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Opinion: Growing the industry by the numbers

Published June 21, 2019

By Bernie Doering, the chair of the BPSA Statistics Committee and the senior vice president of global sales and marketing at Stages Cycling, and Jennifer Boldry, Ph.D., the director of research for PeopleForBikes.

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The bike industry produces more numbers than wheel sizes — and that’s a lot. Given that, it is kind of amazing that we still face so many basic unanswered questions: How big is the bike industry? How many bikes do we sell? How many people ride bikes? And maybe the most important question — what does it all mean for the future of our industry and our companies?

Ray Keener’s recent Bicycle Retailer & Industry News column about the size of the bike industry is a great example. In it he advocates for the industry to claim $88 billion in economic impact. He notes that NPD/BPSA estimate annual retail sales of bikes, gear, and service at around $6 billion. Ray’s point that bigger numbers are better in some contexts is valid but the discrepancy between $88 and $6 billion may cause some head scratching. Why is there such a big difference between the two numbers?

NPD/BPSA uses direct data feeds from point of sale systems to track the number and value of bikes, accessories, parts, shop services, and helmets/footwear/gloves sold through retail. Channels include independent bike dealers, big box retailers, online, and sporting goods specialty.

The Outdoor Industry Association commissions a market research firm to conduct a survey in which Americans report how much they spend on bicycling including travel-related expenses. The tourism component is important because it represents 85% of the total estimated $88 billion that Americans spend on bicycling — NPD/BPSA doesn’t capture travel-related spending.

So which number should we use? The short answer is both. If you are talking with your mayor to showcase the power of the bicycle industry, use the number that includes as much economic impact as we can measure — the OIA number. But if you are a supplier or a retailer looking to grow your business, the tourism number may not help you much. You need to know what types of bikes are selling and how much they are selling for. In that case, the NPD/BPSA data is most useful.

Circling back to the beginning, the challenge isn’t really that we have multiple numbers; it is that no one has had the time or resources to connect all the dots and help us understand what is happening in the bike industry, why it is happening, and most importantly, what to do with that information. Today, help is on the way.

The merger of the BPSA and the PeopleForBikes Coalition means, among other things, that the former BPSA Statistics Committee will have an explicit mandate to expand its scope beyond monthly reports of the NPD/BPSA data. The new Research and Statistics Committee will work to combine multiple data sources, conduct new research, and provide the industry with actionable insights based on all of the information we have at hand. Our goal is to look forward and provide the industry with tools to make grounded decisions.

If you think that sounds like a lot of work, you’re right and we need your help. Tell us what you want/need to know about that industry.

You can take the survey at peopleforbikes.org/data-topics-2019. The survey will remain open until June 28. 

It is an exciting time and we look forward to working together for a healthy and growing bike industry!

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