E-bikes are increasing in popularity in the UK, according to the latest Mintel research, which shows that an impressive 70,000 e-bikes were sold in the UK in 2018.
Over the past year there has been an estimated 8% increase in e-bike sales by volume, while sales by value climbed 15%. Although only 6% of cyclists currently own an e-bike, things are set to take off for these pedal-assisted bikes—14% of cyclists intend to buy one in the next 12 months, a rise from 11% in 2017. Overall, 45% of current cyclists say they would be interested in test-riding an e-bike, while 32% of ‘potential cyclists’ are also interested in trying one out.
E-bikes are also currently more popular among UK men: Male cyclists are four times (8%) more likely than female cyclists (2%) to own an e-bike. Among male cyclists aged 25-44, e-bike ownership has reached double-digit percentages (11%).
John Worthington, senior analyst, Mintel, says: “E-bikes are still in the ‘early adopter’ stage, their core customers most likely to be technophile men under 45. The challenge and opportunity for bike brands and retailers is to market the e-bike as something less ‘techy’ and more mainstream. The e-bike could be the catalyst for opening up cycling as a whole into a more mass participation activity, becoming far less dependent on its Lycra-clad image. The emergence of e-bike hire schemes is likely to provide a stimulus to the burgeoning e-bike market. For major retailers and dealers this is now the fastest-growing product. While some may be happy to rent, others will no doubt wish to acquire their own models. It is likely that many customers may delay purchasing an e-bike, waiting to see if prices come down. Current economic uncertainty may also cause would-be buyers to defer payment. While younger generations are far more sensitive to these economic pressures, those over 40 are more likely to spend in the £1,000+ category—which is what most e-bikes cost.”
While the e-bike is experiencing something of a revolution, there has been a definite slowdown in cycling participation. Just over a quarter (27%) of UK adults currently cycle, down from 29% in 2017. In fact, 2018 represents the third consecutive year of decline since 2015, when participation peaked at 38%. But there has been a two-percentage-point increase in cycle commuting—up to 29% in 2018, from 27% in 2017. Within the London area, the percentage of cyclists who commute by bike has risen by four percentage points to 34% in 2018, from 30% the previous year.
Among those who either do not cycle at all or do so only occasionally (less than weekly), 45% cite concerns about road safety as a deterrent. Meanwhile, a quarter of these consumers see the cost of buying/maintaining a bicycle as off-putting (24%); while 24% attribute lack of participation to poor fitness; and 20% say they do not cycle as they have no one to cycle with.
Mintel estimates that 2.5 million bicycles were sold in 2018, down -3.8% compared to 2017. Market value is estimated at £925 million in 2018, a slight rise of 1.6% from 2017. Overall, one in five (20%) cyclists purchased a bike for themselves in the past 12 months. While 46% of cyclists say they are interested in upgrading to a more premium bike, four in ten (40%) cyclists say they change or upgrade their bike less often now than in the past, rising to 47% of Millennials. A further 34% say they are putting off buying a new bike at the moment because of economic uncertainty.
“Whilst bike buyers are happy to pay a bit more, when upgrading, it seems more people are delaying purchases or upgrading less frequently—hence the decline in volume sales,” says Worthington. “Cycling ticks all of the right boxes on physical and mental health, pollution, congestion, and low-carbon sustainability, but there are few signs of growth and all stakeholders, public and commercial, will need to combine their collective energies if this potential is to be realized.”
Finally, at the performance cycling end of the market, there is a strong degree of interest in the new wave of smart trainers—tools used for connecting a bike to a laptop, tablet, or phone and training indoors, riding virtual courses, and competing with others. Some 30% of current cyclists either already own or would be interested in buying this kind of technology, meanwhile 9% of potential cyclists are also interested in buying a smart trainer.
“There has been a raft of recent product innovation in ‘smart trainers’ from leading brands,” Worthington adds. “Indoor cycling is a fast-growing area in which bike shops can play a role by holding product demonstrations. Cycling enthusiasts are likely to be attracted by the fitness and performance aspects, as well as the social and ‘gamified’ elements of friendly competition with other players. Smart trainers are generally aimed at the serious road bike user riding virtual Tour routes, but could also have an appeal to more casual users or those who are currently non-cyclists.”