Bicycle races: Manufacturers struggle to keep up with the boom

Riding a bike has become so popular that shops are running out. Susie Mesure caught up with the tribes of British converts to two-wheeled transport

Europe is running out of bikes thanks to a British cycling boom that has caught the world's biggest bike manufacturers on the hop.

Bike shops are struggling to meet demand, which has tripled in the past 12 months despite massive price hikes. And that was before yesterday's start of the Tour de France, usually an annual sales trigger for armchair cycling enthusiasts.

The bicycle bonanza, which saw annual sales surge more than 20 per cent in June, comes as the rest of the UK high street struggles, with retail sales tumbling. Two-wheeled commuters are fuelling the surge, as more people embrace pedal power instead of battling with the Tube or driving.

From besuited commuters on folding Bromptons to Lance Armstrong-wannabes on sporty road bikes, Britain, it seems, is dividing into cycling tribes. Even fashionistas are in on the scene, following the lead set by the likes of model Agyness Deyn and the actress Chloë Sevigny.

Business for bike shops is booming partly because of the good weather: bike sales track ice-cream sales when the mercury rises. But bike experts also point to the popularity of the Government's "Cycle to Work" scheme – which uses tax incentives to entice employees onto two wheels – to explain the sales surge. The scheme is estimated to account for as much as half of all sales in some bike shops. One of its biggest operators, Cyclescheme, said it had doubled the number of vouchers, which are exchanged for bikes, it issued in the past 12 months.

Mark Brown, director of the Association of Cycle Traders, said: "Cycle to Work has been really important as it reduces the cost of cycling and means it's no longer just for enthusiasts. It has reached a tipping point, which is getting more people on to their bikes."

If they can get hold of them, that is. Carlton Reid, executive editor of the trade magazine, BikeBiz, has warned that shops are running out of the most popular models, especially £500-plus road bikes and commuting-friendly hybrids. "They're running dry. There will be nothing left by August," he said.

The US brands Giant, Trek and Specialized are the worst affected, testament to their popularity with the new breed of two-wheeled commuter. Many shops are also low on certain British-made Ridgeback models, especially the £350 Ridgeback Velocity. Chris Compton, of London's Compton Cycles, has warned: "The shortage of road bikes and quality hybrid bikes is quite a problem, but there are gaps across the board."

Jeremy Persad, Cyclescheme's operations director, said: "Manufacturers are running out because they have been caught out by the expansion of the Cycle to Work initiative. More employers are turning to employee benefits like the bike scheme to incentivise staff because of the economic climate."

A recent ACT poll showed that 95 per cent of specialist bike retailers were struggling with shortages. Half of the local bike shops which respond to its monthly sales survey said sales, which include accessories and workshop servicing, had soared by over 20 per cent in June, with 83 per cent reporting an increase compared to last year.

"Europe is running out of bikes. There aren't enough to meet demand," one staff member at On Your Bike, a cycle shop in south-east London, said.

To plug the gaps, exacerbated by the long lead times that come with manufacturing in South-east Asia, dealers are pulling in stock from other European countries, with bike-makers bringing forward the launch of 2010 models normally in the shops in the autumn. But even these steps might not make up for last year's overcautious ordering, observers warn. There are even long waiting lists for bikes that are made in Britain.

Although the UK bike industry is a rare manufacturing success story, outperforming every other sector of the UK economy over the past five years except weapons production, we produces barely 5 per cent of the one million machines that Raleigh, our best-known bicycle maker, was producing in the 1950s.

One-gear wonder

Rafael Powell, 23, Musician

"This bike is a custom job. I had it made for me at a shop on Brick Lane. It's a fixed gear. People will tell you they get the Aerospoke because it makes you go fast. That's rubbish. They get it because it looks good. I think this bike says creativity. I thought long and hard about the colours."

Old-schooler

Viktoria Westin, 37, Gallery manager

"I ride a Swedish bike called a Kronan. It's based on a Swedish army design. It's safe, it's heavy, and it doesn't have any extra gears. It just goes. It's a proper bike, an old-fashioned kind of bike. You can't draw a sweat on a bike like this – it doesn't go fast enough. If a hill is just too steep, I simply get off and push."

Lance wannabe

Amire Fukuta, 29, Investment manager

"This is a Condor Fratello. I used to do triathlons, and when you're used to riding road bikes, you want something that gives you a little acceleration. There's always a competitive side to it, even when you're commuting. Sometimes I race people, but I tend to race cars."

Girl meets boy

Annick Benningen, 27, Interior designer

"I'm on a Pashley Classic. It belongs to my boyfriend. I ride to work and back, from Notting Hill to Soho – the bit through Hyde Park is beautiful. For me, riding has nothing to do with speed; it's just a much better way to experience the city."

Just like Dad

Matt Selby, 40, and daughter Liberty, 6, Casting director

"My bike's a Giant hybrid and we've just bought the Tag-A-Long. It's a safer way for Lib to ride and we can go further, too, although you can really tell when she's not peddling. I don't commute, but we take the whole family out for leisure – we often take the towpaths by the Thames. It's a nice way to spend a day out that's not based around shopping."

Unfold it and go

Les Spiro, 50, Software engineer

"I ride a Brompton: it's the best folding bike out there. It's not a proper bike, but it's quite light, so it can go quite fast. For my commute I used to have a bike at each end of my train journey and I had to worry about locking them up. Now I can just carry this with me to the office or to a meeting."

Cycling in numbers

£350m the value of the UK bike market

354m trips on National Cycle Network in 2007, up 5 per cent

12,000 total miles cobered by the NCN in Britain

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

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