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The bicycle trail

High-end international cycle brands are making a big splash in India, appealing to urban consumers looking for fitness and outdoor recreation. Rachit Vats reports.

business Updated: Sep 12, 2010 23:12 IST
Rachit Vats

A silent revolution is pedalling its way into city dwellers' lives. As more Indians living in cities take to cycling for reasons ranging from keeping fit, to general purpose, office commuting and leisure, cycling clubs have mushroomed on social networking sites. Seeing demand, bicycle companies are focusing on this niche but growing segment of recreation bicycles.

The Indian bicycle market, which till a year ago was mostly about Hero, BSA, Hercules, Avon and Atlas, has seen international players set up shop here. The brands that are now present in India include Trek, Kona, Schwinn, Fomas (an Indo-Chinese venture) Decathalon and Bianchi. Rock Machine too is expected soon.

These bicycles' prices range between Rs 3,000 and Rs 3.6 lakh. As a reaction to this influx of international brands, most Indian bicycle manufacturers have also expanded their base in the professional and recreational categories in metros. Offerings beyond the occupational bicycle are growing.

According to industry estimates, the bicycle market in India is 14 million units a year, of which five to seven per cent are niche bicycles, a segment now growing at 25-30 per cent annually.

Indian firm Firefox Bikes, for instance, entered into a tie-up with US bicycle brand Trek. Firefox, with 52 outlets and adding at least two every month, has begun retailing Trek besides its own range. It claims to be selling around 2,200 bikes every month and anticipates 25 per cent annual growth.

"The traditional and the fancy segments dominate the market. These are early days for international bikes as they try to establish footprints. The buying trend is certainly picking up. In a few years, the cycling culture will pick up. We are looking at rapid expansion and growth in the segment," said Ajit Gandhi, marketing head, Firefox Bikes.

Just like most other bicycle manufacturers, Firefox has an active presence in social media and is building up community interaction through bike trails and city-based activities.

In November 2009, TI Cycles — part of the Murugappa Group — entered into a tie-up to sell the American range of leisure bikes, Schwinn, in India. TI is the owner of the BSA and Hercules brands and has used Schwinn to complement its range. Using TI Cycles' distribution strength, Schwinn bicycles are reaching out widely. Schwinn's bicycles are priced between Rs 7,000 and Rs 21,000 and newer models are introduced regularly. TI Cycles expects to sell 3,000 Schwinns by the end of 2010.

The company also distributes the Cannondale and Bianchi range of bikes that are focused on the performance rider. It has launched its Track & Trail retail format to sell its international brands. These outlets have opened in Bangalore, Delhi and Pune, and will soon cover Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and other major cities. These stores also offer cycling apparel, accessories, spares and components. Track & Trail will also service international bicycles being marketed by TI. These brands are also retailed through the BSA and Hercules Express stores and shop-in-shops.

Longshine Global Enterprises, an Indo-Chinese joint venture, has rolled out the Fomas brand. "Until 2005, just four brands dominated the Indian bicycle market. Now, their dominance is reduced by 20 per cent. Initially, dealers and customers were reluctant about bicycle products from a new company. All of this is changing but it will take five years for the market to grow and the mindset to change," said Arvind Jain, MD and partner, Longshine.

The Fomas range is available for Rs 2,500 to Rs 1,75,000. "There is a growing demand for high-end models. Our target group is the middle class looking for style and convenience at affordable rates," said Jain. Currently, Fomas imports 10,000 units a year and is looking at a 25 per cent annual growth.

American brand Kona is also present in India. It has no exclusive retail shops; it is distributed by its sole Pune-based distributor. Its price range is Rs 18,000 to Rs 1,00,000. "Currently, we import 200 bikes every three months from Holland. Besides the metros, the demand is coming in from cities such as Pondicherry and Cochin," said Alpesh Yadav of Rider Owned Bicycles, Kona's distributor.

An even smaller market emerging out of the leisure bicycles is customised bicycles. A number of cycling enthusiasts and experts deliver bicycles according to different needs. "India is a good market and a lot of people are getting into cycling. The customised bicycle market is still small but the response is good. The major drawback is that parts are not easily available here," said Faisal Thakur, owner, Da Bike Zone, a hot shop for bike customisation.

After sales service and accessories are two important arms of this business. After-sales for leisure and high-end bicycles plays a major role in getting customers, as only trained staff is able to do the repair work. "In the interiors of India, dealers do not want these leisure bicycles because they cannot do the after-sales service. All these new players need to focus on this," said Vinay Khurana, editor of a B2B bicycle magazine.