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Cycling | Market | Boom
November 2016

Yes Sirree,

cycling is the new golf

Golf has lost its status as the sport that everybody enjoys — and cycling has taken its place. Participation is flourishing as top riders like Louis Meintjes, Darryl Impey, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Ilna Lemmer, Greg Minnaar and Team Qhubeka Dimension Data inspire others to follow in their steps ... or maybe we now have these top international competitors because our pool of cyclists has skyrocketed as everybody is now cycling. LINZA DE JAGER asked cycling clubs and other administrators

Cycling | Market | Boom

View from the top

Louis Meintjes’ overall eighth position in the Tour de France this year confirmed his standing amongst the group of top riders who are seen as mystical and magical by fans. From his base in Lucca, Italy, Meintjes told Sports Trader how the local attitude towards and perception of cycling has changed in just a few years.

“When I started riding the group of South African cyclists was not so large as it is today,” he says.

“If I had told people a few years ago that I am a professional cyclist, they would have asked: But what else are you doing for money?” he laughs. “The awareness of cycling as a sport has grown a lot.”

Meintjes admits readily to having been inspired by other cyclists like Chris Froome, Robbie Hunter and Daryl Impey.

Why cycle?

“You get on a bicycle and you go the event. It is social. Cycling offers the opportunity for families to exercise together.” — Shamiel Fataar, Western Province Cricket Club’s cycling division.

“While not entirely true, cycling is seen to be a cheap sport as once you have bought a bike and the kit, it is believed to be free to participate after that.” — Daryl Harris, Chairman of the East Coast Cycling Club.

“A great incentive for our youth to get involved in our sport is the fact that Durban will be hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games. There should be no bigger motivating factor for our youth of 15-18 years old now to work hard and dream of being part of Team SA competing on home soil and supported by family and friends.” — William Newman, President of Cycling SA.

“Participation sports form a significant part of the social life today. This can be gym, running, walking, hiking and cycling. Health talk is ongoing in most social circles. The modern bike can be ridden to great effect by almost anybody, even with moderate fitness.” — John Bramwell, Chairman of the Johannesburg Mountain Biking Club.

Cycling has experienced a boom in participation numbers over the last few years, says William Newman, president of Cycling SA. “It has definitely grown exponentially, with still a lot of untapped talent to be unearthed.”

The growth in participation has been across the board, with increasing growth numbers seen in both the competitive and recreational side, says Newman.

Cycling SA currently has 19 919 registered members; 16 074 male and 3 845 female. Of these, 2 538 are elite riders who take out licences and compete. Amongst the elite riders men also dominate with 2 135 men holding licences, compared to 403 women.

The participation number split for road and mountain bike cycling is unfortunately not available.

The figures for recreational cycling look very different; with a guesstimate of participation numbers ranging in the hundreds of thousands. Recreational cycling has seen “a massive increase in interest and participation over the past few years,” agrees Dr. Veit Hammer, Head of Marketing and PR for Team Dimension Data.

“With events like the Cape Town Cycle Tour, Absa Cape Epic and the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, South Africa has three of the biggest mass participation sporting events in the world, which appeal directly to the general public.

“Recently, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, Louis Meintjes, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Daryl Impey have given South Africa a solid presence in professional cycling globally and this in turn is inspiring younger African riders.”

Newman agrees that the success of our riders on the world stage is one of the two participation growth factors — the other is the desire to be fit.

“Team Dimension Data has inspired the youth by daring them to dream as big as the team and to also one day be part of the Tour de France,” he says. “Success breeds success. So the performances of our top cyclists have sparked a lot of interest, not only amongst the cycling fraternity, but amongst the general South African public.”

