Wheels are turning again for bicycle companies

When rep-resentatives from the UK bicycle industry gather today for their annual conference, they will have much to encourage them. The continuing interest in health and fitness, allied to the growing concern for the environment, is boosting sales. Cycling has even become trendy enough to have an exhibition devoted to it at London's Design Museum.

Nevertheless, a huge question hangs over this gathering in the Midlands. Is the industry that gave us such names as Dawes, Claud Butler and Raleigh going the way of the UK automobile business? Or can it rebound from decline to capitalise on the individual designers and engineers hired by foreign bicycle manufacturers?

There are some promising straws in the wind. Raleigh, the most venerable UK brand which for the past decade has been owned by Derby International of the US, is rumoured to be on the verge of being sold, possibly to a UK buyer, while Dawes is reported to be returning to British hands via a management buy-out from the ATAG company of the Netherlands.

Still, overseas companies have made big inroads into the UK bike market - which has aggregate sales of 2 million units a year - particularly in the well-publicised mountain bike sector. As a consequence, domestic companies tend to find themselves struggling to compete at the cheaper end of the market.

One response, according to Jim McGurn, editor of Encycleopedia and other specialist cycling magazines, is for British companies to fight their way upmarket again - to produce tandems, trailers, transporters and other products where it is possible to be innovative and distinctive. "The mass market is already lost to China and Taiwan, so what we need is clever ideas," he says.

Certainly, the country has the people to build such an industry. For example Andrew Ritchie, inventor of the revolutionary Brompton folding bicycle, is based in west London, while Pace, the maker of some of the most highly-regarded components in the mountain biking business, is based in Yorkshire. Many, however, are working for overseas manufacturers. Mike Burrows, designer of Chris Boardman's Olympic-winning racer, is one. Jon Whyte (see panel), the Formula 1 engineer-turned-bike designer, is another.

One company that appears to be heeding Mr McGurn's advice is Tandem. Second to Raleigh in terms of market share and owner of such brands as Townsend and Falcon, it has been having a tough time - though interim results showed last year's loss of pounds 3.5m reduced to pounds 200,000.

Robin Bromley-Martin, chief executive of Tandem, is pushing his company upmarket into the area of what are termed "trekk- ing-type bikes" - cycles that incorporate many of the features introduced by mountain bikes, but also have such refinements as mudguards and more comfortable saddles. This way, he feels, it will benefit from what is perceived to be a substantial market for family cycling.

Mr Bromley-Martin claims the sector is growing by 15 to 20 per cent a year, largely a result of the enthusiasm for mountain biking. Often regarded as a fashion accessory for well-off urbanites, the mountain bike has made a form of transport that was largely the preserve of the poor or worthy exciting enough to attract the likes of Mr Whyte, as well as product design companies such as Ideo.

Though the perception is that the British cycle business is a cottage industry, elsewhere it the industry is taking on the characteristics of a global business. Giant announced plans for a US factory on top of the Netherlands facility where it expects to make 100,000 cycles a year. David Collins of the Bicycle Association believes cycling is indeed becoming a global industry - US companies are almost as prominent in Britain as they are at home.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas