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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence