<b>USA 2005</b>

Sales & Trends

MAARSSEN, the Netherlands  – A wake up call, that’s the easiest way to describe what is going on in the US right now. It seems that finally Americans have got the message that they have been burning too much fuel. All it took was a price-hike, up to a level that would make European very […]

<b>USA 2005</b>

MAARSSEN, the Netherlands  – A wake up call, that’s the easiest way to describe what is going on in the US right now. It seems that finally Americans have got the message that they have been burning too much fuel. All it took was a price-hike, up to a level that would make European very happy, by the way. Suddenly it has dawned that there are other ways to get from A to B than jump in a big car and drive. And why these cars have been so big, all these years, is puzzling to non-US citizens anyway: after all, the US has quite stringent speed laws on all roads.

No need for big engines at all – and 2005 was the year America discovered that. But is that true? When just browsing the news it might seem the case. The sudden awakening of a whole nation. But reality is that the popularity of bikes was already increasing substantially before oil got dear.

US Bicycle Sales (in million units)


(Source: NBDA)

87 million Americans ride bikes, according to the Outdoor Industry Association: that is nearly 40% of all Americans – that just can’t have happened overnight! Figures also show that bicycling is popular all over the US, with just a logical peak in the Southern states, where the climate is fine almost all year round; 32% of all American cyclist live there. Followed by 24% in the West (forget cowboys!), 24% in the North/Central part of the country, while the North East houses 19%. While 56% of all riders are male, 44% are female, which makes for quite an even distribution. That is different if we look at ages: the biggest chunks of riders are aged between 25 and 55 years – there is a big ‘vacuum’ underneath that age, which might influence the future of US cycling. What is also interesting, is the division in income groups: more than 40% of cyclists earn between U$40.000 and US$79.000. Cycling is obviously a middle class activity.

Bicycling also a force to be reckoned with in the US economy, a US$ 5.5 billion industry, which still employs some 100.000 people. In R&D, distribution, retail sales, service, tourism and manufacturing.
Bikes sold (20 million in 2005) total at US$ 4.8 billion, footwear brings US$ 43 million home, while clothing scores US$ 689 million. As mentioned before, a serious industry.

Bike tourism is gaining momentum as well, ski areas are opening up to bikers, so have all year round income. Just to give some ideas on the scope of this: popular winter sports states like Maine (US$ 66.8 million), Colorado (US$ 193 million) and Wisconsin (US$278 million) are doing quite nicely. Even houses close to these areas are fetching more money than the national average! 11% higher to be precise.
But the bike revival has been going on for a couple of years, as these effects prove – no overnight thing at all. In 2003, US consumers already bought 18.5 million bikes – and that was before that gas prices went ‘trough the roof’. Incidentally, that’s 3.7 million units more than the total sales of cars and trucks combined!

Maybe the biggest motor behind the growing bike sales is health. The US has the highest number of obese people in the world (followed by Australia and the UK), which leads to record levels of premature deaths, due to heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other weight related problems. Just in 1985, obesity was a condition that 10-14% of all Americans could be diagnosed with: now, over 60% qualify. And since cycling is one of the lowest impact sports, it’s probably the easiest way to change life style. And that message is being picked up. Just to put this into perspective: obese people cost US$ 117 billion annually in extra expenditure.

The US knows four lines of distribution for bikes: the specialised bicycle shop, mass merchants, full-line sporting goods stores and ‘others’’ which includes on-line sales. Approximately 75% of bicycles were sold trough the mass markets, but this represented just 37% of dollars due to the declining average sales price of US$ 70 (!). The 4.800 specialty bicycle dealers sell higher quality merchandise, reflected in their 16% market share, which yielded 47% of the dollar count! Dealer price points usually starts around US$ 200, with an average somewhere in the US$ 400 range. And although the actual number of bikes shops has declined over the years, they have managed to maintain their average retail prices. Chain sporting goods stores sold some 6% of bicycles, at an average price of US$ 270, taking 11.5% of the dollars – these shops fill the gap between mass merchants and specialists. Specialty shops also dominate the parts and accessory market, and virtually 100% of the service market.

What is changing in the US, is that bicycles are taking their rightful place as transport, instead of being seen as just recreational products (which we also see in the PTW report). Driven by economic (petrol prices) or emotional (health) reasons, bikes are not only selling fine, but are also creating political waves. Whether or not Mr. Bushes’ infatuation with bicycles has helped, fact remains that bike lanes are on the political agenda in the US in as serious way for the first time. As 52% of Americans would like to bike more, and 46% say they would bike to work IF bike lanes were commonly available, advocating bike lanes is a sound political decision. Pressure groups like or spearhead the mood swing that is growing in the US. Probably this is the main drive for future sales: if bikes would remain to be seen as toys, or sports equipment, growth in sales will always be limited. The change towards mode of transport guarantees steady sales, and probably also favours better bikes – after all, the best test is still everyday use.

Scooters Swarming the USA

2 wheels are catching up fast, as the US discovers the advantages of single track transport. As total sales have consistently crossed the 1 million mark, the US seems well underway in getting in line with the rest of the world. The last time 1 million plus powered two-wheelers were sold in the US, was in 1973. 2-wheeled transport has long been a difficult issue in the US. After a strong love-affair in the beginning of the last century, the fifties brought the car for everyone. Motorcycles were seen as the ride of rough and ready people, while cars where for the sophisticated. And indeed, the US bike scene is one of extremes – images of the Daytona Speedweek do not create a ‘me too’ feeling in average people. But there are other powered two-wheelers that have caught the imagination of the Americans.

Total rise in powered two-wheeler sales, from 965.399 units in 2004 to 1.088.994 in 2005, is 4.5%. But when you look at the detailed figures, per bike type, a big change in trend becomes noticeable. Off road bikes are the losers in ’05 – down 4.37% on 2004. Street bikes win some: 6.80 %. Scooters make a giant leap forward: a whopping 17.45% more sold! But the real winner are dual purpose bikes or all roads – 29.26% more found a new owner. Which implies at the same time, that the classic American bike, Harley or it’s clones, is loosing some ground, as the Milwaukee company does not make all roads (except one model by Buell).

The total number of scooters sold now stands at 56.899 units, according to the official stats (although other channels mention figures above a 100.000 units). Scooters seem to be the latest trend in the US. Less menacing than a motorcycle (especially the US image of them), and mileage around the 90-100 m/pg, some thing which hits hard in these times. Where bicycles have diverse reasons for being popular, motorcycle sales are indeed related to fuel prices. But here too, the emotional factor is not to be underestimated: prices for ‘pimped-up’ scooters for instance, are about the same as for a half-decent second hand car!

The biggest loser in sales, are off road bikes. Largely due to the increasing pressure by Federal and State governments to restrict off-road use. The heyday of off-road bikes were the seventies, when more than 75 brands were active on the US market, many of them European. When the first wave of restrictions was issued, the road was clear for the development of mountain bikes. What could be the result now? Another category that dropped, are ATV’s – from 812.970 in 2004, to 780.433 in 2005. Here the safety issue is the probable cause, as accidents are frequent. While off-road bikes are losing sales, dual purpose, or all-road bikes are gaining ground. Like in the rest of the world, people have discovered the advantages of this type of bike. Not being limited to super smooth roads has a certain attraction…Included in these sales are the big ‘adventure tourers’ like the BMW GS series, or the Aprilia Capo Nord. Best sales were made in April, as is to be expected, at the beginning of good weather. But that was only true for motorcycles: scooter sales flew around September, coinciding with the steep price hike in fuel in autumn.

USA: Total PTW Sales per Year (in units)



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