6th August 2013
War of the Worlds writer H G Wells once said “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” Anyone in London and a large slice of Surrey last weekend would have known what he meant – even if they disagreed.
It was the Ride London cycling event – and roads were closed in London all the way down to Forest Green, deep in rural Surrey. The two day cycle-fest involved a mass participation event with feeder rides from all over London attracting well in excess of 50,000, professional racers and a 100 mile “marathon” where 16,500 ordinary riders including London mayor Boris Johnson, who would be the first to confess that his body mass index was not that of Tour de France winners Chris Froome or Bradley Wiggins.
It was fun for those taking part – if agony for those hit by road problems. But there was also the profit motive. The whole event was sponsored by insurance giant Prudential which has a three year contract. And its branding was everywhere.
Bikes are now big news and big business. Bike usage in central London has more than doubled over the past decade, according to the London Cycling Campaign which pushes for better facilities for day-to-day pedaling. Other cities including Manchester and Bristol have also seen massive increases. And next summer, the Tour de France starts in England with the opening day – Le Grand Depart – in Yorkshire followed by a Cambridge to London stage before the race heads for its spiritual French home.
So can anyone make any money out of this biking rebirth? The easy answer is “no” to investors who are looking for a fast buck or a get rich quick asset – there are no oil gushers or hidden seams of gold to discover or amazing mobile applications to harness. There is even little money from selling admission tickets as most spectators watch free of charge from the roadside.
But here are a dozen ways in which – two wheeled traveler or not – investors and some firms they may hope to profit from the cycling revolution.
1) Sponsor cycling. This pays big time. The Prudential is forking out undisclosed millions for its three year Ride London contract while Barclays has spent over £25m on branding the London “Boris Bikes hire scheme” and more on the less well received “Cycling Super Highways” (hence the Barclays’ blue colour paint on the road). They presumably know what they are doing. But loads of other companies ranging from multinationals to local companies (who can sponsor a cycle rack or local bike maps, for instance) also want to associate their brand with cyclists. Two wheeled people tend to be better off, younger and fitter than average. Sky did brilliantly from sponsoring the team that has won the Tour de France two years in succession – and it is a far better deal than trying to run a football club (see point 12) – as there are no premises, just a small staff and no one earns £100,000 tax free every week.
2) Invest in a manufacturer. They are mostly in the far east. Merida Industry is Taiwan based and quoted on the local stock market. Cannondale Corporation manufactures high performance bicycles – its shares are traded on the US over the counter market (Pink Sheets) and are highly speculative. London’s iconic Brompton Bikes company is owned by private equity.
3) Buy shares in a retailer. Halfords is the UK’s is the biggest in a largely fragmented scene. It aims at the mid market, a recent attempt to take the lucrative high end with a standalone “Bike Hut” brand failed to achieve targets. Over the past 12 months, the shares have moved from 214p to 379p despite slashing its dividend in May. A new leadership has promised a focus on growing its 20-25 percent share of the UK’s £700m cycles market. It intends spending £50m on modernising its cycle selling areas.
4) Use the tax system – Individuals buying bikes through the employer-led Cycle to Work scheme can save around one third of the list price through this tax break. Bike shops say customers use the savings to upgrade rather than pay less. There is also a 20p per mile allowance for those using bikes for work (not commuting) purposes.
5) Save on private health insurance premiums – as cycling is healthy. Medical insurer Pruhealth offers policyholders 50 per cent off new bikes at retailer Evans – it’s paid in four slices so you have to stick with the plan for a year – and, providing the cycling shows an improved heart rate, it offers further policy discounts. It also reduces the cost of company health plans where employers can show their staff have become healthier – cycling is one way. Firms can also help with bike acquisition costs through the Cycle to Work tax scheme.
6) Pay less for daily travel. No bus or train fares, petrol costs, parking fees or speeding tickets. A reasonable quality bike and accessories cost around £600. Expect to spend £100 a year on top for parts that wear such as chains, cables and tyres. On journeys up to five miles, the bike will pay for itself within two years, besides being faster door to door and healthier.
7) Go short on car and oil companies – if this is the age of the bike, and increasing urban living suggests we can’t keep on using cars, then profits at motor manufacturers and oil companies will shrink. So take a bet on their shares falling by going short. In any case, the finances of most car makers are parlous – and have been for decades. Look at General Motors, Fiat, and in the UK, British Leyland.
8) Re-invent the cycle delivery boy. There’s an untapped market for short distance deliveries of food and other items which would be cheaper, faster and more reliable than vans. No more “I’m late because I’m stuck in traffic” calls from the online food delivery people. In big cities, both the police and the ambulance service have taken to bikes. It’s time for Sainsbury’s to saddle up.
9) Set up a training company – many local authorities have budgets for adult and child cycle training, and cycle to school schemes. All require staff who are freelance. There is a good pool of labour with cycling skills but needing to be taught how to train. Providing trainers in a way which both ensures a reliable service and is cheaper than local authority’s current, usually last minute practices could be a good business idea. It can be stretched to training for fitness, for charity bike rides and Dr Bike repairs.
10) Invest in infrastructure – Transport for London plans to spend £1bn on cycling infrastructure in London over the next four years. And there is a government announcement next week on UK cycle spending. MPs are due to debate how to change the UK’s streets to make them safe for cycling in September. Last April, the Get Britain Cycling report from parliamentarians called for more investment in cycling infrastructure, improved training, as well as lower speed limits in residential areas and cycle provision in all planning applications.
11) Benefit from better health – employers gain from lower absenteeism by investing in cycle facilities for staff. Individuals gain from less illness. And the NHS saves money by treating fewer ailments and fewer chronically obese people.
12) Become a cycling professional – you have to start young! And be very dedicated. A first year professional gets around £27,500 but once you win something significant such as a stage in a major tours or a one day race, you move rapidly into six figures. Winning the Tour de France earns around £450,000. Then you can start picking up commercial endorsements taking total earnings into the low millions. But don’t expect the sort of cash star footballers earn – which is why sponsors love the sport (see point 1).