We think the Cycling Industry is very short-sighted, ultimately holding cycling back for everyone here in the UK in particular. Sounds a bit strong? We don’t think so…looking at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s report ‘Taking Part 2015/16 Annual Child Report’ from July 2016 you can the signs as to where its going wrong for cycling right now.
The story (on the the face of it) seems to start positively with 29% of 5-10 yr olds cycling in the previous 4 weeks (riding a bike, not necessarily as a ‘sport’), 3rd most popular activity on the list just behind football! However, by the age of 10-15 yrs old, it’s already dropped off, falling to 9th most popular in the list. Football has risen to No.1.
We know from experience, that when kids are very young – their first experiences of cycling are the critical ones. The quality, weight and fit of their first bike has the potential to influence their attitude to cycling for the rest of their lives.
For the vast majority of kids, that first experience is not a good one. Put an 18kg child on a badly fitting 10kg high-street bike, do we really expect them to fall in love with cycling?
But due to cost, the cheap 10kg high-street bike is still the first stead for the vast majority of kids and that’s were it all starts to go wrong. As an 80kg adult, would you enjoy riding a 44kg bike? A 3-stone child won’t have the same percentage muscle mass as an 80kg adult either!
So who’s to blame? The major bike manufacturers are. OK, we understand our car-biased road system is currently no encouragement to go cycling, especially with kids. Any meaningful cycle lane projects are painfully slow in coming, mainly confined to metropolitan areas. But it’s the next generation that must sort these problems out, as the current one seem’s too constricted by commercial interests to make the real changes required.
Lobbying by several cycling groups including Chris Boardman is having a hard-time making changes. They do a fantastic job (and long may it continue as an important strategy) but their audience, in the main, seems uninterested in large-scale changes to our road infrastructure, highway legislation or social behaviour. The car industry’s financial muscle still prevails.
So what if the next generation are the first to enjoy properly developed, affordable kids bikes? Once they are old enough, maybe they will be more cycling-focused to bring about real change? We know cycling participation is currently on the rise, but still only approx 6% of the UK adult population ride a bike once a week, less than half the number participating in Football, let alone the millions of fans!
But how much potential is there to increase cycling in the UK. We know it’s a different world on the other side of the channel, with Denmark and Holland leading the way in mass cycling participation, but they’re not just isolated cases.
Increasing participation has to start with kids, but until the major manufacturers wake up to this fact, they will continue to hold cycling back. Accountants and their short-term decision making is playing its part. We live in a commercial world and projects must be viable, but just how much profit could the cycling industry make, if regular adult participation grew to 20 or 30% in the UK – because the next generation grew up with a love of cycling on the right bikes as children?
Small companies have already lead through example and made a difference to 1000’s of children by building lightweight, proportional kids bikes, like Islabike, Frog etc. In essence, Kids Racing itself exists because of the difficulties in sourcing the right bikes, components and clothing. But ultimately our hands are tied by expensive components, made in very low numbers (high production costs) resulting in properly developed bikes are only in the hands of a few lucky young cyclists.
Giant, Trek, Cannondale and Specialised and other large manufacturers have the ability to look ahead and change this. They have the opportunity to take cycling from minority to mainstream, profiting in the process. The technology and knowledge is out there already. Correct length cranks, handlebars, stems & geometry, even child-friendly electronic shifting.
But only the large manufacturers have the commercial ability to produce components and bikes in large quantities, making the right bikes for high-street money and create the next generation of cyclists. The right kids bikes should be in every local bike shop for £150, not £350. Cycling will go mainstream, if all kids bikes are lightweight, well designed and affordable.
While accountants rule, cycling will remain a minority activity. A wasted opportunity.
So which manufacturer will step-up to the plate and change this?