CHANGING THE GAME

Electric bicycles have fundamentally changed the bicycle business in America. Europe has a mature e-bike business and country markets, compared to the embryonic business and market in the U.S.

Everything continues to change rapidly in America as the market matures, including e-bike design and micromobility electric propulsion systems, consumer preferences, regulations and standards, options for safe storage and use of micromobility lithium-ion batteries, techniques for sales staff and service technicians, as well as consumer education and awareness.

And fire departments are changing the way they fight micromobility lithium-ion battery fires, and their hazmat protocols for clean-up and disposal.

New York City has a unique critical mass of delivery gig workers on e-bikes and other micromobility devices powered by lithium-ion batteries. In 2022, the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) reported 191 fires attributed to micromobility devices, including e-bikes, resulting in 140 injuries and, sadly, six deaths.

In the first two months of this year, lithium-ion batteries for micromobility devices, including e-bikes, were believed to be responsible for 22 fires, leading to 36 injuries and two deaths.

On February 27, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN) published an article about 25 FDNY fire protection inspectors, fire marshals and sheriff’s deputies inspecting bike shops, and finding “hundreds of battery charging, storage violations at shops.”

This was followed on March 1 by publication in BRAIN of an interview with Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric with the headline: CPSC: The industry’s 3-class e-bike framework is not part of our statutes.” HPS has offered the same opinion for months, but the industry has paid little attention until this interview.

The BRAIN article goes on to state: “When asked about regulating Class 3 e-bikes and e-MTBs, and “out-of-category” e-bikes, Hoehn-Saric said in a February e-mail exchange with BRAIN that, “I know there have been questions and confusion around jurisdiction of these products, so I want to take this opportunity to provide some clarity about where CPSC stands. First of all, the Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 framework is not part of CPSC’s statutes, so any assertion about our jurisdiction over an entire category is not accurate.Decisions about agency jurisdiction over e-bikes are made on a case-by-case analysis of the products.”

On March 2 BRAIN announced: “NY City Council passes lithium-ion battery safety package.” The subhead states that: “E-bikes now need to meet UL 2849 or similar certification: batteries UL 2271.”

The city lithium-ion battery regulation is part of a package of five bills, and goes into effect six months after being signed into law by the mayor. Included is a requirement to develop a public education campaign on fire risks of e-bikes and e-scooters, and specific educational materials for delivery workers to be distributed by third-party delivery apps.

March 4 BRAIN published an article titled: “What New York’s e-bike law will mean to retailers,” quoting an interview and letter sent by Heather Mason, president of the NBDA, to members about the NY city lithium-ion battery safety package.

This is an insightful article that, among many other things, quotes Chris Nolte, a NY City bike shop owner, who has sold UL certified e-bikes exclusively for the last two years as stating: “… the new regulations will have a huge impact on the sellers of thousands of low-cost e-bikes used by food delivery workers in the city.”

Charlie McCorkell, owner of three Bicycle Habitat bike shops in NY City, is quoted as saying (among other things), “…to improve fire safety in the city, the federal government will need to enforce safety regulations at the import level.”

What is generally agreed on is that New York City is a trend setter, and the FDNY and City Council will be followed by other fire departments and municipalities, closely watched by the federal government, while changing the game.

Contact Jay Townley: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com.

SIGN OF LIFE

It’s Wednesday, January 11, and I am walking down an aisle of the CABDA West Expo with my long-time friend, and editor of this newsletter, Fred Clements. It’s the second day of the West Expo, and attendance is actually good for the second day. I ask Fred, “…what do you think of this first trade show of 2023?”

Fred’s response, “It is a sign of life!” I ask what he means. He responds, “It is a sign of life for bike shops after the pandemic.”

As I am getting ready to travel to CABDA East at the Meadowlands, just outside of New York City, I thought about this, and reflected on what I considered to be a well-attended CABDA Midwest Expo in February. I found myself agreeing that the CABDA trade shows, held during the first quarter of this year, are a strong sign of life for the bike shop channel of trade in the U.S.

They are a clear statement that independent bike shops are open for business, and whatever 2023 has in store, bike shops will be there to sell the latest in bicycles, e-bikes, parts, accessories, kit, and to provide professional service.

I believe the big bike brands and major industry trade association are short-sighted in not exhibiting or otherwise supporting the CABDA Expos.

The Bike Shop Count chart shows that approximately 27 percent of the estimated total number of American bike shops are totally independent, or “pure” independent, and that approximately 67 percent are “authorized” dealers of one or more of the big bike brands. Many make the decision to attend a CABDA Expo in their region of the country, as they feel it is in the best interests of their business to do so.

You might well ask if I am going out of my way to promote the CABDA Expos? The answer is a whole-hearted yes. We as an industry need to socialize and share ideas, and more importantly interact as a community of common interest.

I know one of the primary purposes of a trade show is for retailers to buy from suppliers, but in these times of uncertainty and turmoil, there is also the need to seek knowledge and ideas to survive and grow.

The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) is collaborating with the CABDA Expos in providing educational content, and will continue to produce and present webinars and educational programs through the rest of the year for bike shops.

Joe Marcoux, in my opinion one of the best sales trainers and educators specializing in the bike shop channel of trade, does multiple presentations at the CABDA Expos. I encourage bike shops to each out to Joe as a resource for their employee training needs. Joe@joemarcoux.com

Joe often refers to Peter Drucker, who warned that the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It is to act with yesterday’s logic.

This is another sign of life from the CABDA Expos, providing the information attendees are sharing about what’s new in consumer wants and needs, and how to provide the products and services to satisfy them.

