If you thought bicycles, once a lifeline of rural India, are passé in the new world of swanky mass rapid transport systems, sleek electric trains and fancy motorbikes, think again. They have in fact made a strong comeback riding the growth in fancy cycles segment.
The old, standard 'black' cycles that once dotted country roads are riding downhill, but the fancy cycle segment - comprising junior, teenager and women bicycles - has clocked swift growth, like in most western countries. At present, this segment accounts for almost 40% of the total production of 1.6 crore units produced in India.
"Three years back, the sales ratio of fancy to 'black' bicycles was almost 18:82, today it has grown to 40:60," said SK Rai, managing director, Hero Cycles. Overall, the cycle industry is growing at a marginal rate of around 2-3% and in future the fancy segment is going to be the major growth driver.
"We expect the fancy segment to grow at around 50% by 2010," said HK Kapoor, executive director, All India Cycle Manufacturers' Association.
Growth in this segment has been primarily on account of the rationalisation in cycle prices and increased availability of newer models. Currently, any cycle manufacturing company has somewhere around 50-60 models as in comparison to 10-15 earlier. This gives consumers more options to choose from, and select according to his/her taste and requirements.
Pricing has also led to the increase in the demand of the fancy bicycles segment. A fancy bicycle costs somewhere around Rs 1,400 as in comparison to Rs 1,200 for a standard model.
By spending Rs 200 extra, the consumer is able to enjoy a model that is more lively, vibrant and tasteful. "The fancy cycle segment has actually eaten up into the standard segment," said Nalin Mahajan, director, bicycletradesource.com.
While demand for the fancy segment has increased in leaps and bounds, sales of the standard 'black' bicycle has dipped substantially. "Rural areas in UP, Bihar and Haryana still have a demand for the standard cycles, but it is persistently falling," said Angad Kapur, vice-president, Atlas Cycles.
This fall can be attributed to both price rationalisation in the cycle industry and also availability of easy financing options for motorcycles and scooters. However, with bicycles becoming more technically advanced and costly, the industry is also planning to introduce such financing options for bicycles too.
Innovation has also played a key role in keeping the industry alive and take on to the upcoming challenges. Avon Cycles recently debuted into manufacture of electric bikes.
Priced at Rs 15,000 and targeted at teenagers and particularly ladies, it would have a speed of about 25km per hour on a motor power of 250W. "We have introduced this product taking note of the world wide trend of utility bikes going electric," said Onkar Singh Pahwa, MD, Avon Cycles.
Today, an individual can pick and choose from an entire range of bicycles beginning from all terrain mountain bikes, children bikes, city urban bikes, sports/race bikes, utility bikes, roadsters to junior style bikes.
The entire concept of the bicycle has undergone a makeover over last few years. These modern-age bicycles are mean machines designed to serve specific purposes and targeted at all classes of the populace - be it kids, teenagers or oldies.