Newman mentions several inspirational achievements that have helped create an elevated awareness of the sport — for example, Daryl Impey at the 2013 Tour de France, where he wore the yellow jersey, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio’s consistency on the UCI Women’s Tour and winning the bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Louis Meintjes’ exceptional performances at the Tour de France and Tour of Spain in 2015 and 2016, Team Dimension Data’s unbelievable success on the UCI World Tour circuit, and Greg Minnaar becoming the most decorated Downhill MTB rider.

“Para-cyclists such as our iconic Ernst van Dyk (fresh from winning Gold in Rio), Justin Asher, Pieter du Preez and Goldie Fuchs have further inspired many with their great performances,” he adds.

Newman points out that Van Dyk, Asher and Du Preez are “perennial medallists at the Para-cycling World Championships”, whilst Nolan Hoffman and Bernard Esterhuizen have won medals at the Track World Championships.

Boom time

Although there is no actual participation figures, stakeholders agree that the biggest participation growth has been in mountain biking.

This is thought to be the result of concerns over dangerous roads, as well as an increased interest in being out in the bush.

The hike in mountain biking can also be attributed to its appeal to the entire family as a sociable weekend-away option, says Hammer.

Wolf Stinnes, head of the team that provides technology support to the Absa Cape-Epic, gives the following example of mountain biking growth: “In my own backyard, I was involved when the Tygerberg Mountain Bike Club started with about 25 members twelve years ago — it now boasts a membership of 6 000 riders of all ages, shapes and sizes, with 100km of single track and connecting green corridors providing hours of pleasure to all skill levels.”

Mountain biking is genderless as well as non-ageist, adds Angie Bonser of Club100 in Johannesburg. “In the last few years the growth in mountain biking has far exceeded that of road cycling.

“This discipline caters for all age groups and is far safer due to the numerous bike parks in and around Gauteng. More and more women are also taking up mountain biking.”

Apart from inspiring athletes, the desire to socialise and fit in also draw people to cycling.

“In South Africa cycling can definitely be called the new golf,” says Nicky Gilliomee, chairman of Maties Cycling. “It’s becoming something that everyone now does, like they used to play golf in the old days.” According to Gilliomee men still dominate the sport but the number of “ladies is growing at a steady rate too”.

Cycle stores are at their busiest around the Cape Epic, Cape Town Cycle Tour (former Cape Argus) and Tour de France — not because our riders are performing well, but because cyclists are inspired by the events, he says, and people want to join in.

“A healthy lifestyle has become a fashion and so people are riding because everyone is doing it,” he adds.

Healthy lifestyle

The number of cyclists is growing because people are becoming more health conscious, agrees Bonser. “Many medical aids now reward their members for being active, gaining fitness and staying healthy.”

But, health is not the only driving force, points out Stinnes. “I think the general trend and awareness of healthier lifestyles as well as easy accessibility to scientific training knowledge, systems and programmes combine to quickly elevate the capability of the average rider.

“I see many middle-aged people taking up cycling, often because previous sports at high level have become prohibitive, whereas cycling is generally friendly on the body. And it still allows for that healthy level of competitiveness amongst peers!”

Future growth

Cycling SA intends to focus a lot on BMX in future, as “this is the discipline with the lowest barrier to entry and it is attractive to the young girls and boys,” says Newman. “So there is a huge untapped market that we will be exploiting.”

He is also excited about track racing, describing it as “one of the most exciting cycling disciplines, as there is a wide variety of different races, ranging from the short explosive sprints to the longer endurance events. It is also a great spectator sport with fans being able to follow all the action in the confines of a velodrome.”

Professional cycling

Despite the good performances of our elite cyclists, professional and top competitive cycling still have some way to go in South Africa, Hammer points out.

“Soccer, rugby and cricket dominate as the preferred sports of choice while a lack of sponsorship for professional events and domestic teams hinder the growth of professional cycling in South Africa. On a professional level, though, cycling has yet to become an established sporting code in South Africa.”

Lack of access to bicycles for a large sector of the population and a dangerous riding environment provide further obstacles to participation.

