How Bike Brands Are Navigating a Boom Fueled by Covid-19

More consumers are cycling for exercise and as a transportation alternative

Specialized's “Learn to Ride Again” emphasizes the joy of riding a bicycle. Specialized
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Key insights:

“Unprecedented” is an apt way to describe 2020 so far. And while that’s not necessarily a good thing for most of the marketing world, the bicycle industry has seen an unprecedented amount of growth.

People are flocking to bike shops and major retailers during quarantine to purchase bikes for socially distant exercise or to avoid public transportation in urban areas. Bike brands like Brompton, Specialized and Trek are all reporting higher sales than ever before.

All three brands have launched campaigns to optimize the unexpected opportunity Covid-19 has provided and reworking plans that were in place beforehand so they still resonate. The challenge for these brands has been figuring out how to keep their new consumers engaged and retain them as loyal customers.

Brompton's 'Go the Social Distance' encourages people to ride a bike, leaving space on public transit for those who can’t.

“In terms of marketing and sustaining that demand, brands [should] tell a more emotionally rooted story about the joys of the experience of the bike,” said David Srere, co-CEO and chief strategy officer of consultancy Siegel+Gale. With people stuck in quarantine, biking has become functional rather than just recreational, and the bicycle brands need to adapt to how consumers’ perspectives have shifted, he said.

Spokespersons for Walmart and Target declined to provide exact numbers, but Walmart said consumers have been buying more bicycles and Target pointed to its Q1 earnings report, which indicated growth in digital sales (141%) and in-store (0.9%). Ecommerce performance analytics company Profitero estimates that in May, Amazon saw a 349% year-over-year increase in adult bike sales and a 161% year-over-year increase in kids bike sales.

Brompton, whose foldable bike design lends itself to urban cycling and commuting, was in a more opportune position to work with new consumers and meet the increased demand for bikes. Brompton’s factory is located in London, where it manufactures and ships 75% of its bikes to the U.S., so it wasn’t affected by the U.S.-China trade war or the onset of Covid-19 in China at the beginning of 2020.

Originally meant to inspire group riding, Trek's 'Go by Bike Challenge' now focuses on joining a movement.
In its Brompton Junction, N.Y., shop, the brand is doubling its sales compared to this time last year, with more than 40% year-over-year growth in its U.S. business. The brand declined to provide more detailed numbers.

“We’re not a massive brand that has a huge media budget behind it,” said Peter Yuskauskas, vp, marketing and retail at Brompton. “Because cycling is so naturally popular at the moment, we are kind of riding that wave.”

That’s not to say the brand doesn’t have a plan for keeping new customers. Yuskauskas said Brompton is retargeting ad sets, building lookalike audiences and continuously tweaking its message.

“We’re just trying to make sure we understand as much about what people are actually interested in as they start to come into our store,” he said.

Trek, whose product line includes everything from road bikes to mountain models, saw a spike in kids bike sales, first in urban markets but then in suburban and rural areas.

“The season for kids bikes is usually kind of later spring and close to the end of the school year. This year, though, that started even earlier,” said Eric Bjorling, director of brand marketing and public relations at Trek Bicycle. “Kids bikes actually were one of the first things we saw a run on, and in many places, at least online inventory, we ran out relatively quickly.”

Ian Kenny, global marketing leader at Specialized Bicycle Components, noted that since the pandemic began, Specialized has seen double-digit growth, particularly with commuting and recreational electric bikes.

In April, Specialized set up Essential Rides for Essential Workers,' a donation fleet to provide essential workers with free electric bikes.

In terms of retaining these new riders, Kenny said the brand is trying to create a community for them to support one another and share experiences. Specialized is also providing new consumers with information on how they can get the most out of riding, something Trek is also planning to roll out.

“The big story coming out of this is going to be a much more direct relationship with riders than I think we’ve had in the past,” said Kenny.

Trek and Specialized both declined to give more detailed numbers on growth.

To take advantage of the boom, Trek released its “Go by Bike Challenge” that celebrates the joy of cycling, and Specialized introduced “Learn to Ride Again.” Both campaigns focus on emotion and experience in hopes of inspiring brand loyalty.

“The branding business is moving; it’s expanding beyond words and pictures to actions and behaviors,” Srere said. “In selling bikes, that has implications, not just for the words and the pictures but literally for the in-store experience.”

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This story first appeared in the July 13, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@neco_ornot Nicole Ortiz is a senior editor at Adweek, overseeing magazine departments such as Trending, Talent Pool, Data Points, Voice and Perspective.