<b>United Kingdom 2005:</b> A Mixed Picture

Sales & Trends

MAARSSEN, The Netherlands – In 2003, the UK bike trade was boosted by months and months of gloriously fine weather. In 2004, the heavens opened and tills failed to ring. Joke bikes like Raleigh’s Chopper and Pacific’s Sting-Ray were almost the only silver linings among a lot of dark clouds. In 2005, the weather was […]

<b>United Kingdom 2005:</b> A Mixed Picture

MAARSSEN, The Netherlands – In 2003, the UK bike trade was boosted by months and months of gloriously fine weather. In 2004, the heavens opened and tills failed to ring. Joke bikes like Raleigh’s Chopper and Pacific’s Sting-Ray were almost the only silver linings among a lot of dark clouds. In 2005, the weather was a mixed bag, not brilliant, but not so bad that bike retailers felt like shutting up shop en masse.

Bike sales at the volume end of the market seemed to be well down in 2005 yet chain retailer Halfords had a better-than-predicted year, bucking the UK retail trend that saw most High Street retailers report poor figures throughout the year. But Halfords didn’t make its money just from bikes: instead it was helped by sales of in-car sat-nav GPS systems and iPod car connection kits.

The 400-store retailer appears to be shifting towards its own-brand bicycles and accessories rather than putting any in-store muscle behind branded bikes and products. So, there are many in-store and print advertising promotions for Apollo bicycles and Bike Hut P&A but precious little effort is being put into promoting Raleigh, GT, Kona or the mainstream P&A brands. Why promote Met helmets or Topeak multi-tools when you can undercut them with look-a-like Bike Hut products?


IBDs continued to feel the pressure from Halfords and supermarkets in 2005 but many were isolated somewhat because of sales of bikes GBP 250 (€ 363) and above. The UK bike trade operates largely in the dark when it comes to consumption statistics but, anecdotally, the demand for mid- to high-end bikes continued to keep IBDs in business throughout 2005. High-end town bikes – street machines, hybrids, call them what you will – sold in high numbers, well on the way to one day outperforming MTBs at the till.

Major corporate players such as Universal and Professional Cycle Marketing continued to dominate the market in 2005 (both also have their own retail outlets, albeit not trading under the parent company names) but the second-tier corporates such as Tandem and Concept had a rocky year. It proved so rocky for Concept that the company folded, although its main shareholder soon resurrected parts of the company under a new name.

While parts of the bike trade continue to lurch from one financial crisis to another, there’s seems to be little slowing to the amount of cash being ploughed into route provision. Cycle commuting had a boom year in 2005, partly because it was rising from such a low base, but also because the UK is slowly waking up to the potential of the bicycle as a mid-market urban transport device.

London is adding cycle-friendly infrastructure at a rate of knots (the carrot) and prising motorists out of their cars with the addition of GBP 3 (€ 4.35) to the GBP 5 (€ 7.25) congestion charge (the stick). And forests in Scotland and Wales – and to a lesser extent England – are spending millions of pounds creating off-road playgrounds for MTBers. With the British media obsessing about obesity, climate change, carbon neutrality, and the rising price of petrol – major themes in 2005 and major themes for this year too – the demand for bicycles should hold steady at least, and rise substantially if there’s a spell of good Spring weather.

PTW Sales: Not as Bad as Expected

Steady as she goes – motorcycle sales stop falling but those of mopeds and scooters continue to decline. This resulted in 2005 in little change in the overall number of new PTWs registered.

The UK motorcycle industry breathed a collective sigh of relief as the end of 2005 hove into view. While there’s certainly no great cause for celebration, the general feeling is that things have not turned out as bad as many feared. By this time last year, sales had fallen by 14% overall, with predictions of worse to come, so 2005’s January-to-November fall of just 1% counts as relatively good news, especially since the first half of 2005 was far from encouraging. However the late summer revival continued into the autumn and motorcycle sales are actually up by 2% on last year (= 1,768 machines). Moped sales are down 10%, but that actually represents a drop of only 2,627 units. (The 50cc segment is a far less important market in the UK than in most European countries because our teenagers can’t ride a moped until they’re 16 but can move up to a cheap second hand car only a year later, at 17). Scooters of all sizes have continued to lose popularity in 2005 but at least the rate of decline has slowed, from last year’s dramatic 25% fall, to 11% this year. Scooters now make up just 30% of the UK PTW market compared to 33% last year but remain the most popular style of PTW in Britain.

Top sellers

Honda’s 100cc SCV100 Lead is the top-selling scooter of any capacity for the second year running although sales are down from 1963 to 1734 compared to 2004 and it’s only 7th placed overall. Sales of all over-50cc scooters have actually fallen by 15% since November ‘04. The Lead is still outselling the top-selling moped, which, as in 2004, is Piaggio’s NRG, but it too has lost sales (from 1871 to 1626). Honda also have all the top selling 125cc motorcycles, giving them complete domination of the learner-legal market. Piaggio’s NRG is still the top selling 50, but their former favourite, the Zip, is now down to fifth place with only 985 sold compared to 2287 just two years ago. Peugeot’s Speedfight 50, another previous top seller, is doing better in second place with 1327, but again, that’s far fewer than the 2196 of only two years ago. However Peugeot now have the bargain-priced Ludix in their stable – the third most popular moped with 1320 sold in its first full year on the UK market.

Big scooters

Amongst the middleweight scooters (125-350cc), Piaggio is doing much better, thanks primarily to its new big Vespas. Last year’s top seller, the Vespa GT200, has been displaced from top spot by its new (and identical-looking) big brother the GTS 250, but the two of them together (314 plus 240) total 554 compared to last year’s 452 for the GT200 alone. 

Suzuki’s Burgman 400 remains by far the most popular over-350cc superscooter, helped by its new-rider-legal 25kw engine, but sales have dropped from 208 to 170. Honda’s Silver Wing 600 and Piaggio’s X9 500 are still the most popular ‘open class’ scooters, but surprisingly, sales of both machines have halved (to 94 and 88 respectively). Yamaha’s 25kw Majesty 400 is at least partially responsible for the above reductions; new in the Spring of 2004, it made its first appearance in the top 5 this year with 84 sold to November, just behind its twin-cylinder stablemate, the Tmax 500 (86), knocking the expensive Burgman 650 off the ‘leaderboard’ at the end of the year.


At the other end of the style spectrum, supersports bikes remain the second most popular type of machine and continue to dominate the best sellers list, with no less than seven supersportsters in the top ten, including the top four. 

However, for the first time in many a long year, a learner-legal 125cc motorcycle has outsold all the bigger race replicas, (and everything else besides). Honda’s humble CBR125R came from behind with a late run to beat Suzuki’s GSXR1000 and take the top slot with 2,653 machines sold from January to November. This is actually slightly fewer than last year’s top-seller, the Yamaha YZF R1 (2,666 in the same period of 2004). Supersports buyers are fickle, it would seem, for this year the R1 is down in 6th place, behind Honda’s CBR1000RR Fireblade, Kawasaki’s ZX6 and BMW’s 5th-placed R100GS. The twin-cylinder BMW is far and away the top selling Adventure Sports machine, just as it was last year following its spring ’04 debut. In 2005, having been on sale for the whole year this time, sales have climbed by 50% to an amazing 1,871 by November. Not only is it selling nearly three times the number of its nearest rival (the Honda Varadero 125, with 668) but the R1200GS  is also out-selling every single model of moped and scooter! In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that the boxer-engined ‘big trailie’ has been single-handedly responsible for a very large chunk of the 31% increase in the Adventure Sports market this year – by far the largest percentage growth of any segment.

BMW are also topping the Tourers with what is essentially the same 1200cc machine as the R100GS, but wearing a different set of ‘clothes’. The R1200RT sold 901 machines by November, displacing last year’s leader, the Honda ST 1300 Pan European which remains second with 745. An impressive performance for the Bavarian beast, especially since so many people find it so ugly!  

Sports Tourers saw their sales drop with 11%, the worst drop amongst the ‘proper’ motorcycle segments. Suzuki’s good value SV650S remains top selling sports tourer with 1485, while Triumph’s new triple, the Sprint ST 1050 has leapt into second from a standing start (1,112) ahead of the old four-cylinder favourites, the Suzuki Bandit and Yamaha Fazer.

Customs Class

In contrast, Custom-styled machines have increased in popularity by 7%. Harley-Davidsons regained what some might consider their ‘rightful’ place at the top with the FXS (551) and FXD (536), having lost it last year to Triumph’s new Rocket Three. This year the British company’s 2.3 litre ‘two-wheeled truck’, could only manage third place with 439; fewer in eleven months than it sold last year in barely half the time. 

The ‘Naked’ segment appears to have done even better with a 17% growth in new registrations compared to last year, but the artificiality of the MCI’s style classifications is apparent when one sees that the top two sellers are Honda’s ageless but plodding CG125 and Yamaha’s new YBR 125 (1,153 and 852 respectively) while the next three in the class are essentially the same Fazers, Bandits and Triumph 1050 that we saw in the Sport Touring class, but minus their fairings. In other words, the top selling ‘nakeds’ are actually budget-priced commuter bikes that have far more in common with learner-legal 125s in other classes.

Overall registrations of trail/enduro machines are up 4% but this hides a drop in sales of genuine ‘dirt diggers’ which is likely to accelerate in 2006 when a new and controversial law will remove the right to ride on a  very large proportion of the existing ‘green lane’ network in England and Wales.
More and more Chinese motorcycles, scooters and quads are appearing in the UK with a bewildering variety of names and some very obscure importers. Their road-registered numbers can still be counted in hundreds rather than thousands, but one suspects that Chinese machines may collectively be responsible for the doubling in the number of machines which appear in the MCI’s statistics as being of ‘unspecified’ type, (from 453 in 2004 to 957 in 2005). For 2006 the number of Chinese machines on British roads will increase, just as they will everywhere else in the world.

UK PTWs Registrations Jan. – Nov. 2004 – 2005 (in units)

50cc (Moped) scooters
50cc (Moped) others
Total 50cc (Mopeds)
Total Scooters
Total Motorcycles
Total Motorcycles & Mopeds
(Excl. Scooters)
Total Registrations

Source: MCI

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