With competitive and commuter cycling both having a strong year in Ireland and Northern Ireland, BikeBiz examines the state of the market...

Regional Spotlight: Ireland and Northern Ireland’s cycle markets

In the space of two years, Ireland has seen larger numbers use cycling as their main transport.

The results of the Road Safety Authority survey also revealed last month that one in three people cycle in Dublin, attributed in part to the storming success of city hire bike scheme dublinbikes. While there is a slight fall in cycle numbers in general – which are down three per cent – there is much to be positive about when it comes to cycling not just in Ireland but also in Northern Ireland.

It’s hard to avoid talking about the barnstorming appearance of the Giro d’Italia last year, starting in Belfast and finishing in Dublin. We’ll explore in more depth the impact that has had on both territories in this feature. Off-road there’s the Northern Irish strategy to turn the nation into a true global MTB destination

Like over the Irish Sea, retail is fiercely competitive and there undeniable negatives too, not least the cancellation of the Dublin-set Irish Cycling Show.

UK-based distributor Paligap has an Irish sales rep – one Ricky Mckillen – who solely works in Ireland and Northern Ireland. According to Paligap this means it has a closer relationship with the Irish dealers and understand the Irish market more than most. In that case they are perfectly poised to tell us how the market has performed there: “2015 has been a rollercoaster of a year which saw a great start in both bike sales and general P&A, towards the middle and second half of the year sales slowed down and shops started to become extremely quiet,” McKillen tells BikeBiz. “Even with this slowdown the territory shows an increase of more than 15 per cent versus the same period in 2014 and in particular we have seen double digit figure growth of Marin Bicycle sales.”

Echoing the views of some bike shops in the country (see Retailer View, inset), the Paligap rep believes there’s plenty of retailers out there, keeping competition at a high: “There is a definite saturation of bike shops, especially in the South of Ireland. This along with the extreme fluctuation in currency and the lack of sunshine in the summer has all played a part in an unpredictable year. Online activity also comes with its difficulties with more and more consumers are purchasing from European online retailers and the direct to market brands.

“The majority of dealers do specialise solely in bikes, however – more so in the South of Ireland – over the last few years there has been an increasing number of businesses from other industries starting to sell bikes as a side line off the strength of the bike to work scheme.”

Another England-set distributor, Hertfordshire’s Fisher Outdoor Leisure, has recently changed its approach to Ireland and NI, as head of sales Martin Murray explains: “12 months ago we changed our route to market plans in to both Eire and NI and decided to go direct to dealer rather than through a sub wholesaler. It’s been well received by the dealers for all of the obvious service benefits you can imagine."

Cycle to work provider Cyclescheme has an Irish branch operating in the country, and tells BikeBiz that commuter cycling numbers are going up, backing those earlier figures from the Road Safety Authority. The firm said that since Cyclescheme.ie launched in 2009, uptake with clients has increased year-on-year.

Product manager Tracy O’Brien tells BikeBiz: “The average spend is €875, and from 2016, consumers will save between 29.5 per cent to 49.5 per cent on a new bike and/or cycling safety accessories. Cyclescheme is educating employees more on the necessity to buy the right allowable safety equipment to cover all seasons, and to especially purchase at least one good lock.”

Cyclescheme.ie works through local independent bike retailers and is partnered with over 280 indie bike shops nationwide. 

“This means the employees of our clients get the best possible service, knowledge, choice of bike and accessory brands, and aftercare service,” says O’Brien. “We also work with Cyclist.ie [the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network] to encourage better cycling infrastructure and cycling safety to break down barriers to entry.

“Many employees are eligible to take part in the scheme for a second time – those who made their initial application in 2009 and 2010 – which is excellent to see. It is great that Cyclescheme Ireland has got people cycling and is keeping them cycling!”

While road is predictably in ascendance, in Eire and NI too there is plenty of legs in mountain biking.

Fisher Outdoor Leisure’s Martin Murray elaborates: “The road cycling scene is historically strong in Ireland and continues to be a bigger part of the Irish market. Having said that, there are some very good MTB shops who capitalise on the close knit race and trail centre scenes and with events like Red Bull Foxhunt and the World Enduro series stopping off in Ireland it can only be good for helping to grow the MTB side of the market.”

Paligap’s Irish rep Ricky Mckillen goes further and says there’s an off-road resurgence: “It is predominantly a road market at the moment and there is a definite trend in certain areas that road bikes would occupy 70 per cent of bike floor space with the other 30 per cent being filled with hybrid and mountain bike. However the mountain bike scene is seeing another resurgence. There is so much more provision now for mountain biking with a number of official trail centres both North and South which are catering for every level of rider.

“Generally, the quality of rider is also on the up, we are now seeing local riders making it on a World level in different disciplines which will only generate more interest and recognition to the sport.”

This article was originally published in December’s BikeBiz mag as part of our Regional Spotlight on Ireland and Northern Ireland. You can read the whole issue online, for free. If you’re in the bicycle trade then you can get BikeBiz magazine through the post for free.

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