Contact Jay Townley, jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com

GOOD DECISIONS DEMAND GOOD DATA

This is the slogan of the Pew Research Center that refers to itself as a nonpartisan fact tank: Good Decisions Demand Good Data.

In our corner of the world, the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) provides two examples of good data — one covering adult cycling consumer habits, and another about bicycle shop financial metrics.

The consumer research is an invaluable planning reference guide for suppliers, brands, associates, and bicycle retailers as they shape their strategic and business planning around understanding consumer bicycle and e-bike buying habits over the last two years.

The report contains detailed data, analysis, charts, and actionable information about the demographics of the American consumers that purchased which brands from what retail sources, at what retail prices, and with what accessories during the last two years.

With the report, readers will be able to study the clusters of adult purchasers, including the 33.4 percent of women who started cycling, and the 22 percent who returned in the last two years, including what style they purchased, from what retailer, for what kind of cycling. It also reveals what it is going to take to retain them, and what they plan to spend on cycling going forward.

Key study highlights:

  • What are the key cyclist segments in today’s market?
  • How do these segments buy? How do they interact with IBDs?
  • How have buying channels changed? What channels are the most important for each segment?
  • How have bicycle buying habits changed?
  • Will the changes be long term?
  • How can we take advantage of the changes?
  • Is the new cyclist segment significant? How big is it? What is the long-term potential?
  • What are the most important buying factors in each segment?
  • How does my brand perform in each segment?
  • What messages resonate with each segment? How do I reach them?

Associate members of the NBDA may purchase the report for $3,000. Retail and mobile members of the NBDA may purchase a special retailer version of the report for $199. Retailers who are not members of the NBDA can purchase the special retailer version of the report for $399.

The second research study is the latest version of the NBDA’s Cost of Doing Business study. Specialty bicycle retailers were surveyed in early 2022, with most answering based on the full 2021 calendar year.

This unique research effort represents the most up-to-date comparative financial performance information available anywhere. This study is designed to serve as an easy-to-understand tool for specialty bicycle retailers to evaluate their own company’s operating results, in order to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, and improvement opportunities.

In early 2022, the National Bicycle Dealers Association mailed a strictly confidential survey questionnaire to all NBDA member firms, as well as a random sample of non-member firms.

The survey collected detailed financial and operating information from industry operators by sales revenue size, store type, geographic region, and number of locations.

The NBDA Cost of Doing Business Survey was compiled, tabulated, and prepared by Industry Insights, Inc., a professional research and consulting firm which specializes in industry operating surveys, compensation studies, educational programs, and customized research services. Completed surveys were returned in confidence through early 2022, to Industry Insights, Inc. All company identification was removed from each questionnaire, and only a confidential identification code remained. The data was then coded, keyed, and edited by Industry Insights’ financial analysts for validity. Computer processing was performed on all data to insure statistical validity, and to produce the financial and operating ratios contained in this study.

Using this information, bicycle retailers can compare their own figures with other firms in their revenue category, with other single or multi-store operators, with stores of similar size, with stores of a particular geographic region, and with the high-profit firms (i.e., those in the upper 25% based on before-tax return on assets). Spotting significant differences between your own store’s performance and the industry composites can be the first step toward improving performance. However, deviations from industry norms do not automatically call for some action.

To use this report, determine which of the above data groups pertain to your operation so that you can compare your own store’s results to retailers that are comparable to your own. Be concerned only with those sections of the report that are relevant to your business.

Price: $399. NBDA member price: $349. All reports delivered as a PDF file only.

For information on both reports, visit www.nbda.com.

IT IS OUR PROBLEM!

54 years ago, the American bicycle industry faced the specter of the federal government regulating bicycles as products sold to consumers. The reaction of the industry, through its trade association the Bicycle Manufacturers Association (BMA), was to resist and fight the government by advancing the manufacturing standard it had developed in the face of growing imports.

Schwinn, the company I worked for, had left the BMA in the late 1960s in a dispute over promoting chain store bikes. Sears was the largest retailer of bicycles at the time, and held sway over Murray-Ohio and Huffy, the domestic sources of its bicycles, making it the largest financial contributor to the industry association.

Our marketing department continued to cooperate with the industry association, and coordinated our full-time bicycling advocate activities and financial support for the League of American Wheelmen and Bicycle Institute of America (BIA), the umbrella bicycle industry association under which the BMA operated.

When it became obvious that Congress was going to pass, and the President was going to sign, the Consumer Product Safety Act creating the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and that the CPSC was going to develop a mandatory bicycle safety regulation as its very first standard-setting activity, the BMA collected funding to work in opposition, and to lobby both the Congress and the new federal agency.  

The BMA approached Schwinn for its help. Frank V. Schwinn, the third generation president of the company, discussed the request with his management team. He made the decision that his company was going to cooperate with CPSC and BMA to craft the best possible bicycle safety regulation for the whole of the American industry, including domestic producers and importers, and for the consumers who purchased bicycle products for themselves and their children.

Some of Mr. Schwinn’s management team felt the accident cases documented by CPSC and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Product Safety, “wasn’t our problem” because Schwinn’s manufacturing and quality standards were far better than those of the rest of the bicycle manufacturers and brands.

Mr. Schwinn responded that it was indeed our problem, because the public judged all of us, all of the bicycle manufactures and brands, as the same when it comes to their safety, and the safety of their children.

