Variety

A nation getting on the cycle to ride out a pandemic

Chitra Narayanan, Vinay Kamath New Delhi/Chennai | Updated on September 17, 2020 Published on September 08, 2020

The In the last few months, the demand has surged so much that manufacturers are finding it difficult to keep up supplies   -  K_R_DEEPAK

Bike sales soar as people seek to travel safe and remain fit

Rashmi Gupta, a 36-year-old school teacher of East Delhi, tried to buy a bicycle recently and to her shock found there was a waiting period. She wanted to avoid e-rickshaws for nearby shopping and felt it would be a good way to stay fit, too.

In the last few months, cycle sales have seen an astonishing jump as many like Gupta have taken to cycling. Sports chain Decathlon and even neighbourhood cycle dealers are finding it hard to cope with the demand.

From mid-May onwards, says KK Paul, president, TI Cycles, the company has seen 20-45 per cent sales growth over the previous year, in a market that has been flat for many years. Hero Cycles, too, says it has seen robust sales after a brief dip during the lockdown.

 

But analyse the sales data and a fascinating picture emerges — one that shows that India is now pedalling on a different track. It is the premium category that is flying while the mass market workhorse models have seen a dip. Paul of TI Cycles says “specials” are seeing a 30-35 per cent growth, while there has been a drop in standard segment.

For Hero, too, the spike has been led by its premium bicycles priced ₹12,000 and above as well its electric-cycle range Hero Lectro. Says Pankaj Munjal, Managing Director of Hero Cycles, “The sales indicate a high demand for fancy bicycles, recreation bikes as well as kids cycles. Women’s bicycles have also shown a jump.”

Factors driving sales

He says that the pandemic has triggered the need for social distancing and secure transport as well as safe exercise regimens. “These two factors have been the primary drivers of increased bicycle sales in the post corona world,” says Munjal.

Another reason for the spurt, feels Paul of TI Cycles, is that kids are cooped up at home with schools closed, so parents are buying their kids cycles. “The third reason for specials, he says, is a shift from unorganised to organised.” Coupled with non- supply of specials, it is giving the feeling that there is a huge shortage in the market.

However, there is no denying that the surge in demand has caused some problems for manufacturers. As Munjal says, “Raw material supply was disrupted and we also experienced labour shortage. We have been trying to ensure that these challenges are addressed and waitlists are shortened.”

On the distribution end, says Munjal, Hero is trying to rationalise its orders across its dealers’ network. “We are trying to ensure a fair distribution in this situation to make sure that loss of sale per dealer is kept to a minimum.”

As for production, he says Hero is running at full capacity. It is also analysing sales data and figuring out which bicycle segments need to be stepped up. “Fortunately for us, Hero Cycles is set for a major capacity addition through the upcoming Hero Industrial Park at the International Cycle Valley in Dhanasu, Punjab,” he says. The Park will become operational by March and it will take Hero Cycles’ manufacturing capacity to 10 million units per year.

China tangle

Of course, there is the China factor too. Admits Munjal, “The cycle industry has been heavily dependent on China for inputs and components.” However, he points out that the trade tangle and the restriction of Chinese imports are a blessing in disguise for the local component industry. As Paul adds, “Many of us are fortunate that we started working on indigenisation a year ago, so that today we have suppliers who can supply components that we were earlier importing.” By October we should see a far more even supply demand scenario, feels Paul.

But the question is whether post-pandemic, India will continue cycling or go back to its cars and gyms? Munjal is highly optimistic. “Cycling is a behavioural shift that once embraced tends to stay. In urban India, the culture of cycling has been lacking for a long time, but the pandemic has changed that.” All it needs is some infra push by way of dedicated cycle paths, he feels.

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Published on September 08, 2020
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