MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) — It’s called DRAFT, and PeopleForBikes had the idea for it about two years ago. The first one was held in Denver and drew 95 people. DRAFT brings together people to talk bikes and build community while enjoying craft beer.
“We studied other successful industries — tech, craft beer, natural foods, the marijuana industry — and asked what are they doing in the entrepreneur space for incubators, mentor programs and community gatherings to foster collaboration and peer-to-peer education,” said Jenn Dice, VP business network for PeopleForBikes. “We stole the play from a lot of other industries to create these meet-ups.
“We discovered people are hungry for community, connection and engagement,” she added, noting how from 95 people, most DRAFT meet-ups now draw around 200 to 300 people from local communities. More than a dozen cities have hosted a DRAFT.
Dice brought the concept to the Bicycle Leadership Conference on Thursday afternoon. Five industry leaders had five minutes each to present five ideas for getting more and new people on bikes. Here’s the skinny on their idea.
1. Leveraging indoor cycling to grow the Life Time cycling club
Kimo Seymour, president of Life Time Fitness Events, talked about how Life Time Fitness has expanded beyond its 120 cycling studios and 6,500 spin bikes to host successful competitive bike racing events outdoors. Think Leadville, Life Time Tri, Chicago Half Marathon. It has taken its indoor cycling club outdoors through clubs that meet twice weekly for rides. And also expanded its services with endurance coaching.
By expanding into events, outside group rides, coaching and structured indoor spin training, Life Time has grown its membership to 1.8 million and created a “modern-day country club.”
“We start with indoor cycle, take them outdoors with Life Time Cycle, get into endurance coaching and through events, and back into indoors with spin classes,” said Seymour. “Our goal is to create an ecosystem, a community around cycling in and outside of our clubs.”
2. Unifying to bring more riders into the fold
Huffy Bicycles sold more than 700,000 cruisers last year. The brand has been highly successful drawing new participants at an entry-level price point in the mass channel. But Bill Smith, president and CEO of Huffy, pointed to nearly 3,000 general retail store closings since June 2016. And he expects the retail channel to contract further as it rights itself.
The number of IBDS has also shrunk, and the number of bikes sold through mass and IBDs has remained largely flat for the past three decades, he said.
Smith pointed to many challenges and disruptions that don’t bode well for the industry’s future including a shrinking enthusiast customer segment, Americans’ sedentary lifestyles, lack of riding infrastructure, a fearful parenting culture (who don’t allow kids to ride bikes), and disruptive media technology. “If you think you can run your business the same way you’re running it today and you haven’t taken media technology and mobile phone into the business model, you may end up being a statistic,” he said. “We need to embrace that technology and all that entails.”
Smith asked the industry to tell its story, get more kids on bikes, get more recreational riders on bikes and to work together as a cycling community.
“Our sport is challenged, but we have one consumer,” Smith said. “We are not the same, sure. But we need to think of ourselves as one inseparable market. We need to work as one industry. We are an entry point to the business. But we have one consumer, one continuum, one industry."
3. The rise of the e-bike
Rob Trester, division manager for Yamaha, is bullish about the future of e-bikes in the U.S.
“I believe there will be double-digit growth for an extended period of time in the e-bike market,” he said. “No one can ignore that type of growth. Double-digit growth doesn’t come along really often. It’s maybe every 20 to 30 years where you’re able to see a segment get this high.”
Pointing to the opening of e-bike-only shops, e-MTB racing at this week’s Sea Otter, and moms who are taking their kids to school on electric-powered cargo bikes, Trester said the industry must prepare to embrace the category to help their businesses grow.
“Think of the U.S. bike customer and what it might be in the future,” he said. “Traditional bike categories are being covered by e-bikes in every area.”
4. Creating a #bikelife movement
SE Bikes’ Todd Lyons saw an opportunity to offer old-time BMXers a retro-style bike for them to relive their youth and get back into BMX. But never did he think that these products would bring an entirely new demographic of inner-city kids to the brand, who were drawn to SE’s wildly colored and big-wheeled BMX bikes.
It started organically with a social media influencer posting photos of himself doing wheelies as he led “ride-outs.” Now it has grown into the #bikelife movement, with mass ride-outs in large urban city centers.
“We thought, ‘We can sit by and watch it happen or embrace it and be part of it.’ It’s been a wildly fun and successful ride ever since,” said Lyons.
For SE that has resulted in a tripling of sales of its 26-inch So Cal Flyer and 29-inch Big Ripper models. And the company is soon launching a dedicated line of #bikelife bikes. SE has collaborated with influencers outside of the industry to spread the word on #bikelife, and is bringing youth and diversity into BMX.
5. The bike travel and touring opportunity
Today it’s more about selling the cycling experience than selling cycling product. And travel companies are seeing this trend play out. Trek Travel hosts 7,000 riders every year who book and participate in its cycling vacations, which span three continents and 25 countries.
Trek Travel offers more than 60 itineraries to suit all types of riders, from roadies, to mountain bikers, to a growing number of e-bike riders. The company also hosts several custom trips.
According to Tania Burke, president of Trek Travel, there are some 16,000 active-travel companies in the U.S. And of those about 45 percent of their business comes from bicycle tourism. And 56 percent of growth in bike tourism is from new customers, she said, citing an Adventure Travel Association survey.
“We’re no longer in the business of selling products, we’re in the business of selling experiences,” she said. “What are you doing to create great experiences?”