I was one of the young managers who had been working with the Bureau of Product Safety, and was engaged on behalf of Schwinn with the newly formed CPSC. I reported to Ray Burch, vice president of marketing. He made sure I understood Mr. Schwinn’s meaning and intent. I acted accordingly, including cooperating with BMA when our aims and objectives were mutually compatible, and to opposing BMA when they were not. When in doubt, Ray advised, “do the right thing, and Mr. Schwinn will understand.”

As representatives of the Schwinn Bicycle Company and the Schwinn family, we didn’t impose or recommend Schwinn standards. We used those standards as examples of what could be done, how to do it, and how to measure it. In some cases, we learned from what CPSC developed, and from what BMA members and importers were doing.

The point is that we worked for at least half a decade on achieving the best possible federal mandatory bicycle safety standard that in turn provided safe bicycles to American consumers.

When the mandatory bicycle safety regulations became effective January 1, 1975, there was a two-year requirement for a label stating: “Meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Safety Regulations for Bicycles.” In Schwinn’s case, this was a yellow hang-tag that went on the handlebar with the owner’s manual. It served to inform and educate American consumers.

I realize this is history, and that many in today’s bicycle business are not interested in the history of either the business, or what is now an old and tired CPSC bicycle safety standard. I still feel there is a lesson to be learned about not denying responsibility by saying “it’s not our problem,” just as Frank V. Schwinn said 53 years ago.

There are those among the multi-national bicycle brands with headquarters in the U.S. that advocate for making international bicycle safety standards, and specifically ISO4210-10, the U.S. mandatory standard replacing the CPSC standard.

I for one think this is an excellent idea! ISO4210 was developed as the CPSC was developing the first mandatory bicycle safety standard, with the same participation through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), CPSC, BMA and Schwinn.

Don McKay, an engineer who was with the Bureau of Product Safety and transferred to CPSC, was contacted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ANSI about the formation of a standards committee under ISO to create an international bicycle safety standard that would be as compatible as possible with the mandatory U.S. standard being developed by CPSC. The purpose was to ensure foreign-manufactured bicycles would be able to enter the U.S. market by meeting the mandatory federal standard.

When Don McKay asked Schwinn to participate, Frank V. Schwinn approved because he saw it as part of “our problem.” His company had been importing components from Europe and Asia since the end of World War II, and became a significant importer of complete bicycles during the 1971-1974 “bicycle boom.”

ISO4210 has its origin in the original CPSC bicycle safety standard. The significant difference now is that the CPSC standard has aged, basically frozen in time, while the ISO4210 international standard has been updated frequently as the products have evolved over the years.

Again, this is history that many in the industry today have no interest in. However, there should be an immediate interest in the public perception of an industry that is concerned about the safety of the consumers that purchase and use their products.

The consumer doesn’t know, or care, if the lithium-ion battery that powers the e-bike they own is from a “member” of a trade association or not. What they care about and expect is that the product they purchased, whether from an online seller or a bike shop, is safe to own and use.

They are also naïve, demanding and wanting both the lowest price and safe products. It is our problem, as an industry, to provide this in the best way possible for them. It is also an opportunity just waiting to be discovered.

As many of you already know, Human Powered Solutions (HPS) supports the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) in advocating for UL2849, a voluntary third-party testing and certification e-bike electrical power systems standard.

UL 2849 was developed under the auspices of Underwriters Laboratory (UL) pre-COVID, with the active participation of three members of the bicycle industry: Trek, Bosch and SRAM. The committee that developed UL2849 is still active, and has already amended this voluntary standard once since it was promulgated January, 2020. I can let you know who sits on the UL2849 development committee on request.

Brands can have their e-bike electrical propulsion systems third-party tested, certified, and listed with UL, which gives them the right to use the UL sticker on their products.

HPS has reviewed the cost associated with testing, compliance and listing to UL2849, and shared our findings with Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. The costs of compliance and listing, like insurance and shipping, are amortized over the cost of each complete product, or stock-keeping-unit, utilizing that complete electric drive system.

For some brands this will spread the cost over an appreciable quantity of units. Depending on annual unit volume, the compliance cost can have a wide range that with most brands will not have an appreciable effect on retail pricing.

With this said, HPS feels this is the time for an e-bike brand to promote its products’ compliance and listing to UL2849 with retailers and consumers, and is an opportunity to enhance and build brand integrity and share of mind with all.

Contact Jay Townley: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com

CONFRONTING SHRINKING SALES AFTER A PANDEMIC-DRIVEN BOOM

All the news and factual bits and pieces that float to the surface indicate the American bicycle business is in an uncertain place, as our primary supply chain shuts down from January 20 until about February 6 for Chinese New Year, and we wait to see how many workers are able to come back to factories, desks, CAD stations, trucks, warehouses and ocean ports.

So much of the global and U.S. bicycle business is privately-held, or in the hands of private equity and venture capital, that very little public information is available about layoffs, order cancellations, inventory, and the financial condition of the supply chain.

With that said, here are a baker’s dozen headlines from U.S. and European news sources, bicycle trade and consumer publications that shed some light on the currents and winds of the bicycle business during the month of January 2023.

1. Peloton agrees to pay a $19 million fine for delay in disclosing treadmill defects. This story is taken from National Public Radio and, goes on to report:

“Peloton had received more than 150 reports of incidents involving people, pets or objects being pulled under and entrapped at the rear of the treadmill, by the time the company informed regulators, the CPSC said.

“Those reported incidents included the death of a child and 13 injuries, including broken bones, lacerations, abrasions and friction burns, the agency said.

