01 May 2017 13:36 IST

Bicycle makers gear up to ride on Smart City initiatives

38 smart cities are spending ₹200 crore to build a cycle-sharing system

The humble cycle could soon become a preferred mode of transport, if the Centre has its way. Close to ₹600 crore is being spent by 38 Smart cities towards constructing cycle tracks and building a public cycle-sharing system.

In the South, Coimbatore is among the first to commence work on construction of a dedicated bicycle track. As part of the Smart City initiative, it is spending ₹50 crore on a public cycle-sharing system — whereby people will be able to hire bicycles for a flat fee.

In the North, a 207-km-long Agra-Etawah cycle highway is in the offing. Moreover, Rourkela, Faridabad, Lucknow, Chennai, Kakinada, Bhubaneshwar, Imphal and Tumakuru are upping the ante with similar initiatives.

Ministry of Urban Development data show that at least ₹200 crore is being spent by the 38 Smart cities on building a cycle-sharing system in their respective cities and double that amount on constructing cycle tracks.

Moreover, there is a large budget earmarked for non-motorised transport initiatives, which is expected to partially benefit bicycle-related initiatives. In particular, it will boost bicycle buying and usage, say experts.

Premium boom

“Bicycles typically help provide last-mile connectivity (on an average 1-2 km), say, from an MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System) to the final destination,” says Shubhranshu Pani, Managing Director of Infrastructure Services at JLL India, a real-estate consultant.

“There is already a spurt in demand at the top end of the bicycle market (upwards of ₹30,000 a bicycle) with about 5-7.5 lakh getting sold each month” says Manikandan S, founder of Coimbatore-based Spero Mobility.

The mid and premium segment of the bicycle market is already growing at a rapid clip with upper-middle class urban professionals increasingly taking to environment-friendly bicycles as a leisure and adventure activity.

“The culture of cycling has been given an impetus by young professionals who have travelled abroad,” said Pankaj Munjal, CMD of Hero Cycles, in a recent press release.

Spero Mobility is already in talks with corporates to rent its e-bikes (powered by electric motors) to their employees for a flat fee.

Dual market

The country’s annual bicycle sales add up to around 15 million. The bicycle industry usually segregates the market as ‘standard’ and ‘special’.

Standard refers to those used by the poorer sections of society for basic commuting, while Special includes high-performance bikes and those used in mountains.

In 2015-16, overall volumes were down 8 per cent compared with the previous year. Increase in overall household income levels has been leading people towards superior forms of transportation, be it motorbike or car.

However, the governments of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, among others, are continuing to give bulk orders for ‘standard’ bicycles.

They usually give free bicycles to students, tribals and other needy people as part of social development initiatives.

Such government-led business constitutes 20-25 per cent of overall sales of ‘standard’ bicycles. However, it is the premium and the ‘special’ segment that’s witnessing a lot of action.

In 2015, market leader, Hero Cycles acquired Firefox Bikes, while its competitor Tube Investments (owner of the BSA and Hercules brands) recently introduced the Belgian brand Ridley.

To mimic the European trend, it is experimenting with ‘Ciclo’, a theme-based restaurant chain, where food is served amidst cycles and where chandeliers are made from cycle chains and rims. Ciclo is already operational in Chennai and Hyderabad, and another will soon open in Gurugram.

With India’s infrastructure gap remaining huge, the Smart City initiatives, for now, are only a retrofit. These cities, which are currently in the experimentation phase — are expected to go the whole hog — once they taste success. In short, the wheels of the bicycles will start moving in times to come.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)

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