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Photo courtesy of Wines2Whales, the multi-day mountainbike event in the Western Cape
October/November 2013

Did the African cycling

dream impact on the cycling trade?

South Africa is earning some well-deserved limelight from cyclists performing on the world stage. Our continent is producing road cyclists worthy of yellow jerseys on the European circuit, SA’s mountain biking culture and industry seems to be on an ongoing upsurge and BMXing is developing on a national scale. Cities within South Africa are also becoming more cycle friendly. Has this growing interest in cycling resulted in a direct effect on trade and if so, what has been the impact? NELLE DU TOIT investigates

Cycling is arguably one of the fastest growing sports in South Africa. The growing interest in cycling (in all its forms) and the events associated with the sport can also have a positive impact on the overall economy.

The hosting of the UCI Mountain Bike Masters and MTB and Trials World Championships in Pietermaritzburg from 26 August — 1 September this year triggered an economic boom for the city and its broader regional economy worth R3-bn, according to a report from Gameplan Media.

“We have hosted UCI Mountain Bike World Cups in Pietermaritzburg in 2009, 2011, 2012 and will do so for 2014 and 2015,” says Mylene Loumeau, PR and communications manager at Cycling SA (CSA).

KwaZulu Natal has completed a detailed study that indicates that cycling events have brought more than a R1-bn worth of value and economic spend to the region.

The return on investment that the province is making on hosting cycling events has strengthened KwaZulu Natal’s commitment to support for hosting international cycling events and reinforcing Pietermaritzburg’s position in Africa as Bike City.

Pietermaritzburg has just completed an international standard BMX track (a legacy of hosting a round of the UCI BMX Supercross in 2011) at Giba Gorge. The city also hosted the 2009 and 2011 UCI BMX Supercross World Cups.

“Before, when we sent SA BMX champions oversees, the track that the athlete had to compete on was completely different to the track that he was used to training on,” says Loumeau. Now our top BMXers can train in the country.

In 2012 the Cape Argus Cycle Tour was estimated to have contributed R450-m to the Western Cape’s economy. “This included revenue generated from a range of services including meals, accommodation, shopping, tourist attractions, vendors, the sale of bicycle spares and equipment and others,” says Western Cape Minister for Economic Development and Tourism Alan Winde.

Considering the boost in economic and tourist activity cycling events can generate, it is no wonder that many SA cities are focusing on promoting a cycle-friendly environment.

But, what impact does this two-wheeled transportation wave actually have on trade?

Mountain vs road

All the cycling retailers that responded to a mini-survey Sports Trader did in September this year said that they have experienced exceptional growth in mountain biking sales over the last year. Some experienced 26-50% growth and others commented that they have experienced as much as 50-75% growth in mountain biking sales.

Out of the three categories asked (road cycling, BMXing and mountain biking), all retailers indicated that they have experienced more growth in mountain biking than road or BMX.

One retailer mentioned that whilst they sell more men’s cycles in the road cycle category, they sell more women’s cycles in the mountain biking category.

Internationally, women’s cycling (road and MTB) participation is on a growth spurt. The US has seen women’s cycling participation numbers overtake the participation numbers of their male counterparts, according to the American Bicyclist Study, put together by the Gluskin Townley Group. In 2012 the number of men who regularly rode a bicycle dropped 6% to 1.2-m, whilst women’s participation jumped 8% to 1.3-m.

In South Africa road cycling seems to have remained stable — cycling retailers and suppliers all say that they have not seen any growth in road cycling.

“We have found that the road segment is stable, neither growing nor retracting as it has done in the past,” says James Botes Snr of the Supersport Cycles distributorship.

Dangerous drivers, taxis, impatient road users, road rage, etc. could all attribute to cyclists moving off the dangerous roads and onto the trail.

“Road cycling has stagnated and has been stable for the last 4-5 years, mostly because of dangerous roads,” says Shamus Kreuger from the Bicicletta distributorship.

Many new participants are attracted to mountain biking by the number of mountain biking events that have been held across the country. These events attract riders from all age groups and fitness levels.

“Mountain biking has grown exponentially because the races cater for the whole family,” says Kreuger. Most weekend races have a choice of long, short and kiddies races. Some of the big series races even have a kiddies area where the children are looked after while the parents ride the race. After the race people stay for prize giving and a braai — the feel is just lekker. Families even plan weekends away that include a race.

“Road cycling, however, mostly has no vibe — it’s far too serious.”

About 60% of their sales in Olympic cycling shoes are from mountain bike specific shoes and 40% are from road cycling shoes, says Gordon Stokes of Jordan & Co. He also notes that whilst a cyclist can use mountain biking shoes (which have more protection around the toes and are generally more robust) for road cycling, road cycling shoes cannot be used for mountain biking.

Cycle Tour interest

Road cycle sales are strongly linked with the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour. “Mountain bikes are sold year round, but the road bikes are limited to pre-Argus sales,” says Phillip Thord-Gray of Rapid Sport. “The Cycle Tour has kept road cycling alive.”

The event not only promotes a strong interest in cycling across SA, it also attracts many international cyclists to the country.

The demand for a spot in one of the world’s largest timed cycling events far outreaches the supply. “This year — 2013 — entries closed in 5.5 days,” says David Bellairs, director of the organisers, Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust.