“After initial resistance from the fitness company, Peloton and the CPSC jointly announced the recall of the Tread+ treadmill in May 2021.”

HPS thinks this is significant because it shows that the greatly-weakened CPSC, often portrayed as “toothless” by the bicycle industry, does indeed have fangs that bite, and when it gets the support of Congress, can and will enforce section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act.  

The bicycle industry association, in HPS’s opinion, should pay careful attention to CPSC going forward.

2. Both Merida and Ideal Bike announce top management changes. The story appeared in Bike Europe, and reports:

“Merida CEO Michael Tseng will step down as president of Merida. His son, Vansen Tseng, will assume this position following an approval by Merida’s board of directors effective 1 February.

“Ideal Bike general manager Tim Lin already stepped down on 31 December 2022, but will remain with the company as special assistant to the chairman. At the turn of the year the vice president of Ideal China, Frank Chen, was appointed as Lin’s successor at Ideal Bike.”

Merida is the number two bicycle and e-bike Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in Taiwan, with manufacturing facilities in mainland China and Europe. The U.S. brand most associated with Merida is Specialized. Merida also owns a percentage of Specialized.

Ideal is the number three bicycle and e-bike OEM in Taiwan, with manufacturing facilities in mainland China, and is the source for a variety of U.S. and European brands.

Merida is a public company traded on the Taipei stock exchange, and we believe Ideal is as well. HPS finds the timing a bit odd given the uncertainty of 2023 and what we believe is the mounting financial pressure on all the top-tier Taiwanese bicycle industry OEMs that also own and control manufacturing facilities in China.

3. The US bike manufacturer Specialized announced last week that it was laying off 8% of its employees, or some 125 people. This headline comes from the January 17 issue of The Outer Line, a cycling enthusiast newsletter. It goes on to report: “This comes just a few weeks after discontinuation of its ambassador program. While severe economic challenges have impacted companies both across the bike industry (Outside, Zwift, Wahoo, Strava, Pearl Izumi, The Pro’s Closet, etc.), and the wider economy in recent months, Specialized’s pullback signals a significant retrenchment from their early COVID-era aggressive expansion plans, which included purchasing and opening their own retail network and even starting a consumer-direct sales pipeline.

“Outside of the simple fact that the era of cheap capital is over, this retreat confirms that the COVID bike boom was an aberration that pulled future years of consumption forward. The initial misread of the trend by the industry’s major brands, and ensuing production bottlenecks and product shortages, triggered a whiplash effect where there are now too few customers and too little money chasing too much product. Ironically, the industry has come full cycle: the next few years will likely look a lot like the landscape before COVID hit in early 2020.”

This enthusiast cyclist newsletter offers the opinion to affluent consumers that: “…the COVID bike boom was an aberration that pulled future years of consumption forward.” HPS finds this a plausible theory as relates to the market for high-end acoustic bicycles, and worth considering from a consumer research standpoint.

4. Specialized re-organization also impacts European operations. This headline is taken from a January 19 Bike Europe article that reports: “Citing a changing global economy and faster than anticipated changes within cycling, Specialized announced the job losses on January 11. The press release stated that an organisational adjustment will allow the brand to be adaptive and continue to invest in innovation. Giant is another manufacturer taking extreme measures to future-proof itself. In December the company wrote to its suppliers asking for payment postponement.

The article shows a picture of the new Specialized European headquarters located in Arnhem, the Netherlands, and also says: “A representative of the European operations, confirmed to Bike Europe that employees in Europe are also affected by the layoffs, but no further details were given than what was in the press release coming out of Morgan Hill. It leaves the question, who will be the next big brand to announce strategic repositioning this winter? Watch this space.”

HPS agrees with Bike Europe, and is also watching for who will be the next big brand to announce strategic repositioning this winter.

5. 2023 may be a rollercoaster for e-bike prices. For those of you who follow electrek, you know Micah Toll writes an article almost every day. This one ran in the January online consumer newsletter, and offered the opinion that:

“Prices in the electric bike industry spent years with relative stability until the pandemic’s many ripple effects wreaked havoc on the industry. Over the last few years we’ve watched prices rocket up and then plunge back down again in a matter of months, only to repeat. Many riders had hoped to see 2023 bring with it a return to normalcy in the industry. Based on the several recent price changes across many companies, that doesn’t appear to be the case.”

The article ends: “With only a week into 2023 and no stability in sight, don’t expect to count on this being the year that prices drop back to normal for good.”

From what HPS has seen since this article posted, 2023 will be a rollercoaster for e-bike prices, primarily DTC, but spilling over into specialty retail.

6. “Global e-bike brands gather in Las Vegas for back to normal CES.” This is taken from a January 17 Bike Europe article. HPS attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but came away thinking this headline is slightly overstated.

The stringer who wrote the Bike Europe article states: “Held from 5-8 January, the event attracted more than 115,000 visitors and 3,000 exhibitors. For the 2023 edition, organiser Consumer Technology Association still focused on electric mobility with a growing number of car manufacturers, but also a multitude of e-bikes brands. A hot topic this year was vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, which continues to catch the attention of more companies.”

HPS agrees that V2X technology will be a hot topic in the bicycle market going forward, as was shown and demonstrated at the PeopleForBikes SHIFT-22 Conference. However, a “multitude of e-bikes brands” is an overstatement. The brands identified in the rest of the article are Komda, Invanti, LUL, Vinfast, Cake, and RCA.

HPS’s Mike Fritz advises anyone wishing to attend CES in the future to study the hall layouts and attendees and make a plan for efficiently navigating and visiting exhibiters. Otherwise, the size of the show is overwhelming.

