Vosper: Flat is the new up – has the US bike market been static for 20 years?

Here in the US bike market, we get regular reports on unit sales, usually comparing year-over-year monthly or quarterly totals. The consistent sense of these reports is that while units tend to be down, average unit prices are up, so business must be improving overall.

There’s also a mix of data sources; one month’s article may be import figures, next month’s may sell-in from reporting brands or sell-through from reporting retailers. Some estimates include mass market or mail order, others don’t. The larger picture is incomplete and the long-term trends are not readily available.

But when you look at those numbers over time, it’s clear the US bike business is essentially stagnant, and has been for the past 20 years.

The chart shown here is based on import data of adult bikes (20” wheel size and up) since 2000. Source is my sometime Cycling Industry News colleague Jay Townley and his company, Human Powered Solutions. What’s particularly valuable is that Jay has been tracking the same data on a consistent basis since the 1970s.

Units across all channels shown as a five-year moving average (rolling red line) peaked in 2005. Sales dropped below overall trend (dotted red line) in 2010, following the global recession which hit bike sales hard in 2009. Since that time, year-to-year variations (blue line) are subsiding overall and the market seem to be settling at about twelve million units annually.

Certainly prices per unit have risen, especially on specialty-retail (bike shop) models, but the increase in nominal sales revenue does not offset the changing value of the US dollar. As of 2018, it takes US$1.48 (currently GB£1.22 or AU$2.16) to equal the value of just one dollar back in in 2000. Since retail prices have not gone up by nearly that amount, it’s reasonable to conclude that in constant dollars, revenues are at best flat – and more likely down – as well.

Stay tuned for more from Rick Vosper on Cycling Industry News. And catch up here