When one mentions cycling - the vision that first comes to our minds is a man riding a traditional ‘black cycle’ in a narrow bylane of an Indian city. But it does not represent what cycling means to a lot of Indians. For years bicycles have indeed been seen as a means of transportation. Millions of Indians, especially blue-collar workers, use mass-produced black cycles to pedal to work every day.
In 2018, as per company data, India’s total cycling market size was USD 2,047 Mn, and it grew at a CAGR of 9.1 percent in the period 2012-2018. However, over the last decade, we have seen the contribution of black cycles drop to only 30-35 percent of overall sales.
A country that is already one of the largest bicycle markets and sells nearly 20 million bicycles every year, we are still way behind Europe, the USA, and China.
There is growing interest in exploring cycling with increasing disposable income, awareness about environmental impact, aspirations, and well, COVID-19! The pertinent question is, what is the future of this newfound cycling trend? Will people in this post-COVID ‘new normal’ see value in cycling as a lifestyle necessity rather than just a utility?
Covid-19: A catalyst
The pandemic sparked an all-new cycling trend worldwide. What was anticipated to impact the next ten years for the bicycle industry has already happened in the last six months.
As per a report by Expert Market Research, the global bicycle market, which attained a value of USD 54 billion in 2019, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.2 percent in the forecast period of 2020-2025 to reach a value of USD 68 billion by 2025.
The acceleration has been caused by the growing inclination towards both personal fitness and personal mobility. With restrictions on movement and access to gyms or sports arenas, people have taken up cycling as an alternate way of exercising. Social distancing norms and protection against the virus have further led to the use of personal modes of transportation, and cycles are coming up as a preferred choice as cities are facing traffic congestion and pollution issues.
We can already see the way pandemic has shifted mindsets. The adoption of cycling as a lifestyle has accelerated across age-groups. Manufacturers have been unable to meet the rising demand with supply restrictions.
Moreover, the conscious choice to include cycling as part of one’s lifestyle is motivated by greater awareness of its benefits to our ecosystem, so we can call it a greener choice.
A 2018 TERI report stated that India could save ₹27 billion in fuel and ₹241 billion due to reduced air pollution if 50 percent of two-wheeler and four-wheeler trips (within eight kilometers) are replaced with cycle journeys.
At a time when Indian cities are ranked high in the list of most polluted cities consistently, it is every individual’s responsibility to make that lifestyle choice that will impact our overall climate. Recently, the Supreme Court also issued an advisory that encourages everyone to start using bicycles in the wake of increasing pollution in our capital city.
There is also a strong awareness and a conscious choice to invest in one’s health. COVID-19 has further brought out the need to build a stronger immune system and eliminate our sedentary and digital lifestyles.
Studies show 87 percent of the children spend too much time on screens, out of which 30 percent are staring at screens for more than six hours daily. The lazy lifestyle is also adding to health problems - obesity.
Report (NCBI) suggests - the prevalence of overweight will more than double among Indian adults aged 20–69 years between 2010 and 2040, while the prevalence of obesity will triple. This is putting future working generations at risk. There is a pressing need for the adoption of an active lifestyle.
As an activity, cycling holds tons of benefits. It engages multiple body muscles and gives you the power to increase or decrease the intensity of the workout. It improves immunity, mobility, and cuts the risk of heart diseases and cancer. It is also a great way to maintain your mental well-being.
Cycling outdoors and exploring gives you an opportunity to process your thoughts and feelings and appreciate the present. Whether one is looking to do long-distance riding or explore cross-country cycling, brands are offering a cycle for every consumer need.
The broad categories that are scoring high in terms of demand with the Indian audience are Mountain bicycles, hybrids- for fitness, leisure, commuting, and road bicycles that support long-distance cyclists.
Challenges and Opportunities
All said and done; it is important for the manufacturers and Government to identify existing challenges if we want to see India as a nation that cycles.
Most Indians are not motivated enough to adopt cycling because they cannot identify with the benefits or the product is not the right fit. India is already one of the largest bicycle markets in the world but is significantly under-penetrated.
This is an opportunity. Customer service is currently limited to the discovery and buying stage. There clearly lies an immense opportunity to build a strong after-sales service for a product that a customer will own for at least 3-4 years until he/she outgrows it or wants to upgrade.
As a nation, we need to do more to solve infrastructural challenges like dedicated bicycle lanes and rider safety, ultimately bridging the existing gap between us and other cycling nations.
Government initiatives and policies like Delhi EV Policy and Smart Cities Mission that call for sustainable measures are building a market for e-bicycles in India.
With rising disposable incomes and being an environment-friendly and cheaper alternative to other modes of transportation, e-bicycles have a growing demand in tier-1 cities. Its widespread adoption will require brands to be innovative, performance and design-driven, price-point conscious, and the Government to work towards infrastructure services like charging ports and docking stations.
Change-makers and advocates of cycling in a city - the Bicycle Mayors in Bangalore, Baroda, Mumbai, Pune, Guwahati and other cities are contributing to the adoption of cycling as a culture in India. They are truly making an on-ground impact by acting as an interface between the cycling community and the Government to address safety and infrastructure-related issues.
Cycling in my mind is no longer just a means to an end; it is a much-needed evolution for adopting a more healthy, active and environmentally beneficial lifestyle. It’s an experience. The pandemic might have kick-started this cycling revolution in the world; it is our responsibility to prioritize our health and lifestyle and continue with it. I believe this will bring a positive change and impact the quality of lives, not just in India but across the world. So, to my question earlier, if this trend is here to stay, I believe that the behavioral change we are witnessing now is likely to become a permanent phenomenon.
--Yogendra Upadhyay is CEO – Bicycle Division, AlphaVector. The views expressed are personal.