7. VanMoof asks investors for additional funding to continue operations. A January 24 Bike Europe article announced: “The trendy Amsterdam-based brand VanMoof has seen its turn-over hike since 2017. A strong global branding made it an attractive investment for private equity. But VanMoof has also experienced the back side of the current supply chain problems, just like many others in the industry.

“Without a capital injection, the company warned its future was in danger within two months,” reported the Dutch financial newspaper FD yesterday. The preliminary annual report for 2021, which was filed just after the turn of the year, stated that the e-bike manufacturer was discussing with investors and suppliers to pay between €10 and €40 million. It now appears that only existing investors participated in the latest capital injection. These include London-based investment firms Balderton and China’s Hillhouse.”

HPS notes that this situation may be attributable to the company’s original business plan, and not reaching the revenue required to cover expenses in the face of declining sales.

8. Amprio confirms take-over by SRAM. On January 5 Bike Europe reported: “This week Amprio confirmed the take-over of the e-bike components business of Rheinmetall by SRAM. Bike Europe learned from industry insiders that SRAM is now taking serious action to join the e-bike boom.

“SRAM is late coming to the e-bike electric propulsion system party, and any acquisition in Europe now has a higher risk attached to it because of the economic conditions brought on by the Ukrainian war. With this said, SRAM has a good solid reputation as a drive train and system source, and a European supply base will be beneficial against established competitors in the EU.”

9. McKinsey-WFSGI study reports industry braces for headwinds. On January 26 Bike Europe announced the WFSGI and McKinsey annual report “Sporting Goods 2023 – The need for resilience in a world in disarray.”

“ZURICH, Switzerland – Rising costs, the looming threat of larger recession, low consumer confidence and continuing operational challenges are set to create headwinds, according to sports and bicycle the industry executives. This is one of the key findings from the WFSGI (World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry) and McKinsey latest annual report.

“In 2022 consumer sentiment was improving month-on-month, reflecting looser COVID-19 restrictions in most markets, companies were placing large orders, both in anticipation of demand and to avoid the supply chain challenges of 2021, and performance in the first half of the year was widely positive. However, inflation was picking up due to the impacts of the war in Ukraine, with higher raw material and energy costs prompting some companies to raise prices. In the meantime, consumer sentiment showed signs of deterioration with -40% consumer’s net intent to purchase sporting goods items, and discretionary spending declined. Supply chains gradually became more reliable, but the sudden increase in available product in destination countries paired with declines in spending led to widespread overstocking.

“According to the WFSGI and McKinsey, 2023 is expected to be a challenging economic environment with continuing subdued consumer sentiment. This will require a holistic approach from sporting goods companies to focus both on preserving demand and building resilience. WFSGI and McKinsey write that in 2023, four key themes will shape the industry:

“Brand relevance: Sporting goods companies are among the most effective brand builders in the world. As consumer expectations rise and brand relevance deepens, brand building is expected to become more important.

“Sustainability: Accelerating decarbonization and scaling circular business models will be key for sporting goods companies to meet their aspirational sustainability targets.

“Nearshoring: In an era of supply chain disruption, more companies are likely to turn to nearshoring as an element of de-risking and speeding up their supply chain strategies.

“Industry is profitable growth for private investments: The success of sporting goods brands has attracted a wave of private investment. This is especially true for complementary brands, brands with an elevated digital interaction with consumers, and analytics at scale.

HPS will study and analyze this report in detail, and advise clients of its findings. Clients and interested companies and individuals should obtain the report and conduct their own review, keeping in mind that the U.S. bicycle business stands apart from the European bicycle business, and both are subsets of the sporting goods markets in Europe and the U.S.

10. Council member’s bill would ban e-bikes, e-scooters in NYC. This is from a January 26 Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN) online article that reports: “A New York City council member introduced legislation a week ago to ban e-bikes and e-scooters until they can be made safer and called for them to be treated like motor vehicles.

“The bill, put forth by Robert Holden on Jan. 19, would repeal the 2020 law that made e-bikes and e-scooters legal in the city and calls for a $500 fine. It would not include electric wheelchairs or other mobility devices designed for those with disabilities.”

This is serious and immediate. The Micromobility Reporter (TMR) lead story this month, “It Is Our Problem!” focuses on the importance of the American bicycle industry trade association recognizing that all e-bikes sold in the U.S., and all lithium-ion batteries used to power e-bike propulsion systems, are within their purview and responsibility.

The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) has actively engaged with the New York City Council and the Fire Department of New York City, along with UL and CPSC, to find solutions to the New York City e-bike lithium-ion battery fire problem, and do so in a manner that will not result in the banning of e-bikes.

11. Rad Power CEO: “We recognize that we have made mistakes.” Several trade publications, consumer publications, and new media reported this, and the latest is a January 27 article published online in BRAIN.

“Rad Power Bikes CEO Phil Molyneux said in an e-mail to customers this week that the company has made mistakes and will learn from them. In the past year, the direct-to-consumer brand had three lawsuits filed against it, including one for a wrongful death of a girl riding as a passenger on one of its bikes.

“As a young company, we recognize that we have made mistakes. Now we are dedicated to learning from them,” said Molyneux, who succeeded founder Mike Radenbaugh in November. “The culmination of these efforts represents the ‘New Rad,’ one that combines the forward-thinking innovation of our early years with the knowledge and resources to make us more customer-focused than ever before.

