As fewer kids buy, ride bikes, in­dus­try fears a cy­cle of doom

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - By Ja­cob Bo­gage

Chil­dren’s bicycle manufactur­ers and re­tail­ers are brac­ing for rough times ahead as mar­ket re­search shows fewer kids are rid­ing bikes, while prices for cycling equip­ment are al­most cer­tain to increase be­cause of the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tar­iffs on Chi­ne­se­made goods.

The num­ber of chil­dren age 6 to 17 who rode bi­cy­cles reg­u­larly — more than 25 times a year — de­creased by more than a mil­lion from 2014 to 2018, ac­cord­ing to the Sports & Fit­ness In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion. That in­cludes both ca­sual rides around the neigh­bor­hood and more se­ri­ous cycling for fit­ness or com­pe­ti­tion.

And from 2018 to 2019, chil­dren’s bicycle sales de­creased 7% in dol­lars and 7.5% in bikes sold, a drop se­ri­ous enough that re­tail­ers have al­ready raised prices to make up for lower de­mand, mar­ket re­search firm NPD Group said.

It’s all caused the Amer­i­can bi­cy­cling in­dus­try — worth $5.6 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bicycle Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion — to hun­ker down in prepa­ra­tion for things to get worse.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has im­posed a 25% tar­iff on $250 bil­lion of Chi­nese goods, and has threat­ened to more than dou­ble the du­ties. Those tar­iffs af­fect al­most ev­ery com­po­nent that goes into a bicycle, from metal frames to fab­ric seats, plus en­tire bikes shipped to the U.S. af­ter be­ing as­sem­bled in China. Re­tail­ers largely pass those costs off to con­sumers, said Brian Nagel, man­ag­ing direc­tor and re­search an­a­lyst at in­vest­ment bank Oppenheime­r. That could sub­stan­tially raise the prices of items on the shelves, in­clud­ing bicycle ac­ces­sories such as hel­mets, lights and gloves.

“CEOs of bike com­pa­nies have and will tes­tify in front of the U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive about these tar­iffs: that bike prices will go up, and that means fewer kids will ride bikes,” said Tim Blu­men­thal, pres­i­dent of Peo­ple for Bikes, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy group that works closely with manufactur­ers, re­tail­ers and fit­ness ac­tivists.

“The con­se­quences of kids rid­ing bikes will go well be­yond the num­ber of kids who ride,” he added, re­fer­ring to other health and so­cial ben­e­fits of child­hood fit­ness. “In the mass mar­ket, tar­iffs, if they con­tinue for a long time, are likely to have a big ef­fect on the kids mar­ket.”

Arnold Kam­ler, chief ex­ec­u­tive of New Jersey bicycle com­pany Kent In­ter­na­tional, wrote in a May opin­ion piece in The Washington Post that his com­pany had weath­ered all kinds of eco­nomic for­tunes but had never dealt with a set­back like the Chi­nese tar­iffs.

“The new tar­iff,” he wrote, “raised our over­all costs by 7.5 per­cent, which we were forced to pass on ... ul­ti­mately, to Amer­i­can con­sumers ...

“When the hol­i­days ar­rived, con­sumers were put off by the higher prices. Sales dropped, end­ing up 5 to 10 per­cent lower than our pro­jec­tions.”

It’s all in­creased the con­cerns for bicycle sell­ers as fewer chil­dren par­tic­i­pate in cycling.

“For the over­all growth of the mar­ket, we need some de­cently priced in­tro­duc­tory bikes,” said Brandee Lepak, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Bicycle Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. “What we as an in­dus­try talk about is, ‘Are we pric­ing new cus­tomers out of the sport?’ ”

The chil­dren’s mar­ket is also a cru­cial seg­ment for manufactur­ers and re­tail­ers. Be­yond the strat­egy of try­ing to hook con­sumers when they’re young and turn­ing them into loyal life­long cus­tomers, the chil­dren’s de­mo­graphic has tra­di­tion­ally used bi­cy­cles both for play and transporta­tion.

PA­TRICK MCDER­MOTT/GETTY

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