Wheels of change

Often pushed and shoved on Indian roads, the bicycle is slowly finding its way back

One of the earliest modes of transport, the bicycle, seldom finds itself in the spotlight. The two-wheeler is often found rusting in some corner while children are glued to mobile screens. Meanwhile, for many adults, cycling is merely a weekend hobby or a gym-alternative, but never a mode of transport. Even in rural India, scooters and motorcycles have made inroads, and cycling has taken a backseat. But, with the pandemic, the wheels are creaking back to life.

According to the All India Bicycle Manufacturers Association (AICMA), a total of 4,180,945 bicycles (including exports) have been sold in the country from May to September 2020. Speaking to Outlook Business, KB Thakur, secretary general of AICMA says, “The rise in bicycle demand is more than 100% in cosmopolitan cities, 75% in metros and 50% in towns and suburban areas. It is happening for the first time, over the past five decades.”

So, what changed? For one, there is increased focus on building immunity. Second, bicycles are becoming the preferred mode of transport for distance less than five kilometers. This is evident in the sales numbers, says Thakur. From the 199,997 roadsters sold in May this year, the number has already doubled to 426,475 in September. Bicycles in the kids and fancy categories, too, have seen a similar growth trajectory – from 69,337 to 185,714 and from 115,165 to 373,351, respectively. “In fact, customers are on wait, even up to three months, for purchases especially in the fancy category,” he adds. Another important reason behind this boom is the pro-cycling environment. “Now, there are lesser motorised vehicles, so the roads are freer and transport-induced pollution is also less. This is benefitting the cyclists,” explains Thakur. 

However, all is not well on the business side of things. Due to the lockdown, the bicycle industry in Ludhiana is facing a shortage in labour and raw materials. Adding to the woes are the Farm Bills that have agitated the existing workforce in the area. All this, along with social distancing norms in factories, has resulted in the industry operating at 75% capacity.

In June, Atlas Cycles closed down its last manufacturing unit in Sahibabad citing lack of funds. With the legacy company out of the picture, as per AICMA data, 40% of the market share currently lies with Hero Cycles, 20.5% with TI, 13.5% with Avon; 7% each with Seth Industrial Corporation, Hero Ecotech and SK Bikes, and 5% is held by Vishal Cycles. 

Running on a flat tire for years, the industry is slowly but surely getting much-need traction, but the primary focus should now be on addressing supply gaps. Otherwise, long waiting lines could puncture this newfound enthusiasm.