“In October 2021, Rad Power announced that its latest $154 million financing round brought in a total of $329 million in investments since its inception in 2006. The company claimed then it was the world’s best-funded e-bike brand, at least in the direct-to-consumer market.”

Micah Toll of electrek is fond of referring to Rad Power Bikes as the largest e-bike brand in North America, and he bases this in large measure on the $329 million in investment since 2006. True, the Rad DTC sales figures are impressive, but as the title of this article states: Confronting Shrinking Sales After a Pandemic Driven Boom.

HPS would not have advised the president of Rad Power Bikes to make the statement about a “New Rad,” but we were not asked either. Watch Rad carefully from this point forward as the market and financial pressure rises.

12. Giant Group buys minority share in Stages Cycling in $20 million deal. This article was also in several trade publications, and this is from a BRAIN January 27 online article:

”Giant Group has made a $20 million investment in Stages Cycling, acquiring 32.5% of the company’s common stock according to a filing with the Taiwan stock exchange.

“Stages, based in Portland, Oregon, makes stationary smart bikes for the commercial gym and home markets, crankarm-based power meters, and GPS bike computers. Giant has manufactured some of Stages smart and commercial indoor bikes for several years, and Giant also distributes some Giant-branded Stages GPS computers to its dealers globally.

“According to the announcement in Taiwan, on Jan. 20 Giant’s board approved the purchase of 32.5% of Stages Cycling Inc. common stock for $6.5 million and Stages Cycling’s convertible corporate bonds for $13.5 million. Giant made the investment through its subsidiary Gaiwin US I Investment Inc. 

“Giant said its strategy is to expand Giant Group’s presence within the indoor cycling market and to build Giant’s ‘cycling ecosystem.’”

Even in good times, this would have been an unusual acquisition. Giant just bought about one-third interest in a large customer for not a lot of money, depending on what the financials of Stages Cycling Inc. look like.

The convertible corporate bonds will convert to stock, in which the value of the 32.5% common stock convert to over another 64%. We may be wrong, but HPS analysis is that Giant just pulled a relatively large OEM customer of its fitness plant out of a financial crisis for now.

13. What tracking one Walmart store’s prices for years taught us about the economy. This last article is from a January 26 NPR article that shops a Walmart store in Georgia, in Liberty County, just south of Savannah that was shopped in 2019, before the pandemic and inflation. This normally wouldn’t make our newsletter, but out of the hundreds of items NPR put in its shopping cart for comparison, one was a bicycle!

Note that the last item above is a “Girls bicycle with training wheels.” The brand is Kent, and the Package Price in August, 2019, was $68.00. The Package Price December 2022 is $98.00, an increase of 44%.

We don’t know any more about the bicycle itself, or whether it was imported or assembled at the Kent-owned Bicycle Corporation of America plant in South Carolina. What we do know is the retail price leader, Walmart, had an inflationary price increase of 44% from the summer of 2019 to the winter of 2022 in the retail price.

While HPS is not aware of any similar retail price tracking in the industry, this one example may explain, at least in part, why the American bicycle business is confronting shrinking sales after a pandemic driven “boom.”

Contact Jay Townley: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com.

TURMOIL AND DOWNSIZING SEEN IN CYCLING AND OTHER SPORTS MEDIA PLATFORMS

The following is taken from The Outer Line, December 14, 2022. While the audience is primarily adult enthusiast cyclists, HPS found the author’s observations compelling as related to the overall American bicycle and e-bike business. We edited the original article for easier reading.

A few weeks ago, we commented on the turmoil and downsizing occurring in the cycling and other niche sports media platforms. As economic headwinds and uncertainties continue, this trend continues to intensify – in both the overall media business as well as the broader bicycle industry. With declining ad revenue and more hesitant subscribers, media platforms across the board are tightening their belts.

Substantial cuts have more recently been made at mainstream media firms like CNN, the Washington Post and USA Today. As former CNN host Brian Stelter put it in an essay for The Atlantic, “Media Winter is here once more, and it is getting ugly.” 

It seems that a “prerequisite for working in media in the 21st century is a tolerance for turmoil and constant change, continuing consolidation and ownership change; politicians and CEOs like Elon Musk fighting about coverage, AI threatening to replace writers, and not to mention that the pay is often terrible.” And it may be tougher in smaller niche media markets like individual sports verticals.

Another observer summarized it more concisely, saying, “Media is one of the worst businesses known to man.”  And it’s not just in the media. Layoffs have spread far beyond the editorial side in the cycling world, just two years after the historic “COVID boom.”

This retrenchment was best illustrated by COVID-darling Wahoo reportedly laying off at least 15 percent of its staff – likely largely due to over-extending itself after incorrectly assuming pandemic consumer habits would remain even after things returned to normal.

In addition, its partner turned competitor, Zwift, released a smart trainer significantly undercutting Wahoo’s indoor riding products. Strava has also reportedly laid off about 15 percent of its staff, as did The Pro’s Closet. And Specialized just discontinued its special ambassador program.

Beyond being a reflection of the current economic and financial headwinds, all of these recent developments also suggest that rather than COVID causing a boom in consumer spending, it may have just brought forward several years of spending. Hence, because of this over-optimistic forecasting, we will likely see the industry enter a prolonged lean time.

If you find this as interesting as we did, let me know: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS: E-BIKES, BATTERIES AND UL2849

On January 4, 2023 Human Powered Solutions will attend a virtual public meeting between the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and PeopleForBikes (PFB) that Erika Jones, PFB counsel, requested.

