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Organized rides, bike travel, tours offer opportunity to grow flat industry

Published November 6, 2015
Tim Blumenthal of PeopleForBikes and Chris Speyer of Accell North America were the keynote speakers Thursday morning

SAN DIEGO (BRAIN) -- Chris Speyer, CEO of Accell North America, told attendees at the National Bicycle Tourism conference Thursday morning that they play a major role in helping grow the pie in an otherwise stagnant bike market.

For the last decade, the number of bike units sold to specialty retailers has remained between 2.4 and 2.6 million, Speyer noted. “At the end of September, we’re showing a flat result compared to last year in terms of units sold in. We will maintain our consistency as an industry and we will sell between 2.4 and 2.6 million units,” he said. “When you have a pie that’s one size for a long time, on the wholesale side we’re fighting each other like crazy to acquire a bigger piece of the pie.”

A flat, no-growth market has created an environment where all the players -- suppliers, retailers and event organizers -- are engaged in what Speyer called hand-to-hand combat to increase sales and grow their marketshare instead of growing the overall pie.

“I think a lot of you are interested in growing the pie,” he said. “Your old habits don’t drive everything you do.”

Speyer said the bike industry has for years promoted a certain idea of cycling, drawing mostly upon images of suffering on a bike, and limited its reach to the general population by using words like “gnarly”, “huck” and “sufferfest” instead of telling a story of inclusiveness. Speyer showed photos of riders bleeding from a fall or wincing as they summit a long climb as examples of how riding is conveyed in cycling media.

“As an industry we’re failing,” he said. “We’ve lost track of what’s central to the experience of getting on a bike -- the fun and joy of getting on a bicycle.”

And he sees bike events and tours, whether single or multi-day adventure rides, charity rides, or self-guided or fully supported tours, as key to attracting new riders who remain largely untapped. “If you’re a tour operator, you have to target women, families and urban riders, and those who have lost access,” Speyer noted.

Speyer urged bicycle event and tour directors to embrace new opportunities and bicycle categories, like e-bikes and gravel bikes, which are making it easier for riders to access certain types of riding and terrain.

“E-bikes, gravel and all road all equate to access. They open things up for more people, think about including those in your planning,” Speyer said. “Look at one bike for all roads -- that trend is tremendous,” he added, describing a recent ride along a rail-trail in Canada called Le Petit Train du Nord that included stretches of paved and gravel roads and is a growing tourist destination.

Indeed, rides such as the popular RAGBRAI, which draws thousands, have incorporated dirt and gravel roads. Last year, RAGBRAI offered a gravel loop during one of the days of the weeklong ride, and ride director T.J. Juskiewicz said that will likely be included again next year.

Speyer also advised bicycle tour organizers to reach out to industry suppliers to find more ways to work together.

“It’s a great time to ask for support and assistance because all of us are looking for new ways to market products and new communities to talk to,” Speyer said. “When you do your presentation to a supplier on why you’re going to be a great partner, fun and diversity are critical messages they’re listening to. Talk about what you’re going to give them that’s new.”

Tim Blumenthal, president of PeopleForBikes, who joined Speyer as a keynote speaker Thursday morning, pointed to several trends that support a growing interest in adventure rides and bike touring.

“People want to accumulate experiences more than they want to accumulate stuff, and that’s a change,” he said. “And people want to ride with others. People want to be social. But the truth is, most people end up riding alone.”

Blumenthal also noted that in today’s connected digital world, where it’s nearly impossible to go off the grid, more and more people are looking to unplug and reboot. And many bike vacations, tours and rides provide the perfect setting to do just that.

The National Bicycle Tourism conference, which is being held at the Bahia Resort Hotel, ends Saturday with a morning ride.

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