07 December 2018 13:58:40 IST

Malathy Sriram writes poems and short stories for children and adults, as well as book reviews and articles of general interest. She is a post-graduate in English Literature from Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Her work has been published in Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Mirror and Femina. She has edited website content and is the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children with articles on history, science, arts and culture, sports, technology, companies and brands, mythology and short stories. Reading, teaching English, listening to music (all genres) and singing complete her oeuvre.

TI Cycles: A champ among cycles

The company promotes ‘cycling’ rather than ‘cycles’ — the experience over the product

A meme in which a popular Tamil film comedian wonders about the disparity between the poor man, who rides a bicycle to work, and a rich man, who pedals for his health, is doing the rounds on social media. In a nutshell, this highlights the focus areas of a company such as TI Cycles (TICI), which manufactures bicycles for both, the common man who needs it to make a living and the well-off individual, who uses it for fitness.

TI Cycles is a part of Tube Investments of India (TII), which belongs to the Murugappa Group. The company was established in 1949, in collaboration with Tube Investments (UK). As a part of backward integration, Tube Products of India (TPI) followed in 1955 and TI Diamond Chain (TIDC) in 1960, to manufacture steel tubes and bicycle chains, respectively. TI UK divested its shares in TII in two tranches in 1978 and 1985.

It is said that despite having a large population, usage of the bicycle in India is low. In rural areas, though, the humble bicycle remains the poor man’s mode of transportation. At the same time, it is every villager’s ambition to go beyond the bicycle and achieve the ‘I’ve arrived’ status with motorbikes, scooters and cars.

The urban population, too, used bicycles to commute to work but that is now a rare sight, with mostly children, students and the under-privileged still dependent on them. But, as if to offset this, as early as the 1990s, the elite urban population started using bicycles, the ‘environment-friendly, health-promoting’ movers, as an accessory. This has evolved over the years into a fad. As adventure lovers increasingly consider the possibility of combining holidays and cycling, the concept of ‘biking’ rather than ‘bicycling’ has emerged. This made TICI explore the possibility of promoting ‘cycling’ rather than ‘cycles’ — the experience rather than the product.

All its products were launched with this concept in mind. Anticipating the changes in the consumer mindset, TICI launched brands and sub-brands to meet the demand. Its flagship brands are Hercules (1951), BSA (1964), Montra (2011) and Mach City (2015).

Industry leader

The company has many firsts to boast of and is credited with creating and perfecting every new bicycle category in India. The Hercules MTB (Mountain Terrain Bike) remains the highest selling bike in its category since its introduction in 1992. Top Gear (the geared bike), the ‘Shox’ model of 1993 (the first bike with shock absorbers), BSA Champ of 1983 (kids’ bike), Ladybird in 1994 (girls’ bike), Turbodrive (a cycle meant for speed), a light roadster and a carbon frame bike were all reportedly introduced for the first time in India by TICI. The bike for the fashion-conscious, the ‘Hercules Streetcat’, introduced in 1991, was and remains highly successful. The Hercules ‘Standard’ bicycle continues to be the market leader in its category.

TICI’s BSA, Hercules, Montra and Mach City are brands (with their own websites) that have immediate brand recall among the cycling and non-cycling fraternity — the former through hands-on experience and the latter through word-of-mouth promotion. Not content with this, the company has entered into several partnerships with international names for reselling global brands in the Indian market, such as Pacific Cycles for children’s cycle ‘Schwinn’, Ridley Bikes of Belgium, Cannondale, and GT.

The bicycle industry size is reportedly around 13 million cycles a year and the commuting segment is gradually declining as infrastructural limitations (bad roads and no separate cycling tracks), congestion and pollution increase. But, as the fitness and recreational segments show growth, TICI is increasingly looking at them to sell its wares. The brand BSA Workouts was started to cover the fitness category.

Track & Trail (a retail network) is another initiative from TICI that brings international brands such as Schwinn, Ducati, and Bianchi to the Indian customer. Brand Montra (meaning My Track) takes care of the professional cyclist segment with indigenously-designed carbon frame bikes. The country’s first exclusive bicycle retail store — BSA Hercules Exclusive — offers customers a chance to look at brands such as Roadeo and MTB Turbodrive.

Strong dealership network

No wonder TICI is said to be the leader in the ‘specials’ segment. Its cycles roll out of three manufacturing centres located at Chennai, Nasik and Noida (another manufacturing facility was launched in Rajpura, Punjab recently). The company’s plants and warehouses have been certified ISO 9001:2000, OHSAS 18001-2007 and ISO 14001-2004 compliant.

These products then reach the customers through a 2,500-strong network of dealers plus about 10,000 secondary dealers. TICI’s exports comprise about 45 per cent of the total exports in the bicycle industry. More than 3.5 lakh bicycles are supplied to the European Union alone.

Brands from the stable of TICI have high visibility. This is due to various initiatives undertaken by the company such as the sponsorship of cycling events like the 900+ km Tour of Nilgiris (for BSA) and cyclothons in Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. The exclusive kids’ stores, BSA Hercules stores and the ‘Ciclo Cafés’ (cycle cafés where one can buy bicycles, eat good food and share bicycling experiences with like-minded people) have also contributed to brand recall. The brand BSA Champ is closely associated with IPL champions Chennai Super Kings. BSA is promoted at fairs and exhibitions held pan India, such as the India International Trade Fair and MNRE Energy Expo.

CSR initiatives and awards

Naturally, anything to do with cycling automatically translates into a ‘green’ initiative as it is non-polluting. To promote this concept, TI Cycles has been organising the FFF (Fun Fitness Freedom) rides for some years now. All CSR initiatives are undertaken by the parent company, TII, and cover the setting up of schools to impart education, empowerment of the girl child through vocational skills training, mobile clinics and provision of aid during emergencies such as the Chennai Floods.

Both the company and the brands it offers have won several awards. In 1968-69, TI Cycles was awarded the Government of India’s trophy for outsourcing export performance. It won the Excellence in Rural Retailing award at the ET Retail Awards 2011, the CII EXIM Bank award for Strong Commitment to TQM (Total Quality Management), Rural Retailer of the Year Award at The Asian Retail Leadership Awards 2012, and Strong Commitment to HR Excellence Award by CII. The company was recognised with the Best Cycle Brand in India award by ABP News Brand Excellence Awards in 2013.

Both Hercules and BSA cycles have been awarded ‘Superbrand’ status. BSA received the Best Kids Bicycle award in 2013. At the Global Youth Forum (2013), TICI won the Best Social Media integrated campaign for BSA Mach Student of the year contest.