This virtual meeting will last 60 minutes. It will be devoted to questions that PFB will ask CPSC about the December 19, 2022, memorandum from Robert S. Kaye, Director CPSC Office of Compliance and Field Operations, to 2000 manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of micromobility devices, including e-bikes, for consumer use.

Below we have provided a chronology of events from December 8, 2022 through December 31, 2022 covering some of the most important communications we are aware of relative to the January 4 public meeting.

HPS will continue to keep our clients and TMR readers informed and up to date on events involving and affecting e-bikes, lithium-ion batteries, voluntary standards, testing and certification.

Please contact me you have any questions or require copies of any of the communications, articles or documents listed below at jay@humapoweredsolutions.com

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Chronology of events: e-bikes, lithium-ion batteries and UL2849

December 8, 2022: Consumer Reports investigative article by Stephanie Clifford: “Fire! Fire! Fire!” The Perplexing, Deadly Electric Bike Problem.

December 8, 2022: PeopleForBikes Zoom meeting of electric bicycle sub-committee.

December 9, 2022: Press release: commissioner Mary T. Boyle statement on lithium-ion battery fires and e-bikes

December 18, 2022: Letter from Heather Mason, president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA), to chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission re: electric bicycle (e-bike) certification to UL 2849.

December 19, 2022: Memorandum from Robert S. Kaye, director CPSC Office of Compliance and Field Operations to manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers of micromobility devices for consumer use.

December 20, 2022: Statement from chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric on CPSC letters regarding micromobility battery safety.

December 20, 2022: Letter from Heather Mason, president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) to NBDA members to share an update regarding e-bicycles, certification, and safety.

December 20, 2022: Bicycle Retailer and Industry News online article titled: Dealer association asked CPSC to make statement on e-bike standards.

December 21, 2022: E-mail from PeopleForBikes to members: Update: CPSC letter on micromobility devices. This e-mail announced “…an upcoming meeting to discuss” the implications of the CPSC memorandum of December 19 scheduled to take place January 4.

December 23, 2022: Public notice that Joel Recht and other CPSC staff will meet with Erika Jones, counsel, and representatives from PeopleforBikes to discuss lithium battery safety on micromobility products January 4, 2023.

December 23, 2022: Jay Townley received a return phone call in the afternoon from Joel Recht, CPSC deputy director for Hazard Identification and Reduction, requesting an e-mail address and stating that he would e-mail instructions January 3, 2023, for linking via Webex to observe the scheduled January 4, 2023 public meeting with PeopleForBikes. Recht stated this will be a virtual meeting.

December 29, 2022: Why Taking Leadership In E-Bike Safety Is Essential by Claudia Wasko, VP at Bosch E-bike Systems Americas, Forbes Business Development Council Post.

December 31, 2022: E-bike batteries raise safety concerns amid rise in fires: “Very hard to examine” article by Peter Charalambous, ABC News.

COVID-19 IS TEARING THROUGH CHINA

There are several things going on relative to this headline, including the fact that COVID-19 and its variants are still with us after almost three years. For the American bicycle business, COVID-19 has been turned loose in epidemic proportions on our largest supply source of bicycles and e-bikes.

A December 28, 2022 article in the Economist Weekly edition states, “After nearly three years of self-imposed isolation, China is opening up again. The domestic travel restrictions, mass-testing requirements and draconian lockdowns of the ‘zero-COVID’ policy were scrapped in early December. On January 8 China will reopen its borders too. People arriving from abroad will no longer have to quarantine. More flights into China will be allowed. Visas will be granted to business travelers and students (though not yet to tourists). And Chinese nationals will be allowed to travel abroad without needing to provide the authorities with a reason.”

There are no accurate figures on how many Chinese people have been and will be infected, but it is clear the government will not report the real numbers. It is now estimated by sources outside of China that as many as 250 million Chinese have come down with COVID-19, and that 1.5 million will die as the urban wave peaks in January, just as the Lunar New Year begins.

On January 20 factories shut down and workers in the urban areas of China leave for their home villages in the rural provinces, some taking COVID-19 with them.

The human suffering and loss of life is tragic. It also means the disruptions to bicycle and e-bike manufacturing will continue after the Lunar New Year into February and March as COVID-19 closes manufacturing facilities and workers become ill and are delayed returning to work.

We have not seen the final import data for 2022 yet, but based on 2021 import data China was the source country for 86.8 percent of all the bicycles and e-bikes imported into the U.S. (See the NBDA U.S. Bicycle Market Overview 2021 Report, Table 22, page 45: www.nbda.com)  

This also means the brands will have difficulty balancing their inventory of finished goods because of the Q-1 2023 disruptions to their Chinese-based supply chains.

The only good news is the disruptions to the Chinese supply chain will mean a Q-1 slowing of imports of low-cost e-bikes under the de minimis rule.

If you have questions, contact me at: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com

THE BIG IF

I am writing this on the last day of 2022, a year that literally went from a supply chain nightmare of scarcity to the discomfort of surplus.  

From what I have been reading in the trade press in Europe and the U.S., there has been a tendency in the bicycle business to not acknowledge this excess inventory. When its existence does slip out, as it did recently with Giant, there is an uneasiness about the financial implications of the surplus.

In general, the sentiment seems to be that good sales this coming spring will ease the situation and bring inventory levels back to what is referred to as “normal circumstances.”

This to me is the big if: IF consumer demand results in good sales this coming spring. This also smacks of management by hope.

I realize the bicycle business in the U.S. is trying to be as proactive as it can relative to attracting consumers to bicycles and bicycling, including e-bikes. However, I fear the mainstream bicycle business doesn’t have all the customers and potential customers in focus, and as the result isn’t able to connect with and sway enough of them.

