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On your bike with small business

The cycling industry has always been the darling of dads in lycra. But recently, there’s been a huge increase in its diversity, attracting a broader spectrum of people, making way for smaller, niche businesses to succeed…

A large crop of small businesses have sprung up around the timeless two-wheeler; from mobile cycle surgeries, to cycle cafes, there’s more opportunity than ever to start a bespoke business with a focus on bikes. We spoke to three small bicycle businesses – Ribble, London Velo, and Pearson Cycles – to find out more about the industry, and why it’s changing with tech.

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A photo posted by London Velo (@ldn_velo) on

Trends move quickly

As with all areas of business, the technology revolution has irreversibly changed the landscape of the cycling industry. The move from the high street to websites has been a marked challenge, says owner of Pearson Cycles shop William Pearson: “The advent of larger online players has lead to extensive shifts in the retail landscape for small business. Customers will always vote with their feet and unless SMEs can provide good reason – such as convenience, more unique product or quality of service – they will walk away.”

Another trend that has been responsible for a huge uplift in the cycling is the large numbers of people taking it up, both as a sport, a hobby and a cheap alternative to public transport: “Culturally cycling is booming and has become popular with commuters, trendy with hipsters, more inclusive and replaced golf as the corporate leisure activity of choice”, says owner of café and cycle shop London Velo, Sophie Segal.

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A photo posted by London Velo (@ldn_velo) on

There’s room for a unique angle

The main point of difference these days is that there is a large opportunity to specialise in something highly niche. This encourages customers to visit smaller independent outlets with specialist knowledge, rather than large-scale chain stores. “The thing that sets us apart from the rest of the industry is our customised bikes. We build every bike bespoke to order. Everyone has their preferences, be it brakes or high-end tech,” says Matthew Lawson, Chief Digital Officer of ecommerce business Ribble Cycles. Sophie agrees, and sees customisation as a key offering for small bricks and mortar shops, too: “Ironically bikes are fundamentally the same machines they were 50 years ago and have been among the products most immune from change. We see far more custom builds nowadays with customers knowing lots about bikes, they know what they want down to every last nut.”

Pearson Cycles – established over 100 years ago – mix tech with their heritage and expertise to set themselves apart: “We have shifted the business to a more specialist offering of product. We have one foot planted in our British brand heritage but lean more heavily on the other where the latest cutting edge developments are taking place. We think the previous four generations of Pearsons would be very proud!”

Crossover is good

Ribble Cycles, London Velo and Pearson Cycles have all embraced diversity in their business. Pearson run a cycle club which now has over 200 members: “The Pearson CC participates in social rides and sporting events locally. It is cheap to join and has a great community feel”, William tells us.

London Velo serves coffee and food, plus hosts events and courses in cycling mechanics: “There is plenty of room for more than one great business, especially in somewhere like London. We try to offer a great experience with top quality service and product, whether that be bike servicing using the most latest de-greasing technology or serving a perfect flat white”, Sophie says.

So, whether you’re a cycling enthusiast or not, all three of these small businesses prove that it’s possible to differentiate yourself within a traditional marketplace. That is, as long as you can change, quickly.

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