Demand for bikes globally appears to be slowing and New Zealand is no exception, and though it sounds like a hit to decarbonising transport, cycling advocates aren’t stressing.
Difficulties in the bike market locally were spelled out clearly in Torpedo 7’s accounts released as part of the Warehouse Group’s annual result last week.
Torpedo 7 posted an operating loss for the year of $22.2 million for its 2023 financial year.
The business said there had been a “major dislocation” in the bike market, which makes up 35.6 percent of all Torpedo 7 sales, though its snow and water divisions also faced headwinds.
In the Warehouse Group annual report, chief executive Nick Grayston said the challenging economic environment meant New Zealanders had limited their spending on high-ticket items including bicycles, focusing on the essentials instead.
A wider drop in bike sales could be seen as bad news for lowering New Zealand’s transport emissions through uptake in cycling and for Central Government and councils who have pumped resources into building bike lanes and paths.
Stats NZ figures for bike imports show a bit of a boom before a substantial drop off, with the industry not seeing the same kind of sharp import peak coming into summer and a depression in import numbers through to August this year.
Global demand for bikes and the supply chain breakdown through the lockdowns also made it hard for importers to bring bikes into the country, meaning consumer demand couldn’t be met and prices rose.
Stats don’t keep clear figures on e-bikes, which are lumped in with other electric forms of transport including e-scooters. Nevertheless, the category’s import data paints a similar, if softer, picture.
Trade Me spokesperson Millie Silvester said sales for new and used bikes peaked on the platform in August 2021, returning to pre-Covid levels once the lockdowns lifted.
Used bike sales dipped 12 percent between August 2022 and 2023, and new bike sales stayed the same.
“Electric bike sales, however, have been increasing consistently since the lockdowns. In August we saw e-bike sales jump 21 percent on the same time last year,” Silvester said.
Matt Dunston, the managing director of Dunedin bike store Bike House, said its total bike sales had fallen in the past year or so.
“From what we’re hearing the cost of living and the interest rates on mortgages, there’s just not the same amount of money to spend on a new bike.”
This isn’t a New Zealand-specific issue either, with large publicly traded bike companies such as Merida and Giant seeing their revenue decrease.
Seeing as a bike can last decades with a little care (the author has a 2004 Avanti) does this mean a reduction or stagnation in the ridership levels?
“Service numbers grew through Covid along with bike sales, and those service numbers have stayed the same,” Dunstan said.
“So we still see them riding bikes, using them and needing to get them serviced, and the same with accessory and apparel sales as well.”
Bike House actually opened a second store about a year ago fully aimed at commuters. “That’s where we’ve seen growth, people are riding bikes for transport still.
“The drop-off we’ve seen is the sports space or the hobby space for people who want to ride a rail trail over the weekend or do some mountain biking,” Dunstan said.
With petrol prices sitting at around $3 a litre in parts of the country, a basic commuter bike could pay itself off after only a few tanks of petrol.
“With the store that was launched, we’ve had families reducing the amount down to one car instead of two, that kind of thing and we’ve got bikes here now that can carry multiple children or a load of grocery shopping.”
In Auckland, ridership seems to be down even on pre-Covid levels, with a 12-month rolling average of 264,214 monthly cycle movements across its 26 monitoring stations, trending down relatively consistently on a 12-month average of 314,250 recorded in June 2019.
That works out to a 15 percent decrease in four years, but Cycling Advocate Network member John Lieswyn said the figures couldn’t be interpreted so simply, and had be considered alongside overall trip making – ie without similar car traffic data.
Changes to cycle routes, technological problems and other factors such as the shift to working from home and poor weather are possible variables.
Lieswyn said in Christchurch, many of the sites monitored by the council showed 4-5 percent annual increases (a rule of thumb for car traffic increases year on year is 1.5 percent) and cycle traffic was up approximately 30 percent compared with 2017.
He said the correlation between bike imports and usage was poor, “During tight economic times people put off replacing existing expensive durable goods like whiteware, cars, and bikes.
“I think people wanted bikes two years ago because they rediscovered biking during the lockdown and because they felt rich because of fiscal stimulus to avoid a total collapse of the economy. Now people feel poor because of rapidly climbing interest rates and rents.”
Auckland e-bike retailer Electric Bike Team’s owner Maurice Wells said most bike stores were bringing in about as much money now as they did in 2019, and his was doing better than before.
“We do have a larger showroom floor now, so it is kind of hard to know what baseline to look at but we’re selling more than we were selling before Covid and despite the big up and big down, we expect that to [continue to] grow organically.”
Wells said in some cases the influx of bike imports was still sitting with distributors and retailers resulting in low margins and discounts, “If you’re a consumer it genuinely is a good time to buy.”
Like Dunstan, Wells said the everyday riders, family bike-type category, was performing strong in the face of downward pressure.
“I consider that encouraging because people have decided to make permanent changes in their life. It’s not just about this year, this is good weather, bad weather, whatever, it’s more permanent.
“That’s been nice for us, a higher percentage of our sales being local people who want to ride their bikes a lot.”
Despite the buzz created around cycling during the pandemic, Wells said very little had been done to build up adequate infrastructure or to create a truly connected series of safe cycleways.
“That’s quite unfortunate because in a lot of places in the world, there were permanent positive changes as a result of what I can now consider as a temporary phenomenon of people being more interested in bikes.
“In a lot of cities, there were a lot of bike lanes introduced, maybe temporary ones that became permanent and that’s had a lasting effect. The cycling participation in Paris is much better now than before Covid.”