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Dirk Sorenson: Back-Pedaling: Sales of children's bikes are slowing

Published May 23, 2019

Editor's note: Dirk Sorenson is the director of sports practice at The NPD Group, covering the bicycle, outdoor equipment, and team sports equipment categories.

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At the recent Bicycle Leadership Conference, cycling industry leaders found themselves discussing the decline in kids' cycling. Throughout the conference, three consistent themes emerged as potential causes for the decline:

  • Electronics – What kid these days isn't glued to his / her device?
  • Store closures – When giant toy stores start closing up shop, those who intend to purchase bikes for children are left with fewer options.
  • Price increases – As price tags on children's bikes rise, new purchase frequency starts to dwindle.

Following the conference, I dug in a bit more deeply to develop my own take on these trends:

Are kids really riding bikes less frequently because of screens? According to a recent participation study from the Outdoor Industry Association, children's participation in bike riding has declined 19 percent since 2007. Perhaps coincidentally, that is also the year Apple's iPhone came to market. As you think about reports we've all seen around children becoming less active, there could be a correlation.

According to The NPD Group's U.S. Retail Tracking data, retail closures may have also had some impact on kids' bikes sales this year. In fact, sales of kids' bikes for the combined holiday selling months of November and December 2018 were down 10 percent in units from the previous year. That's a notable decrease that may have been caused in part by consumer confusion regarding where to purchase given a store they've relied on for years was out of business.

Price increases may also be playing a role in decreased sales. Starting in March 2018, there was about a 5 percent increase in the average selling price of kids' bikes (children's and BMX) compared to the same month the previous year. During this time, monthly unit sales declined 13 percent on average compared to the same month the previous year. This trend has been evident every period since March. A potential cause of these increases is the reaction of bike manufacturers and retailers to talk of increased tariffs on steel (very commonly used to make kids' bikes) that started around that time.

So, do all of these factors spell the end of bike riding for kids? I don't think so. Each factor outlined above can be addressed by an engaged community of retailers and vendors who recognize and implement a few steps to overcome the challenges. We're going to have to embrace kids' reliance upon electronics and figure out a way to integrate them into the activity itself. Ideas here include activity tracking and gamification. The retail environment will eventually stabilize and new channels will emerge. And Santa, as well as parents, will find new places to buy bikes. Lastly, managing price points for kids' bikes regardless of international trade concerns should be top-of-mind for retailers and manufacturers that want to see kids – who will eventually comprise their adult purchasers – riding again.

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