Cycling as a form of transport is also very much in its infancy throughout South Africa, when compared to Europe, Hammer says. The idea of a bike path network ranks well down on a municipality’s list of priorities when adequate sanitation and access to education are still problems to be dealt with.

Economy deflates cycling sales

There is no doubt among South African cycling retailers that the huge interest in the sport is responsible for the new crop of top performing elite cyclists, but while participation grows, the economy has put a damper on cycling retail sales

Cycling | Market | BoomTHE POPULARITY of cycling is bound to grow as more and more companies help to introduce kids in underprivileged communities to the sport. One such an initiative is the pump track launched by the Anna Foundation for farm children in the Western Cape. It was built by renowned track builder Eckhardt Kühn — who also built part of this year’s Cape Epic track — with the help of the 36 children who attend the farm school. They also received six bikes, on which Kühn will coach them on a weekly basis.

The number of cycling participants is booming (see p30) and cycling retailers should be rejoicing at this growing market of potential customers. Yet, cyclists aren’t buying as much as before — the weakened economy has hit many pockets, including the recently-booming cycling market, many retailers report.

People are now trying to maintain their bicycles, instead of buying new ones, a retail respondent said in an online snap survey Sports Trader conducted amongst cycling traders.

Ian McKechnie of Procycles agrees: sales have dropped because there is a general financial decline and the weak Rand buys less.

The weak Rand and economy

The majority of cycling products come from overseas, which drives up prices as well — especially when the value of the Rand takes a dive. “To import goods from China is very expensive,” points out Vimal Daya of Bhanis Cycle.

Retail sales reflect this decline in the economy: a third of the respondents indicated that their sales over the past five years have decreased by about 20-40%.

The Rand devaluation and weak economy are, however, not solely to blame for sales losses, says Tony Impey of Tony Impey Cycles: unsafe road conditions also contribute to a drop in new entrants in the market buying cycling gear — especially as it makes it a less attractive means of transport.

This isn’t valid for all respondents, however, as a third indicated that they have actually seen a sales increase of between 20-40%, and 11% indicated that they have seen an increase of 50% or more.

Just over twenty percent indicated that their sales have remained stable during this period.

It also depends on the timeframe: one of these respondents says that between 8-12 months ago, sales were on the increase, but they are now decreasing again, which roughly evens out his sales over the time frame. He attributes this to the economy, and that people are not spending money because of it.

“There are more participants now, but there is less spending power due to the current economic climate.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however: cycling continues to be a very tempting fitness option.

Mountain biking grows most

Cycling | Market | BoomTHE CAPE EPIC mountain bike (MTB) race has recently been acquired by the IRONMAN sporting event platform, which also runs The Motatapu and The Pioneer multi-stage MTB races in New Zealand. Since its inception in 2004, Cape Epic is the only eight-day MTB stage race classified as hors catégorie (beyond categorisation) by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). The race attracts an assortment of racers from all over the world, from world champions to amateur participants.

This is especially true for the mountain biking community: “but, while the popularity of MTB cycling has grown a lot, retail competition in this category has also grown a lot as there has been an increase in the number of cycling shops catering for mountainbikers,” a respondent commented.

In fact, the majority (89%) of respondents agree that mountain biking has seen the most growth among the three main cycling branches (road, MTB or BMX).

“There are lots of MTB races and trails, and too much traffic on the road,” Josua Wagner of J-Bay Cycle Centre explains the popularity of mountain biking.

Only 11% of respondents feel that road cycling has seen the most growth. One of them is Farooq Bhyat of Cell n Cycle, who ascribes this to the fact that “it’s an easy form of exercise.”

None of the respondents were enthusiastic about the prospects offered by BMX.

But, whether their sales are up or down, all the respondents agree that “over the past few years, there has been a renewed interest in cycling as a sport, general fitness and as a means of transport. It stands to reason that, with a broader spectrum of people taking up cycling, more top cyclists will emerge.”

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