Former professional rider Russ Downing and his business partner Tim Hammond have been linking cycle retailers together through a new business venture. Alex Ballinger hears more about BikeFlex and how it works.
This piece first appeared in the March edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Times are changing. From television to food, the way consumers pay for services is changing.
Subscription business models are ubiquitous in the modern world, and hire services are nothing new in the cycle trade.
But as the trade has begun to adopt more continuity payment methods, a number of brands are helping to carve out their place by offering flexible services for bike riders.
Enter BikeFlex, a new venture by former professional rider Russ Downing, entrepreneur Tim Hammond, and Olympic medal-winning track rider Ryan Owens.
BikeFlex, which recently rebranded from the name Ride Up, is a subscription service designed to give riders flexible access to premium road, gravel, and electric bikes.
What makes BikeFlex unique is that the brand partners with retailers across the country that also form part of the Cycle Espresso coffee network, also run by Downing and Hammond.
“We’ve been on a bit of a journey from Cycle Espresso,” Hammond told BikeBiz, “where we put together a network of cycle cafes. The initial idea was to make them cycle cafes that have a bit more to it – great coffee and a great community.
“So it’s been an evolution to add bikes into the mix. We’re only running one venture, which is Russ and I in partnership doing products for the cyclists, but using cycling cafes where you go and see them, pick them up, get your bike serviced, et cetera.”
The initial idea for the business is that cyclists would ride up (hence the original name) to their bike shop, trade in their old bike, and take out a subscription on a new bike.
But owing to the added hassle of the trade-in option, Hammond and Downing decided to shift the emphasis to the bike subscription access, resulting in the rebrand to BikeFlex.
If there are areas Downing knows inside out, it’s coffee and performance cycling.
Downing, along with his brother Dean, spent two decades as a professional rider on the road, competing with some iconic teams, including the British WorldTour outfit Sky ProCycling, and domestic squad JLT Condor, before his retirement in 2019.
While Downing had plenty planned for his retirement, the Covid-19 pandemic very quickly cleared his calendar: “I only retired in 2019, right on the edge of Covid, and I had so much planned – events, training camps, just still being out there. That rug got pulled and it was back to the drawing board.
“Myself and Tim felt that I’ve got a great following and have built a community online, so we wanted to hopefully convert some of those into customers.
“Tim’s got some great ideas on the business side, and I’m coming for my cyclist contacts. We’re working well together and it’s getting exciting.”
On Downing’s experience as a professional cyclist, Hammond added: “What they say in the start-up world is you need sector experience. Russ has deep sector knowledge, not just from riding bikes but from knowing so many people in the industry.
“There’s a lot of e-bikes start-ups right? A lot of people are doing bike subscriptions on e-bikes and fleets – none of them have any sector knowledge.
“We’re doing it properly. We want to help those brands open up a new channel. We’ve got some already, but they’re not all going to jump on day one. They’re going to look and see.
“So we’re the trailblazers.”
Cycle Espresso, the first part of the venture launched by Downing and Hammond, was established in January 2022, and is a network of coffee-loving cycle retailers and cafes, supported by an online Cycle Espresso map to help riders find these locations.
The company also offers bolt-on dealership packages to cycle cafes so they can earn new revenue streams from sales of home Rocket Espresso machines and cycle product lines without them having to hold stock or handle fulfilment, with support from Pro Espresso, the official UK distributor of Rocket espresso machines (also owned by Hammond).
Then last September, the pair launched BikeFlex, a bike subscription service that allows customers to pay a fixed-price on either six or 12 months contracts, for some very desirable bikes.
BikeFlex utilises the network of Cycle Espresso locations, offering Downing and Chris Ratcliff from specialist titanium bike brand Reilly showroom, pick-up, and servicing on the rented bikes.
At the time of writing there are 32 locations signed up to the BikeFlex servicing network.
Traditional bike subscriptions offer a flexible way of testing the waters of cycling for new riders, with many services geared particularly towards commuters, casual riders, and non-cyclists.
But with its range of mid-to-high-end road and gravel bikes, including models from British brands Orro and Reilly, along with Basso, BH, KTM and Cooper e-bikes, who is the target audience for BikeFlex?
“The new cyclist,” said Downing, “or the people who bought an £800 bike in lockdown and really enjoyed it, now they want to go up to the next level.
“One of the other areas we think it might be a great market for is parents with youngsters – 15-year-olds who might grow out of the bike in 12 months, so they can bring it back and move up [a size], or if they fall out of love with it. So there’s a few good channels we feel it can really work in.”
Hammond added: “I think a lot of people are looking at e-bikes, but they don’t necessarily want to go all out and own one – two and half grand is a lot to splash out.”
BikeFlex has also partnered with cycle-specific insurer Laka, to offer cover for its leased bikes, including race cover for competitive riders, offering a layer of reassurance to any new cyclists.
The brand doesn’t just offer bikes either, with cycling tech like Wahoo turbo trainers available on lease, along with payment plans for Assos apparel.
The next steps
There is plenty in the works for BikeFlex, according to Hammond and Downing, who in January launched a new flexible Cycle to Work option, allowing riders to lease a bike and pay via salary sacrifice.
The bike will be leased by the employee’s company, with the cost then deducted from the employee’s gross salary.
“There’s a lot of cycle to work schemes out there, but they’ve all got one major flaw, which is they want you to own the bike, or effectively pay for all of the bike,” said Hammond.
“What we’ve done is get rid of that – you’re going to lease the bike, pay much less, and then have the option to own it at the end, or hand it back. I think that’s going to be a huge opportunity because a lot of employers won’t stomach anything over a couple of grand to take out of other cash flow.”
BikeFlex is also looking for more partners, both retailers and bike manufacturers, to help expand the network, including an option to offer the leasing service through their own websites.
Hammond said: “What we’re doing is a new way of getting a bike – we definitely want more partners and we’re happy to work with them.”
To find out more about becoming a BikeFlex or Cycle Espresso partner, contact Russ Downing on 07969 339631 or email@example.com
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