Bicycle advertising: Pump up the cash

Two recent graduates are set to become big wheels in advertising. Rachel Shields finds a novel business idea

Tuesday 02 October 2007 00:00 BST

They are fun, they can get you from A to B, and they might even tone up your thighs, but bicycles will not make you rich. Especially not if you give them away to skint students and Third World countries. Or will they?

So this might not sound like much of a business plan, but two Welsh entrepreneurs are hoping to turn their hobby into their fortune this year, with the launch of the innovative cycle company, Unicycles.

Run by recent graduates James Paton and Daniel Jones, both 23, the business lends bicycles to Cardiff University students in exchange for a £20 deposit. It then sells the space between the crossbars as advertising space, and makes a tidy profit on it. It then gives the students £50 if they subsequently return their bicycles in a serviceable condition.

Just when you thought the scheme couldn't get any more brilliant, the duo decided to donate the used bicycles to charity at the end of the academic year, shipping them to Gambia as part of a project called Bicycles4Africa.

Jones, who studied business administration at Cardiff, explains how he stumbled upon the idea: "I've always loved cycling. I'd take my bicycle to lectures, to the gym, to meet friends, everywhere really.

"I had just graduated when I heard about a company in Amsterdam that gave bicycles to students for free by using them as advertising space. It seemed like a brilliant idea, and there was a definite gap in the market in Cardiff. There are loads of students, and the city is flat with a small centre, so it is easy to get around."

The pair then looked around for sponsors, and found no shortage of willing companies: firms such as Eversheds, Ernst & Young, Teach First and Cadbury were keen to snap up the opportunity to target hundreds of potential young employees.

"Basically, the bicycles are for undergraduates, and it's another way for companies to contact them, outside of the normal careers fairs," says Jones.

While some may be a little uncomfortable acting as advertisements for big city firms, it seems that hard-up students are lining up for the job.

Jones points out that the results of their market research were very favourable, insisting: "Undergraduates love free stuff. I was a student fairly recently, and I'd have jumped at the chance. Also, we have tried to steer clear of controversial brands like Nestlé and Gap, which some students might have had a problem with."

Any qualms the students might feel will no doubt be assuaged by company's charitable side, which has also pulled in sponsors. Unicycles have been working with a charity called Jole Rider that ships vast containers full of used bicycles to Africa before distributing them to secondary schools.

Many of these bicycles are destined for Gambia, where children walk 10 miles to school in the searing heat. The company also funds repairs and spare parts for the exported bicycles, to ensure that they are adequately maintained.

The motivation behind this is not entirely philanthropic, as Paton admits. "Many of the sponsors were attracted by the charitable aspects of our work, and we are happy to give something back; we aren't trying to be millionaires!"

Despite such protestations, the pair seem to be well on their way to success. Fifty bicycles will be loaned to Cardiff students in September, a number that will be increased after Christmas. The company then hopes to expand to other university cities next academic year, and already has its eye on some high-end institutions.

"Advertisers like the established ones, so we are looking at Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol..." says Paton, hinting that it won't be long before students across the country are pedalling his wares.

Jole Rider is at; Unicycles can be emailed at

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