodies around the globe to grow their
business and get closer to the people who matter.

The Bicycle Association is the national trade body for the UK cycling industry representing over 70 members. Its market data service now covers between 60-70% of retail cycling sales across nearly 700,000 products back to January 2018. For more information about the service, please see

To discuss how SMS can support you in the cycling industry, please contact

In other news...

‘What we’re doing is a new way of getting a bike’ – BikeFlex founders explain the subscription service

Former professional rider Russ Downing and his business partner Tim Hammond have been linking cycle …