Britain in a spin at two-wheel industry worth £3bn a year

With crowds and bike prices measured in tens of thousands, the Cycle Show is the hottest ticket in transport. Tom Peck rolls up


If victory at last weekend's world championships in Copenhagen marked the climb of Britain to the summit of professional cycling, then the sport's booming popularity among everyday riders is being sealed this weekend inside a giant room more used to celebrating four wheels.

Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre is this weekend opening its doors to the Cycle Show, an increasingly popular festival of bikes.

From Chris Hoy and Mark Cavendish, who won the road race in Copenhagen on Sunday, to Boris Johnson and the pop star Duffy in those Diet Coke ads, Britain has never had so many household-name cyclists, their appearance suddenly as commonplace on podia as in the wing mirror of the urban motorist.

A recent report by the London School of Economics estimated the value of cycling to the UK economy at £3bn. More than a million people started cycling last year, bringing the total number of regular riders to 13 million. More than 23,000 people work in cycling, contributing more than £600m to the economy in wages and taxes. Last year, more than £1.5bn was spent on bikes and another £850m on accessories.

The latest gleaming offering from Italian bike maker Pinarello catches plenty of admiring glances from the first of 30,000 bike fans expected to descend on Birmingham this weekend. It weighs in at a featherly 7kg but will put a £10,000 dent in your pocket, including around £3,000 just for the wheels. It will be on board one such Pinarello that, next July, Cavendish will pedal several times up Box Hill in Surrey, in and out of central London, and over the finish line at Hampton Court Palace in his bid to win Britain's first gold medal of the 2012 Olympics.

The success of Britain's elite cyclists is credited with fuelling the boom. Team GB won eight cycling gold medals at the Beijing Olympics and Cavendish became the first British cyclist to win the sprinters' green jersey at this year's Tour de France.

But increasingly that interest is filtering through to Birmingham and streets and B-roads across the country, which is beginning to adopt a cycling culture more common on the Continent.

"In Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, most European countries, in fact, cycling is part of the lifestyle," said Andrew Brabazon, the director of Cycle Show 2011, which has moved this year from its London base. "For a long time, the UK has lagged behind, but for a whole load of reasons – green reasons, health reasons – people are coming back to cycling who haven't done it for years and years."

Even would-be cyclists traditionally put off by the hassle of riding – or a fear of death – are being encouraged to take to two wheels by improvements on the road.

"The growth of cycling infrastructure is a major factor," Mr Brabazon said. "Cycle lanes, the Boris bikes, they are making cycling more high profile. I've been cycling to work in London for 10 years. A decade ago, the general consensus was that you must be mad. Now, it's normal."

Among the exhibitors peddling their wares this weekend – and hoping to cash in on the boom – is cycling coach Eddie Fletcher, whose task is also to convince this sceptical writer of the joys of bikes.

Fletcher spent eight years developing the Wattbike, a hi-tech exercise bike with a display showing how much power is exerted by each leg while pedalling. At £2,000, his creation is expensive, but such is the scale of the biking boom, he is now in talks with several gyms.

Although the sight of the sweaty, Lycra-clad cyclist commuter may occasionally turn the stomach of his work colleagues, recent research shows cyclists take fewer sick days on average than the rest of us.

Then there are the obvious benefits to the environment and, it would seem, the economy. It is 30 years since Norman, now Lord Tebbit, advised the unemployed to get on their bike and look for work. Perhaps he had a point after all.

There is more to the sport, too, than perhaps meets the eye.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam