Bicycles get into the fast lane
By Vishakha Talreja
Published: 30th Dec 2012 12:12:35 PM
In India, bicycles have traditionally been associated with milkmen, daily wage earners and newspaper vendors. Even though India is the second-largest producer of bicycles in the world, there’s always been significant prejudice in our cities against adults cycling for transport or pleasure. But that’s fast changing. Given the enhanced interest in the environment and the fitness fever sweeping the country, cycling is becoming the new fad of India’s deep-pocketed set. And with fancy cycles entering the market, it’s become uber-cool to be seen riding a bike, at least in the metros.
“People are becoming open to the idea of investing in a good bike. With the product range improving, cycling is being readily accepted even by youngsters who don’t want to be associated with anything that is uncool,” says Nalin Sinha, convener of Delhi Cycling Club, which has over 1000 members.
The Tour de India, presented by Hero Cycles and Godrej Eon this December, proved the point. The race was divided into three stages and was held in Mumbai, Srinagar and Delhi, with 84 cyclists from 54 countries taking part. There was no Indian among the top three finalists but the race saw plenty of public and celebrity participation. “With this event, we intend to change the perception of the masses towards cycling and create a cycle culture in India,” says Akil Khan, CEO of ID Sports, which organized the event.
India’s cycle manufacturers are only too happy to help. The Indian industry is pegged at Rs 6,600 crore and is dominated by Hero Cycles, TI, Avon Cycles and Atlas Cycles. Of the 17-million units produced annually, premium and fancy cycles account for only 400,000 units. That’s a tiny figure but the players say that’s where the future lies.
Compare the figures. While the overall cycle industry is growing at 3-4 per cent, the fancy cycles category is growing at around 10 per cent. “We have seen our sales grow by about 35 per cent, as more and more people take up cycling for health reasons and because it’s a green mode of transport,” says Ajit Gandhi, marketing head at Firefox India, which imports bikes and is the local dealer for American Trek bicycles. These bikes typically cost upward of `30,000; Firefox sells 5,000 units a month. Gandhi says the cycle industry in India is fast becoming like the auto industry, with ample options in terms of models and features. For instance, Firefox offers cycles that are foldable, light-weight and have gear options.
Foreign brands like the Italian Bianchi and American Schwinn are retailing their products in India too, through dealers spread across the country. Track and Trail, the retail unit of TI Cycles, is the franchise dealer of these foreign brands and has outlets in more than 50 cities in India. These cycles start at Rs 20,000 while the top models cost Rs 3 lakh.
Not to be left behind, India’s traditional players have got into the premium act too. Star manufacturer Hero Cycles launched its premium category Urban Trail, early this year, with as many as 18 models. Hero’s regular cycles cost between Rs 3,000 and Rs 10,000 while its premium category has products priced to Rs 1 lakh. Of the six million cycles that the company sells annually, only 20,000 are from the premium category. But still, Hero is hopeful. “In the mass market segment, we are the leader with over 45 per cent market share. But now, the dynamics are changing and the future of the cycle industry clearly lies in the premium and luxury segment. We responded accordingly and entered the segment with Urban Trail. We are now working to achieve the leadership position in this segment as well,” says managing director Pankaj Munjal, who is a cycling enthusiast himself.
Hero Cycles is not the only manufacturer in the premium game. Chennai-based TI Cycles, which has popular brands BSA and Hercules in its kitty, introduced its performance bike range Montra a year and a half ago. The cycles in this category are priced between Rs 14,000 and Rs 63,000. “The market is not very big for Montra in India as yet but sales are picking up. The `10,000-plus Hercules gear cycles are already selling like hot cakes,” says a company official who does not wish to be identified.
After the first edition of Tour De India, Ojas Desai, executive director of ID Sports, said, “Committed to drive participation and aiming to make cycling a national sport, Godrej Eon Tour de India in 2012 made its mark by connecting people through creativity, commerce, education and technology. Our next edition will see more locations, leading to hosting a world championship by 2020.”
The cycle companies are hoping that this enthusiasm will transmit itself to customers, despite the hike in duty from 10 per cent to 30 per cent on imported cycles in the last budget.
The Sunday Standard