Google Trends has become a powerful barometer of the world’s tastes and preferences on virtually every subject under the sun. As far as cycling is concerned, the number of searches for terms such as “road bike” and “mountain bike” provide a snapshot of two-wheeled trends which can now be tracked over the past six years.
UK bike shop chain Evans Cycles have looked at Google Trends for different types of bikes and compared those results with their own sales figures. The headline result from their comparison is that interest in road cycling in general and in hybrid bikes in particular is on the up, mountain biking’s star is on the wane, and the level of interest in folding and singlespeed machines remains static.
Graph showing volume of searches on Google UK for different bike types (click to enlarge)
And according to Google, those trends appear to be occurring on both a UK- and world-wide basis. Evans Cycles blogger Will Lockie says: “We can see that interest in road bikes has increased in 2010 over the previous two years, driven partly by the increasing popularity of sportive events – essentially non-competitive road riding.
"Don’t forget also the mainstream interest in cycling having a knock-on effect here too, encouraging more people to take up the sport. Interest in mountain bikes, on the other hand, looks to be down on previous years. Folding bikes and singlespeed bikes are relatively flat in comparison – perhaps due to all-year-round interest rather than seasonal peaks when the weather is nice!”
The above graphs show sales trends at Evans Cycles and www.evanscycles.com over the past three years; exact sales figures have not been released
Evans’ view of the market appears to chime with that of fellow retailers Hargreaves Cycles, of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. They sell up to 3,000 bikes a year and owner Eddie Vokes told us: “We’ve probably seen a slight increase in overall sales in the past 12 months but that’s been mainly on the road side. We had a good year on hybrids and it looks like more people are interested in commuting by bike, but I’d say mountain bikes have held fairly steady.
"We’ve seen a lot of people fitting mudguards on road bikes which could indicate that they’re using them for commuting too. Hybrids have gone up a lot, partly on the back of the Cycle to Work scheme. Last year the scheme really took off, I think because a lot of councils and hospital boards took it up.”
One trend that Mr Vokes has been struck by is the plummeting demand for children’s bikes. It seems to him that pre-teen children just aren't interested in cycling. “We’re finding that kids are getting lazy and there’s no two ways about that,” he said. “Up to the ages of about 12 or 13 they're not interested and then we start to sell a few BMX bikes, but apart from that, nothing.
“It’s three years since we’ve had a decent Christmas and this one was the worst ever. We used to do between 500 and 700 kids' bikes at Christmas but this year we sold 56. I’ve got about £15,000 worth of stock sitting there that we’ll simply have to hang onto for another year. It seems they just want to stay in their bedrooms with the computer games."
"Maybe it’s the parents that are being a bit over-cautious with their kids, telling them, ‘You can’t play out on your bike, because it’s too dangerous'. They’re going to have to do something about it because there are more obese kids about than ever. It’s very worrying,” said Mr Vokes, who should know, given that he's been selling bikes since 1973.
At the other end of the scale, high-end bikes seem to be selling well. Hargreaves bought some run-out stock of straight-forked Ridley Noah road bikes which proved to be very popular. Mr Vokes puts their popularity down to offering a value-for-money package that appealed to riders with cash to spend but who still had a nose for a bargain.
As for trends for the coming year, Evans Cycles’ head bike buyer Joel Natale had this to say: “We expect to see continued growth of road and hybrid bike sales... Also, perhaps we’ll see a bit more diversification in these categories as people start to push the envelope again. We’ve had the retro and singlespeed theme for a while, and cyclo-cross has been growing at a rate. Over the next few years I’d expect to see touring and audax make a resurgence also.
"Steel’s been very cool over the last few years so we're looking forward to seeing whether this develops further. In the mountain bike world the biggest topic is definitely 29ers. It does seem like 2011 will be their year – the product and the market has now developed... Simply put, there’ll be even more great ways to get out and cycle next year – let’s just hope we get some support from the weather!”