I got into cycling through my dad. I vividly remember going to the Canberra Centre, buying an ice cream and rushing up the escalator to watch him sprint for race honours on London Circuit in the Australian Masters Criterium Championships. He won, but more importantly I dropped my ice cream on the escalator. It was a whole thing.
Something else I did with my dad was visit bike shops. I remember following him around the iconic Clarence Street Cyclery in Sydney's CBD. Founded in 1975, Clarence Street Cyclery was the gold standard of bike shops in Australia. It won Best Bicycle Retailer in NSW multiple times. You could find anything you wanted at Clarence Street, and many things you had never heard of. So, when I had a conversation with an Executive from Trek who remarked they were opening a store on Clarence Street in Sydney, it felt a bit like I'd dropped my ice-cream on the escalator again. They weren't actually opening a store; they were taking over the iconic shop I grew up visiting. A recent trip to Sydney confirmed that now, all you will find on Clarence Street, is Trek
What's the point? Major brands like Trek have come to dominate the cycling industry and cyclists are losing because of it.
Over the last two decades the cycling industry has witnessed a shift in dynamics, with large bike brands being primarily responsible. While these global brands bring positives to the market, their approach to obtaining dominance and the absence of effort in supporting local clubs and communities raises serious concerns about the survival of local bike shops, community events and National level racing in Australian and American communities. In this article, I discuss the factors contributing to this trend and its potential implications.
The Rise of Global Bike Brands and Challenges Faced by Local Bike Shops:
Prominent bicycle manufacturers like Trek have cunningly orchestrated their ascent to significant market share, and a handful of brands now command over half of all bike sales. Their success, however, stems from a series of tactics that exploit their market dominance, ultimately having the effect of disadvantaging smaller businesses and reducing consumer choices. These tactics include:
Exclusivity Agreements: Large brands incorporate restrictive clauses, dictating which brands smaller bike shops are permitted to carry alongside their own. This strategy not only limits consumer options but consolidates the dominance of major brands within these shops.
Financial Hurdles: By imposing substantial minimum order quantities, major brands create financial barriers for small- and medium-sized bike shops, deliberately hindering their ability to diversify their product offerings and forcing reliance on the dominant brand.
Online Monopoly: Major brands strategically restrict the availability of stock to physical stores while channelling a significant portion of sales through their websites. This calculated move aims to diminish the profit of local stores and further drive online sales.
- Global Exploitation and Predatory Pricing: The establishment of competing stores globally serves as a tool for major brands to exploit their extensive presence, resulting in aggressive price reductions that undermine local bike stores. This predatory pricing strategy seeks to eliminate competitors and solidify market dominance.
As a consequence of these tactics, major bike brands have unabashedly inflated their prices by approximately 26% since 2019. Moreover, these manoeuvres create significant barriers for new entrants, eroding the diversity of options available to the cycling community and reinforcing the stranglehold of these industry giants on the market (Road.cc & The Bicycle Association).
The Impact on Australian and American Communities:
Bike shops were once the heartbeat of local cycling ecosystems, holding a unique place in the journey of cyclists. Personally, my introduction to sponsored bikes began at my local bike shop.
I still remember the moment when, after dropping off my bike for a service, the team at the shop surprised me with the announcement that the newly upgraded bike was now mine. I went on to ride that bike in the U19 Junior World Championships in South Africa and in my first season in Europe. Without the support and generosity of my local, I might never have progressed on the path that led to becoming the winningest female cyclist in Australian history.
Local bike shops are more than retail outlets; they are hubs of practical coordination and community. From organising events to facilitating group rides, races, and providing essential services, expertise, and advice, these shops played a crucial role in sustaining vibrant cycling communities.
The decline of local bike shops carries implications that extend far beyond retail, especially for communities in Australia and America. Their absence poses a significant loss to the fabric of the cycling community and as these local shops grapple with escalating challenges, the cycling culture within communities is facing a decline. The financial support available for local clubs, rides, races, and teams is diminishing, with both Australia and America witnessing the repercussions in their struggles to establish and maintain a cohesive national racing identity.
A striking example is evident in the Australian National Road Series (NRS), comprising 18 teams across genders. Despite major bike brands, such as Giant, LIV, Trek, Scott, Cannondale, and Specialized, contributing significantly to the closure or consolidation of more than 40% of specialty bike shops during the 2000s, these brands support only three NRS teams. This underscores a disconcerting gap in the practical effort, local coordination, financial support and consistent commitment once provided by local bike shops and the efforts of the major brands that have now removed them from the cycling landscape.
A Devious Agenda:
These deliberate and aggressive growth strategies pursued by major bike brands mirror patterns seen in other industries where giants like Home Depot, Bunnings, Starbucks, Walmart, Amazon, and others have systematically displaced competitors.
Unlike other industry shifts, these large enterprise bike brands don't provide a diverse range of products and brands; they make it so the only products available are their products. Affordability isn't a priority either, as evidenced by a significant price hike of approximately 26% over the past four years. This is driving a shift in the cycling community that is making it one of the least accessible communities, and sports, in the world.
These brands are intentionally dismantling local businesses that have long been integral to our communities and the absence of services once provided by local shops is creating a significant challenge for the community.
The impact of major bike brands like Trek on local bike shops and community events in Australia and America is undeniably detrimental. In an industry undergoing continuous evolution, striking a balance between global and local dynamics is essential. However, the aggressive and well-funded marketing strategies employed by global giants have tipped the scales disproportionately in favour of these industry behemoths, resulting in devastating consequences for local and national cycling communities.
The relentless marketing power of these global brands is reshaping the narrative, overshadowing the significance of local aspects that Australia and America rely on to maintain a thriving community of cyclists. The scales that once supported much of our local community events and races, now teeter perilously towards a scenario where the sustainability of ‘local’ is now under threat.
The repercussions of allowing this imbalance to persist and for global brands to prevail are unsustainable and irreparable, with the potential to permanently eradicate the unique fabric of local cycling communities. To counteract this trend, it becomes imperative to consciously tip the scales back in favour of ‘local’. Of the small business.
Making a deliberate choice in favour of something different is crucial. Opting to buy from local businesses and support local, small and emerging brands when faced with purchasing decisions will contribute to restoring the once strong cycling landscape.
When shopping for yourself, or if friends seek recommendations, advocating for small and local options has become an important choice to preserve the vitality of our cycling communities.
Obviously, I am the founder of an Australian small-business, advocating for Australians, Americans and New Zealanders to support what is ours. Because I am committed to also supporting what is ours. Some other brands, that are not global giants, that I recommend you consider are:
- Simpatico Bikes - An Australian brand renowned for crafting high-quality titanium bicycles, specialises in the creation of Gravel and All-Road bikes, meticulously built in the heart of Australia.
- Muze Women - Exceptional Australian-owned cycling apparel, thoughtfully designed by women for women.
- Onguza Bikes - They have created a frame-building workshop in the hometown of retired (Founder) professional Dan Craven. They use it to create opportunities that match the talent and skill of the people from Namibia and build world-class, steel-framed bikes.
- Teschner - If you are looking for an alternative to the Willier Triestina, then Australian owned Teschner Bikes is your answer. Peter Teschner has been making bikes for over 30 years.