James Moore: Is the cycling bourgeoisie ready for a new republic? Halfords thinks so

Outlook: Launched in 2008, Cycle Republic was actually Halfords’ second standalone bike brand alongside BikeHut.

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The Independent Online

Six years after Halfords had consigned it to the garage, Cycle Republic has a new lease of life and will soon be pedalling its way into London.

The format will be relaunched next year, in an attempt by the retailer to exploit the Capital’s bike boom. What’s that, I hear you ask? Something about Halfords already selling lots of bicycles and attendant kit?

Ah, but it doesn’t sell so much to the sort of upscale cyclist who favours fancy brands that come at fancy prices and offer the sort of margins that get City analysts drooling like a previous generation of children did over Raleigh Choppers, now also enjoying a new lease of life in a limited edition format costing £250.

At this point it’s worth taking a brief look at Cycle Republic’s choppy past. Launched in 2008, it was actually Halfords’ second standalone bike brand alongside BikeHut.

The latter was originally part of Halfords’ stores, often to be found on a mezzanine level. A rather halfhearted attempt had been made to turn it into a standalone store selling more expensive kit, but it never managed to unbolt its stabiliser wheels. Hence the launch of Cycle Republic.

Unfortunately it also struggled, and was canned after a few months. The idea had been to make Cycle Republic a sort of anti-chain, with the look and feel of one of the independent outlets beloved by serious cyclists. To do this it sought out friendly, knowledgable and enthusiastic staff to guide customers around its specialist range that was crammed so tightly into the shopfronts that they were sometimes hard to move around. Just like an independent cycle shop, then.

So why did the project get a puncture so quickly? It’s true the economy wasn’t as good then. And you could also wag a finger at Halfords’ previous management. Britain’s love affair with the bike was also less involved.

So, in theory, Cycle Republic is launching into a much more favourable environment. Here’s the problem. The sort of customers willing and able to pay up for premium product are also willing and able to pay up to visit independent retailers, especially when they offer the sort of service that chains inevitably struggle with. Even when they’re anti-chains.

There are a lot more middle classed cyclists around these days, and some of them might be tempted, especially if Cycle Republic can reel in a really big name exclusive design.

But the majority weren’t fooled by Cycle Republic last time around. Can they be fooled a second time? Its success might depend on that.

Waiting for the right time to float? Could be a long wait

 It was only a few months ago that companies caught at the end of the listing bonanza were struggling to find funds amid talk of flotation fatigue.

Now, it seems, the market is readying itself for another boom, with a host of companies preparing to stick their toes in the water in sectors ranging from banking, to roadside assistance to shoes.

Small wonder. The Scottish independence referendum might have ushered in a febrile political climate with fierce debate raging over English home-rule, not to mention the challenge of finding new settlements for Wales and Northern Ireland while ensuring that promises made to Scottish voters are kept.

Yet the current political cut and thrust represents a relative calm before the storm. In less than a year there will be a pivotal general election, whose outcome is almost impossible to predict, given the electorate’s unusual level of cynicism when combined with X factors such as Ukip plus the backwash from the Scottish poll.

That could be followed by another referendum on Europe, and a second on a new constitutional settlement.

Ultimately, business and the markets will have to get used to it because it’s going to be a fact of life for the short to medium term. And even against this backdrop companies will still find buyers if the price of their IPOs is right.

All the same, companies contemplating listing in London at some point within the next two to three years might be advised to strike while the iron is hot.

Bumping up the minimum wage won’t fix the problem

 Ed Miliband’s pledge of an £8 an hour minimum wage smacks of a handy figure with which to capture a few headlines, a depressingly familiar stunt at Westminster.

After all, it will rise to £7 next year, and could easily reach Mr Miliband’s favoured figure within the next Parliament (as he has promised) under the existing framework through which the Low Pay Commission recommends the rate. 

Not that this prevented the usual ding-dong about whether Mr Miliband’s rate would cost jobs, or whether his aims wouldn’t be better achieved by cutting taxes for those on low incomes.

A more grown-up discussion might have centred on whether to apply differential rates to different areas of the country. The rate has already been eaten away at by inflation and is arguably much too low in London and the South East.

By contrast it might be preventing the creation of new jobs in more depressed areas such as the North East of England, where they are desperately needed.

Once the concept of differential rates has been established, it might then be time to move on to a discussion about enforcement. And about why the number of prosecutions for those seeking to ignore it is so woefully low.

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