Traditionally (2005-2012), it took between 2-4 weeks to reach the 35 000 participation limit — this year one could only enter online and the numbers were filled in record time.

The Cycle Tour is internationally regarded as one of the top road cycling events.

A huge compliment to the event was the visit by a delegation from London who used the Cycle Tour as a study and blueprint for the running of the first ever Ride London event, which was hosted in August 2013 for the first time and took place through central London,” Bellairs continues.

“Our priority is to give participants an unparalleled riding experience while at the same time raising money for the many causes supported by our two beneficiaries — the Pedal Power Association and the Rotary Club of Claremont.”

Selling cycling equipment

As with most technical sports and activities, thorough product knowledge is required to sell cycling equipment. Some suppliers view cycling specialist retailers as the main sellers of cycles and accessories.

“In our view the main sales are still taking place through independent cycling specialists,” says Botes. “As we distribute high end consumer products, specialised product knowledge and assistance is invaluable to the end consumer for making the correct choices, etc.”

Not all mass chain stores can cater for the informed consumers, as the products become very technical. Even though independent retailers usually have limited space for stock, “we see them show casing their stock more,” says Kreuger. “This has been a phenomenon over the last 2-3 years. [Specialist] stores rely more on bike fitting and servicing than just sales.”

As cyclists do a lot of research on the different components of their bikes, many make use of online trade.

“Online stores are doing well, but it’s for the informed consumers. We often find these consumers know a bit more than the staff in the stores,” says Kreuger.

One of the benefits of specialist retail over online trade is that one can fit a new component/bicycle in store.

“There are still horror stories of consumers buying components from online stores at amazing prices and then finding that they are incompatible with their other equipment.”

Growing customers

The good news for South African cycling retailers and suppliers is that the customer base will continue to grow through the many initiatives to support and develop the sport of cycling in South Africa. Many of them are aimed at getting youngsters interested.

Cycling SA (CSA) is the governing body for all five disciplines of cycling in SA, which includes BMXing, mountain biking, road cycling, track cycling and paraplegic cycling. Their role is to facilitate initiatives for youth development and also to facilitate infrastructure to help develop the sport.

Currently CSA has 24 415 members (down from 34 326 members in 2012) and 2 650 members with racing licenses (up from 2 559 in 2012). The racing licence is for those cyclists who wish to be eligible for provincial and national selection and awarded their respective colours.

The Long Term Participant Development (LTPD) programme is a non-competitive programme that allows kids to learn new cycling skills. The annual CSA Youth Festival encourages team building and allows kids to be able to learn skills from other cycling disciplines — i.e. a mountain biker can learn BMX and road skills, etc.

“The Youth Festival has really started to gain momentum over the past two years and you can really see the interest in cycling from the youth picking up as well,” says Loumeau.

“The sport seems to be growing on the SA Championship pool.” The SA Championships (road) youth structure has changed — where it used to be open for U10, U12 and U14 age groups, for instance, it is now for cyclists representing their schools only.

The Spur MTB league is an initiative where various schools across the country get involved by building a mountain bike track around the school and then hosting an event. “This is an exciting way for more youngsters to get involved in the sport.”

Bloemfontein has now officially got their first BMX track — the 16th one established in vartious parts of the country.

Top cyclists develop interest

South Africa — and Africa — are producing more and more top international cyclists and they are inspiring young riders to follow in their footsteps.

Apart from Darryl Impey, who became the first South African to wear the yellow jersey in the 2013 Tour de France, won by the African cyclist Chris Froome — Team MTN Qubeka p/b Samsung is the first African pro team to be making a name for themselves on the European circuit.

They are one step away from competing in the Pro-continental Tournament, says Loumeau. “There are a many South African cyclists in the pipeline to becoming top cyclists.”

At the age of 21 SA born Greg Minaar became a world champion of downhill. He has won the UCI Downhill World Championships three times — in 2003, 2012 and in 2013. He has finished in second place three times as well (2004, 2006 and 2009). He has also been the Downhill World Cup winner on three occasions (2001, 2005 and 2008).

SA is also representing on the BMX category. Sifiso Nhlapo represented SA in the 2012 London Olympics and women’s BMXer Teagan O’Keeffe is currently preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Even non-cyclists become interested in cycling when South African and African cyclists perform well on the international stage.

“Just from monitoring our online media and social networks we can already see there was a spiked interest in cycling around the time of the Tour de France and Olympics,” says Loumeau.

International cycling is very competitive and Africa is still very much behind Europe as a country that produces world-class cyclists. But, cycling teams like Team Qubeka has instilled a dream that an African pro-cycling team is tangible and it can be attainable.

The World Cycling Centre (WCC) Africa (a division of the UCI) has been actively involved in the training and development of African cycling since it was established in 2005. Athletes who attended the training centre have won medals at the African Continental Championships, others took part in the UCI World Cups and some qualified for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.

Trainees have also moved onto professional cycling teams such as Europcar, Orica Green Edge and Africa’s own MTN Qhubeka.

With the centre based in Potchefstroom, South African cyclists can easily access the hub for cycling in Africa.

Countries from especially Northern Africa, Morocco and Eritrea are very strong in cycling.

“It is beneficial for SA champs to train with these teams as the goal for an elite SA cyclist is to become the African champ, thereafter they can look to the world stage,” says Loumeau. “The center has also helped SA champs push and train harder to become pro-cyclists.”

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