The cost of cycling crisis – Have rising bike prices become a barrier to sales?

Rebecca Morley looks at the drastic change in the price of bikes over the last few years

This piece first appeared in the July edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Road bikes have seen their fair share of price rises over the years, with high-end models often costing thousands of pounds, particularly when brand new innovations and limited edition models are brought out. We’ve even seen some records broken in 2023 – such as the Colnago Gioiello Numero 1, which recently became the most expensive Colnago ever sold at a whopping 120,650 CHF (approximately £106,000).

The Colnago Gioiello Numero 1

Rising prices?

But what about the average prices of bikes? According to UK cycle industry trade body the Bicycle Association (BA), the price of a bike with the same or similar spec has increased quite widely, from around 10% to over 40% depending on the discipline and other factors, between 2019 and 2022. 

The BA’s head of insights John Worthington told BikeBiz that road bikes, like pretty much all bike categories, have seen big price increases over the past few years – average selling prices are over 50% up in 2023 to date compared to 2019.

“That’s an overall average though – there are quite wide discrepancies, and in general bikes at the upper end of the market have not tended to rise quite as much as lower-mid tier bikes,” explained Worthington.

“Overall average selling prices are still rising a bit – up about 3% this year to April compared to 2022 – but that may now partly reflect the fact that demand for entry-level products has fallen and higher-priced bikes account for a bigger share of the total sales mix than before.

“In general, prices have definitely become a barrier to sales growth – especially given the cost of living situation. That said, demand for higher-end road bikes is proving more resilient than the overall bike market which continues to struggle.”

But will prices still continue to rise for the foreseeable future? Or could we see a dip in the long or short term? In January of this year, Canyon announced that it had reduced the price of selected bicycles for UK consumers across its road, gravel, mountain and urban bike categories, saying that it’s committed to offering the best products at the best value.

And after a quick glance around some cycling retailers online, I found quite a few bikes across different disciplines actually being sold at a discount, with savings on road bikes typically ranging around 10%-25%, with some even having savings of up to 50%. These reductions reflect how many bike brands are now suffering from serious overstocking, following the sudden drop in demand for bikes, just as pandemic-delayed shipments of products are arriving on UK shores. 

On how road bikes are changing in price, Mark Rose, head of e-commerce at Balfe’s Bikes, noted that although RRP/SRPs have gone up in the last couple of years, the reality is that many bikes are being sold at a discount in the current market.

“We are focused on the viable deals we can offer, and these are being well received by our customers,” said Rose. “We are also seeing use of finance to spread payments, and use of Cycle to Work schemes is at an all-time high, which offers significant savings for customers.”

On the impact on the rest of the market, Rose said: “Our road demand is at the enthusiast level, so unlikely to be taking demand from other disciplines. The market has been awash with heavily discounted MTB hardtails and hybrids for some time.

“Demand was poor and there has been an oversupply, however that is starting to pick up again now the weather has improved and economic outlook has stabilised a bit.”

Moving forward

Bianchi’s ‘hyperbike’

The road market has also seen plenty of innovation in the past few years – including Bianchi’s Oltre platform led by the Oltre RC ‘hyperbike’, which caused quite a stir with its ‘F1-inspired air deflectors’, complemented by the Oltre Pro and Oltre models. Bianchi described the Oltre RC as setting a “new technological standard in the cycling world”, saying it started from scratch to create an unprecedented aero bike.

Available in six sizes, the Oltre’s suggested retail price starts from €5,400 (approximately £4,600), the Oltre Pro’s is €8,000 (approximately £6,800), and the Oltre RC is priced from €13,800 (approximately £11,800).

Last year also saw Cannondale launch its reimagined Synapse road bike and new SmartSense technology, aiming to make road cycling “more inviting and efficient than ever before”, with the Synapse ranging in price from £2,400 to £9,000.

SmartSense is an intelligent system of lights and radar that communicates with the rider, bike and surroundings, powered by a single battery. But this launch was met with a negative response from some within the cycling world, and Cannondale responded by saying that SmartSense is new and different, “so there’s always going to be a mix of reactions.”

“Technology and innovation moves things forward. I remember when you used to have to turn the lights on in a car when it got dark, or the wipers when it started to rain, and looking over your shoulder to reverse, but now updates to those actions fit seamlessly into our daily routine. Disc brakes are another example of an innovation that has become totally normal and accepted,” director of marketing Clive Gosling told Cycling Weekly. 

Read more: ‘The traditional customer is here to stay’ – Distributor focus with Oneway Bike

On how technology has evolved in the road bike market and what innovations are exciting at the moment, Balfe’s Bikes’ Mark Rose said it’s more about what their customers are looking for – also noting how disc brakes have become accepted relatively quickly, and are trickling down to accessible sub-£1,000 price points. The demand for electronic shifting is also growing steadily, Rose added.

So what could we expect to see for 2023? 

“Road is the one discipline that has remained relatively constant, and favourable year-on-year for many months,” said Rose. “We’d expect it to continue to outperform other categories this year.”

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