Indoor cycling was a rapidly expanding sector even before the coronavirus pandemic, but could this discipline offer an insight into future cyclists? Alex Ballinger spoke with Wattbike CEO Richard Baker to find out
This piece first appeared in the February edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Indoor cycling is a Marmite issue for many. While advocates see the culmination of fitness, community, and technology, critics see turbo trainers and statics bikes as the antithesis of the cycling spirit.
Regardless of your personal view, the indoor market has been one of the fastest growing cycling
sectors, even before the coronavirus pandemic confined people around the world to their homes. But as the world emerged from the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, and as the cycling industry wave has peaked, what does the future of indoor cycling hold?
Richard Baker, CEO of British indoor trainer brand Wattbike, believes cyclists of the future will be very different from the traditional performance-based image we’re familiar with.
“I think the smaller growth area is in that core cycling, racing hardcore. I think that’s still going to grow, but it will be slow growth and you’ll get people feeding in and out.
“More generally I think we’re seeing people using cycling as a form of fitness. We’re now seeing a lot more of that in general fitness.
“What’s interesting now is you’ll get people that are doing multiple sportives, for example, or people riding for clubs, doing time trials, but still don’t classify themselves as cyclists. That’s been quite eye opening for me.”
This shift in cycling identity could partially be explained by the coronavirus pandemic, when many people in the UK turned to cycling to get their daily exercise, while many other activities were banned to prevent spread of the virus.
Baker, who has been CEO for the past 11 years, said Wattbike was growing even before the pandemic, and following the unprecedented cycling boom during Covid, the company continued to grow in 2022: “Pre-pandemic we were growing quite nicely, and I’m sure other brands were doing exactly the same.
“And then the pandemic just changed everything. Indoor cycling is still growing globally, and I think there’s still a long way to go. Things have levelled out a bit, and I don’t think we fully understand how much the pandemic pulled things forward. In another six to nine months we’ll start to understand. Then we’ll need new products as well, and new innovations to engage new people, while also having our minds on sustainability.”
Wattbike traditionally has two core customers for its static training bikes – performance road cyclists and commercial gyms, where its bikes are often used in spin classes or on the gym floor as cardio machines. Baker said that between 45- 50% of its customers first come into contact with the Wattbike brand via commercial gyms. He said: “[Gyms] almost become your shop face in a way, but it is a slightly different side of the business.”
The first Wattbike, the Pro/Trainer was launched in 2008, and was used by elite sports teams from across cycling, football and other sports. In 2012 the brand was adopted by a number of major gym providers, including Virgin Active and David Lloyd. Following the explosion of cycling as a result of the London 2012 Olympics, Wattbike began to focus on the core market of typically male, 35-55-year-old road cyclists.
This resulted in the development of the Wattbike Atom, a revolutionary home trainer catered to the performance cyclist, with built in power meter and connectivity with training apps like Zwift, which retails for £2,399 directly from Wattbike. While Wattbike has been tracking ahead of 2019, other cycling tech brands have not been so fortunate, with brands like Strava and Wahoo having to lay off staff in late 2022.
Baker said: “Even before the pandemic we were struggling to keep up with the sales that we had, then you add the pandemic on top of that. Then you try to catch up and scale up, then you’ve got this whiplash effect when it comes back down and you’re trying to slow inventory to the right amount of sales.
“We’ve definitely felt it. More stock soaks up cash, so you’ve got to be careful. We were lucky in the sense that we weren’t too big, because the bigger you get, the swings are much bigger. The whiplash is probably longer lasting than we realise, and there’s less support around for businesses. And it’s not just indoor cycling and tech, many sports apparel brands are in a similar place.”
So what next for the cycle tech industry? Baker believes data and community will become an increasingly important commodity in the cycling market: “I think people will want to get deeper into the data. I think that’s a quandary, with people quantifying what the data is, and what to do with that data that people are using.
“I think it’s clear the other thing is community. Zwift does a brilliant job of that, but there’s still plenty of people that don’t use it. People want to be part of a wider community, so I think there could be some opportunity for outside tech to come in, which could lead into a sort of metaverse [an immersive virtual reality world].”