The classic hub-and-spoke is surging ahead. A marked increase in awareness about the environment and fitness, has given a fillip to the bicycle industry. As Indian consumers pedal ahead, the industry is looking forward to a highly profitable future.
The arrival of Covid and the resultant lockdowns has prompted people to ride more. The country, which manufactures 18 million cycles per annum, is the world’s second-largest producer and is seeking a ramp-up in production figures.
“When I had started cycling as a hobby (12 years back), I would see very few people cycling. Now, it has picked up a lot and there are many cycling communities. Also, earlier, the events were organised in a few fixed destinations like Himachal Pradesh. Now you will find many cycling groups active in many pockets of our cities,” says Shankar Singh Bisht, a 43-year-old, who is head of training and operations at a company in Mumbai.
The escalation in demand has prompted major producers to push for more. Pankaj M. Munjal, chairman and managing director, HMC, a Hero Motors company, points out that the company used to produce 18,000 units daily before the pandemic—the figure now stands at 21,000.
The industry is anticipating a higher demand, especially if the third wave of Covid materialises. Siddhartha Vohra, who owns Kohinoor Cycle Store in Bandra West, Mumbai, says, “When the market opened after the first lockdown, we witnessed a huge spike in our sales. Earlier we used to sell 100-200 bicycles every day. This has now almost doubled.”
During the first phase of the lockdown, the spurt in demand led to shortage of supply. “But, the scenario has eased somewhat,” notes Sangram Singh, a retailer in Punjab.
According to rating agency Crisil, the country’s bicycle industry has jumped to a decadal-high demand growth of 20 per cent this fiscal. Sales are likely to touch 1.45 crore units, compared with 1.21 crore units recorded FY21.
Photo: Suresh K Pandey
Many in India are using cycles to move within small localities. “Riding helps not only with fitness and community building, it also helps us save on parking space and reduce traffic and pollution. Cycling has really picked up. In fact, high-end cycles are not available in shops. People are not only buying for the first time but are also upgrading their bikes. You need to book in advance and some models have a waiting period of 3-6 months,” says Vikram Dewan, 47, a Delhi-based entrepreneur, who has been riding for fitness for 6-7 years, and also belongs to a cycling group named ‘Avenue Cycling Network’. “Cycling is easy. It doesn’t need a huge investment. It can start with Rs 15,000-20,000, and the bike can take you places,” adds Dewan.
The enthusiasm is translating into higher sales for retailers. Virendra Sharma, owner of Sharma Cycle Store in Delhi, says the last few months’ sales figures are encouraging, especially because all product categories are surging ahead. “We always had a robust demand for children’s cycles. Now various other categories have registered considerable growth too. The renewed demand generated by the 21-45 years age group is the most noteworthy.”
Raghav Gupta, a corporate employee based in Chandigarh, says that the two cars owned by his family are still used, but the usage has reduced. “Due to constant escalation in fuel prices, there is additional burden on our monthly budget. I bought a bicycle to pare some of the strain on my pocket.” His wife Shalini Gupta adds: “After buying the bicycle, we have managed to save about Rs 10,000 a month on fuel.”
Hero’s Munjal says the company has witnessed a marked change in the demand for cycles since the pandemic hit. “We have seen a surge in demand for cycles in the past one-and-a-half years as more people have adopted cycling for health (reasons) and immunity building. The pandemic and lockdown have helped them realise the potential benefits of cycling,” he says, adding that demand is especially apparent in the premium mountain bike, e-cycles and kids’ segments.
However, a few issues remain. One is raw material. “We faced a shortage of raw material and components during the lockdowns. This brought to the fore the necessity to localise component manufacturing and reduce dependence on foreign supplies, and the bicycle sector needs government support to take this leap,” Munjal says.
Future Is In E-Bikes
Significantly, the electric bicycle market in India was valued at $1.02 million in 2020. This is supposed to reach $2.08 million by 2026 (Mordorintelligence.com), which represents a projected compounded annual growth rate of 12.69 per cent during the 2021-26 period.
E-bikes are proving to be a popular mode of transportation, especially for last-mile connectivity from, say, metro stations, and with local delivery of food, grocery etc.
Tushar Choudhary, founder and MD of e-bike company Motovolt Mobility, says there is an urgent need for smart transportation. “Our objective is to bring about a biking revolution, which will facilitate smart transportation. After Covid, people are trying to avoid shared vehicles and crowded public transportation. Commuters are moving towards self-mobility,” he says. The starting price range of the company’s products is Rs 27,000, which may appeal to office-goers, teenagers and others. The e-bikes are connected with facilities such as apps, maps and smart locks. Those who use e-bikes need to spend Rs 300-400 per month as maintenance cost.
The company, which at present clocks a monthly volume of 500-1,000 units notes that constant innovation holds the key to a brighter future.
Infrastructure Is The Key
The industry appreciates the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launching the India Cycles for Change (IC4C) challenge last year under the Smart Cities Mission, which included surveys, discussions, pop-up cycle lanes, open street events, cycle rallies, safer neighbourhoods, etc.
“Building the right infrastructure can play a key role in changing the perception towards cycling, especially in cities where motorised vehicles rule the roost. Historically, we have seen demand and usage for cycles grow with better and safer roads,” says Munjal.
“There has been a marked change in the cycling landscape in the 7 years that I have been cycling—from ‘why are these people doing it’ to ‘how can I join them’. Cyclists on the roads are seen not as urban commuters but as fitness enthusiasts. Cycles are also moving to high-end and individual specifications,” says Santanu Ghatak, a 36-year-old marketing and brand professional from Pune.
With increased demand, there is a need to bring in more options for buyers. “We’ve been working on bringing more innovative designs and range for each age group, be it standard/mass, fancy, premium, or super-premium/high-end segments that include mountain, hybrid/city and electric bikes,” says Munjal.
June, 2020 saw a sudden but notable demand for bicycles, says Onkar Singh Pahwa, managing director of Avon Cycles. “There was a spike. People came out from homes after a long time; as gyms were closed, they chose bicycles to move outdoors. There was considerable demand for standard cycles. The demand for geared and sports bicycles too has increased,” says Pahwa. He added that new designs will come to enhance consumer interest.
With environmental concerns and the need for staying healthy for on everyone’s mind, cycling has become an essential part of healthy living and smart transportation.
20% Growth in demand for cycles this fiscal. The highest in the decade Source: Crisil
5 billion Number of cycles in use worldwide by 2050. Globally, around 2 billion cycles are in use today Source: World Economic Forum
1.45 crore units Sales estimate for this financial year. Last year, 1.21 crore units were sold
$2.08 million Estimated size of India’s e-bike market by 2026. In 2020, the value was an estimated $1.02 million
12.69% Projected compounded annual growth rate for 2021-26 period
Factors Driving Up Cycle Sales
Health benefits Cycling clubs and groups are on the rise; with gyms shut during the lockdowns, people took to cycling
Environment protection Many people are choosing to use cycles for short distances to reduce vehicular pollution
Lockdown restrictions Cycle sales got a boost as at many places, cycles were allowed but not motor vehicles
Fuel prices High petrol and diesel prices are prompting people to use cycles for short distances
Improved infrastructure More cycling tracks, push for cycle-friendly roads, pop-up cycle lanes, safer neighbourhoods, open street events, cycle rallies, online campaigns
Subhalakshmi Dey is a Freelance Writer