My premise is based on the excellent consumer research done by Sports Marketing Surveys, now known as Sporting Insights, for the NBDA in Q-4 2021 and published Q-1 2022 by the NBDA: www.nbda.com/store

This consumer research uncovered the fact that approximately 30 percent of adult cyclists were new to cycling, depending on the category, and a higher percentage were female compared to historic demographics. In the case of e-bikes, many wanted throttles and “BMX” styles.

You can dig deeper into this detailed consumer research study, but one of my take-aways was the bicycle business had attracted new and different adult purchasers during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, but before we could study them, many quit walking into and purchasing from bike shops.

Consumer demand drives everything in our world, sales, forecasts, production, shipping, and inventory of components and finished goods. Everything! When consumer demand drops off so does everything else. When too much inventory is in the bicycle supply chain when consumer demand slows, an overhang of surplus inventory results, like a blockage in a pipeline.

In the case of the bicycle business in the U.S., we don’t really know why consumer demand slowed during Q-3 of 2022, or why it continued to drop below pre-pandemic levels of sales during Q-4.

Some additional consumer research focused on the e-bike segment has been done recently, but I believe the panel size was too small. Although I am not privy to the methodology or results, I don’t believe it captured consumer purchase information or future intent from a group that may represent both the problem and the solution.

What I am speaking about are the American consumers who have purchased directly from e-bike sources in China under the so called de minimis rule.

While this is direct-to-consumer (DTC), it is a piece of the American bicycle business that is mostly not being tracked, although DTC purchasers and riders were included in the NBDA consumer research I have referenced.

The fact that they are not tracked is because de minimis import transactions are not recorded by U.S. Customs, and do not show up in the statistics followed by everyone in the business, including the trade associations, Ed Benjamin at LEVA, and Human Powered Solutions.

American consumers purchasing an e-bike or regular bicycle valued at $800 FOB or less can have it shipped directly to their home addresses with no duty, tax or inspection, and no record of the transaction.

If you are wondering if there are a lot of these transactions, the U.S. Congress reports there are 2 million of them in the U.S. every day. We have provided detail about why America has de minimis transactions and the attempts to stop them in previous articles. Contact me if you would like to know more.

From the buzz we have been picking up from advocates and bicycle riders, the number of adults and teenagers passing them on unrecognizable no-name e-bikes has increased in recent months. Bike shops are also reporting more of this type of e-bike being brought in for service.

Bottom line: we will not know until the NBDA conducts the same type of consumer research as it did during Q-4 of 2021 with the same robust panel of 2,500 adults, using the same methodology as the previous study, which included DTC purchasers like those buying under the de minimis rule.

Meanwhile U.S. inflation hit a 40-year high at 9.1 percent at the end of 2022, and the economic picture does not present a high probability of consumers coming back to bike shops to make purchases this spring, although the unemployment rate is at 3.5 percent, tied for the lowest since 1969.

So combined with other economic factors, we will have to wait to see IF consumer demand and sales this spring will reduce the current excess inventory to “normal circumstances.”

HPS will continue to report on this situation, and I welcome your comments. You can contact me at: jay@jayhumanpoweredsolutions.com

CHANGING THE GAME

Half of adult e-bike riders (50.7 percent) started (39 percent) or returned (17.1 percent) to riding a bicycle during the pandemic, from 2020 to 2021. This data is from NBDA consumer research published in late 2021 and available at www.nbda.com.

This is reminiscent of the home-grown beginnings of BMX on the American West Coast in the late 1970’s. BMX emulated motorcycle motocross racing, employing modified 20-inch bicycles.

The research also says that most adult cyclists who plan to buy an e-bike will purchase a BMX bike!

Before you toss this response away, stop and consider that the majority of consumers aren’t really that accurate about bicycle styles and types. When adult cyclists say they plan to buy a BMX type e-bike, we suggest many are thinking of the fat-tire 20-inch or 24-inch e-bike they have seen on the Internet, like this one:

American e-bike brands like Rad Power Bikes (founded in 2015), Juiced (founded in 2010) and Super 73 (founded in 2016) were direct to consumer (DTC), and are now including bike shops in their distribution and marketing.

These brands, and others like them, are based on motorcycle, moped and scooter design. They have in many cases excited consumers who have never ridden a bicycle before about riding an e-bike, or “bicycle” as defined.

Our analysis indicates that the sales surge during the pandemic changed the bicycle market and business. The NBDA consumer research found the traditional mainstream bicycle business views e-bikes as primarily an electric assist feature add-on to regular bicycles, and appeals to older bicycle riders. New e-bike brands that are primarily DTC are designed and marketed to new and younger consumers who are interested in environmentally-friendly recreation and transportation.

The traditional bicycle business and customers are more interested in values like component groups and proper fit. The new brands, and their younger, more female customers, are more interested in eco-friendly outdoor recreation and transportation. They are also interested in what a brand’s values are, as well as what they support and believe in.

Reaching out to and effectively communicating with both the traditional and new customer is the challenge for the future of the American bicycle business in uncertain times for consumer engagement and participation.

Understanding the traditional and new consumer demographics, along with changing buying and use habits, will require a change in thinking, marketing tactics and strategies going forward. It is no longer just about banning “them” from local trails and bike paths, or restricting “out-of-category” products. It is about understanding differences of perception, and finding common ground to actually be inclusive, to grow the American bicycle business and market.

Contact Jay Townley: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com