by Thomas Underwood at Spokester
Despite the tragic events since the global pandemic hit, there has been one small silver lining to the cloud of the new normal. Biking is booming.
More and more families have been getting on their bikes, buying new bikes and getting in the great outdoors. But to understand this growth, we most first look at life before the pandemic.
Pre-Pandemic: Biking Uptick
According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s (OIA) annual Outdoor Participation Report, outdoor activities continued to grow in 2019. Camping, running, exercise, etc.—collectively, participation was up in all categories.
Biking was also already in a period of growth. Participation grew by 25% from 2007 to 2019. You can chop up the numbers all you want, but there are two demographics we should consider closely.
First, the kids. Even though youth outdoor participation overall is starting to slip, cycling interest is continuing to rise. Road, BMX, and mountain biking have been the most popular outdoor activities among the 6–17 bracket for years.
Then there’s the second, more counter-intuitive group: the non-outdoor enthusiasts. Biking is the preferred activity by people making $75k+ per year if/when they do take a break outside.
Add these two demographics together and it’s obvious to see how families would be getting on their bikes together. You have the growth in kids cycling, and the interest in individuals. So, with the kids getting into biking, and parents wanting to stay fit and let off some steam from their rat race week, what’s to come isn’t all that surprising.
If only they had an additional incentive to get some fresh air.
Pandemic: Biking Surge
“Unprecedented.” Cliché by now or not, that has been the response of just about any bicycle shop owner when asked about the past year. Bike and biking-equipment sales have soared since the onset of COVID-19. This wasn’t a slow burn—it was an explosion in every sense.
Retail sales in April 2020—just one month into the pandemic—were up 75% year over year for the indoor/outdoor bike industry. Fast-forward to June and sales were +63% YOY. But if you think that slight decline in growth was due to waning interest, think again.
To say demand exceeded supply would be a gross understatement. Two-wheelers flew off shelves faster than store owners could replace them, if they could. With factories shutting down globally, the supply chain essentially disappeared. I even remembering having a 2 month waiting list in summer for a new bike to be ordered.
The boom began with casual bikes. As they ran low, consumers drifted toward specialty categories. MTB sales were up 116% in June compared to 2019. Yes, people’s options had shrunk, but their interest in cycling had piqued.
With this growth in sales in the biking industry it is obvious evidence that more and more families have been getting on their bikes. But sales alone don’t tell the full story as there are various reasons for such a spike based on many different lifestyles:
- Fitness buffs need a way to stay in shape when gyms close
- Bike commuting is more socially-distanced than mass transit and less intimidating with fewer cars on the road
- Parents are looking for ways to stay active with their kids and can do this on bikes regardless of skill level
However, these reasons are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Psychology has got to be one of the biggest factors in playing a hand in getting everyone on their bikes. We’ve known for a while that cycling contributes to positive mental health. But, it provided a major release valve for pent-up pandemic stress among two-thirds of Americans, according to a study from Trek.
That’s not all Trek found. Half the country claims it will ride more often once life returns to normal.
Post-Pandemic: Maintaining the Silver Lining
Bike interest is high. The market is there. Manufacturers are back online. Vaccinations are in progress. Spring is on the way. The time, as they say, is ripe.
However, as the world begins to go back to some form of normality, with lockdowns being eased and reductions in social distancing, will this biking boom be sustained? Or will we see the return of old habits and prioritize the social events and other activities that once made up our free time? Will a return to old routines challenge the newfound time families have been spending together in the great outdoors?
Only time will tell. We hope that the tighter family bonds formed during this difficult time, and the newfound joy of biking that families, kids and individuals have all gained will be enough to continue the biking boom long beyond the pandemic and into the future.