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Fred Clements: Will bike shops serve the changing market?

Published October 28, 2014
A blog by NBDA executive director Fred Clements

Editor’s note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements’ previous blog posts can be read on

One of the most important metrics for bike shop success is store traffic. Living and breathing visitors are a necessary part of the retail business model for brick-and-mortar stores. Without them, retailers would be left trying to sell bikes to air, and that is very hard to do.

Getting people into the store is becoming a greater challenge, though. New research shows that consumer traffic at bike shops is declining across the board. While this is distressing news at first glance, there are also clear opportunities to reverse the trend. 

The 2014 American Bicyclist Study, conducted by the Gluskin Townley Group, examined the demographics of adults who are current owners of bicycles. The fieldwork was done in February 2014 representing the 2013 calendar year. Results were then balanced to the U.S. population based on the latest U.S. Census data.

The data shows that 26 million adults (age 18 and older) owned a bicycle in 2013, up 2.5 percent from 2011. That's the good news. The bad news is that most bike owners visited a bike shop at least once (51 percent) in 2011, but in 2013 the number fell to just 41 percent. The average number of visits fell from 3.98 in 2011 to 2.86 in 2013. 

More disturbing for the specialty industry is that the decline is not limited to one consumer segment of cyclists. It is affecting all groups, defined here in four clusters: Infrequents, Casuals, Moving Ups and Enthusiasts.

Infrequents are the least involved, representing 12.6 million people out of the 26 million adult bike owners in 2013 (ages 18 and older). In 2013, they rode an average of 7.9 miles in a warm-weather month and spent an average of $134.60 on their most recent bicycle. They visited bike shops one time in 2011 (the mean) and about the same in 2013. For the specialty industry they may be described as Wal-Mart customers. 84 percent didn’t visit a bike shop at all in 2013. 

Casuals, 5 million of them, rode an average of 19.6 miles in a warm-weather month and spent $275.07 on their last bicycle. They visited a bike shop an average of 2.16 times in 2011, but fewer than two times in 2013 (1.99).

Moving Ups, 4.3 million people, rode an average of 32.3 miles in a warm-weather month that year, and their last bike cost an average of $457.44. They visited bike shops four times in 2011 and 2.66 times in 2013. 

Enthusiasts numbered 3.8 million who rode an average 141.9 miles in a warm-weather month and spent an average of $1,231.37 on their last bicycle. They visited a shop 7.36 times in 2011 and just 5.34 times in 2013.

Store visits also declined across generations. 

The Silent Generation, approximate current ages 70 to 89, represented 5.1 million bike owners. Some 42 percent visited a bike shop at least once in 2011. In 2011, they visited a shop an average of 5.2 times; in 2013, it was just two times. 

Baby Boomers, ages 50 to 69, totaled 9.4 million bike owners, of which 47 percent visited a bike shop in 2011, but just 33 percent in 2013. The average number of visits was 4.3 in 2011 and 2.4 in 2013. 

Generation X, ages 30 to 49, was represented by 11.5 million bike owners in 2011 and 8.8 million in 2013. Sixty percent of Gen Xers visited a bike shop in 2011, an average of 4.3 times, compared with 46 percent visiting a shop in 2013 an average of 3.2 times.

Gen Y, ages 10 to 29, had 5.1 million people in 2011 and 5.3 million in 2013 (again, those 18 and older are included). Forty-two percent visited a bike shop an average of 5.2 times in 2011, compared with 52 percent visiting 2.96 times in 2013. 

Intent to buy a bike is also different by generation. Twenty-seven percent of Generation X planned to buy a new bike in 2014 (2,393,820 people), as did 29 percent of Generation Y (1,537,000 people). Only 10 percent of Baby Boomers planned to buy a new bike this year (948,700 people), and 5 percent of the Silent Generation (117,400 people). 

They’re also planning to buy used. Thirty-one percent of Gen Xers and 37 percent of Gen Y planned to buy used. The numbers for Boomers and Silents were 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Gender is another area in flux. In 2011, 48 percent of bike owners were females. Females became the majority in 2013, representing 51 percent, a growth of 871,000. 

The decline in female shop visits was greater than for males though. In 2011, 57 percent of females did not visit a bike shop. In 2013, the number was 62 percent. Females averaged 3.74 bike shops visits in 2011. That number fell by a full visit to 2.7 in 2013. Male shop visits fell by about half a visit, from 3.49 to 3.01.

There is also a trend favoring females by generation. The younger the generational group of bike owners, the more female it becomes. The Silent Generation of bike owners was 29 percent female, and Baby Boomers 41.6 percent. For Generations X and Y, females are 61 percent and 60 percent of the bike-owning population, respectively. 

Race is another changing demographic. Younger groups of bike owners are much more diverse than their elders. Whites represented 93 percent of bike owners of the Silent Generation, 91 percent of Baby Boomers, 83 percent Generation X and 72 percent Generation Y. The largest growth areas are among African-American and Hispanic people. 

Years ago demographer Brad Edmonson encouraged the bicycle industry to diversify. He said there’s no reason to ignore white Boomer males as long as they were active, but pointed out that they are on a timer. He said that the alarm will one day go off and that new types of customers will have to be cultivated and served.

That alarm is now ringing. There is no snooze button. It’s time to throw off the blankets, get up and greet the future.

Information on The American Bicyclist Study, including the Metro Urban Report, Used Bike Report and Path to Purchase report, is available from the Gluskin Townley Group, Our thanks to Jay Townley and Elliot Gluskin for permission to cite this data.


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