From the rise of the MAMIL to the ‘Wiggo effect’ - EN investigates how cycling exhibitions are benefiting from the UK’s growing passion for pedalling.
For British cycling, 2012 will be looked back upon as a vintage year for the sport in the UK. The nifty pedalling of the likes of Mark Cavendish, Chris Hoy, Chris Froome, Victoria Pendleton and of course, Bradley Wiggins, moved a niche sport from the peripheries to the mainstream.
For a time, it seemed every Saturday night TV chat show sofa had the steely buns of an Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist parked on it. The bike bug had bitten the UK hard and the appetite for the latest carbon-fibre framed custom-made bike was expanding faster than a deskbound fifty year-old’s waistline. The birth of the acronym MAMIL (middle-aged men in lycra) was upon us and with it, a boom in the cycling exhibition industry.
“In 2012, Bradley Wiggins winning gold propelled the appeal of bicycles into a whole new stratosphere,” says the Cycle Show event director Chris Holman.
Taking place annually in September at the NEC, Upper Street Events’ Cycle Show is one of a number of cycling exhibitions that showcase the latest bikes and accessories from hundreds of the best bike brands.
Aimed at anyone who enjoys cycling, the Cycle Show represents all genres of the sport including road, electric, commuter, mountain, BMX and kids.
With a mix of interactive show features including outdoor road, electric and mountain bike demo tracks, a BMX park contest, two kids demo tracks, BMX pump track, an electric bike hub and an inclusive cycling hub, the Cycle Show’s appeal to the UK market has continued to ride the wave of the ‘Wiggo effect’.
“We absolutely have noticed a lift in the number of people attending the show since the 2012 Olympics – particularly when we have some of the medalists there – I think we got an increased footfall of 20 per cent off the back of Team GB’s success.”
With that percentage rise, it is no surprise that Holman and his Upper Street team will be cheering that bit louder if Team GB’s cyclists win gold in Rio this year. “With that sort of interest last time, it goes without saying that we and the cycling industry as a whole will be hoping for some more gold medals!”
The Wiggo effect
The Wiggo effect appears to have positively influenced multiple aspects of UK cycling, including retail sales, which have been a visible indicator before and after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In a report put together by Ise.ac.uk, 28 per cent of respondents indicated that the Wiggo effect and the success of Team GB inspired them to acquire bikes and accessories in the lead-up and after the Games.
This upward trend in purchasing road bikes was a clear shot in the arm for the bike industry and its events and exhibitions, with the sector often feeling the rise and fall as cycling drifts in and out of public interest through the years.
“The bikes on show at these exhibitions are very much at the mercy of what sort of bikes are on trend,” says Holman.
“For example, in the late eighties, BMX boomed with people up and down the country using the bikes for racing. Films like ET then made the BMX craze grow enormously, as did films like BMX Bandits. There were British pro BMX riders earning £150,000 a year which was a huge salary for the eighties.” But almost as soon as it appeared, the BMX racing craze vanished and the bikes ceased to be popular.
BMX bikes eventually got a PR makeover of sorts and again caught consumer interest as freestyle trick bikes. They remain part of events like the Cycle Show and still have a core community at cycling exhibitions, but in today’s market, the growing trends of mountain biking and road bikes in particular have taken centre stage and caught consumer interest. But whatever the level of public interest or what bikes are on trend, cycle shows are events that MAMILs and the like, see as a perfect place to meet and to see what they can spend their disposable income on.
“They may not be planning to buy another bike but the people who come like to know what is out there and what new gear is coming in next,” says Holman.
“The cycling industry has an annual cycle of product release, so with our show being in September, people want to come and see what is coming out next year. Essentially it’s a bit like going to a fashion catwalk to see what new trends are coming in for the upcoming season. This keeps people coming back.”
Keeping an eye on core data and growing market and lifestyle trends across Europe is key for the UK cycling exhibition industry. With the rise in electric cars on the roads, it seems interest in electric bikes is rising in the UK too.
“There has been a real growing market for electric bikes in Germany and Scandinavia over the last few years,” Holman tells EN. “A couple of years ago, the show got approached by four electric bike companies to put on a space for them to show off their bicycles. We now have thirty electric bike companies at the Cycle Show as the demand from the consumers is clearly rising.”
One trend not picked up upon by the Cycle Show is the rise in popularity of the fixed gear bike – the London hipster’s preferred mode of transport. “There was a show in Berlin that was based on the hipster sub culture of those old fashioned looking fixed-gear bikes, which is still going and there is also a UK show called Spin by Mercury Events,” says Holman.
“It will be interesting to see if Spin continues to be sustainable as it is or whether it needs to evolve into the wider cycle community to grow. But, it is an example of fashion having an effect on cycling and creating an opportunity and a market for a show.”
An organiser who has paid particular attention to growing trends in the outdoor lifestyle market is Telegraph Events, with the London Bike Show. Launched in 2011, the show runs alongside the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show and the Triathlon Show and collectively attracts more than 50,000 visitors to ExCeL London each year. According to Telegraph Events’ marketing manager Ian Chandler, the variety of the show has enabled Telegraph Events to attract and appeal to the whole family.
“Through our data and research we found that a lot of people who are into cycling have an interest in triathlons, running and hiking so it made perfect sense to put the Outdoor, Triathlon and Bike show together as a collective offering,” says Chandler.
“If you are a bike nut, you will come each year just to see the new bits of kit. “But if you’re not obsessed with bikes, you will come for the talks on things like photography, to see the famous cyclists and live demos. No matter your age, there is plenty to capture attention. The show is a day out.”
Cycling might be deemed to be a niche sport and the new chosen pastime of MAMILs, but the UK cycle tourism market was worth an estimated £635m per annum in 1997. It is estimated that this figure is now likely to be over £1bn. It is thought that by 2019, the European cycle tourism market could be worth a staggering £20bn a year. An affluent audience indeed for cycling exhibitions.
Like other bike shows in Europe, cycle tourism certainly makes up part of our offering at the show,” says Chandler. “A keen interest in cycling is obviously a huge part of why people come here, but with stuff on tents, photography and climbing walls to try out and talks on topics ranging from hiking to paddle boarding, we are a show where MAMILs will bring along their wife and kids as there is something for everyone.”
Visitors to both the Cycling and Bike shows enjoy talks and meeting famous cyclists - the celebrity factor has always been a pull, no matter the exhibition subject matter. But it is the cycling community’s levels of affluence and obsession with every sinew of cycling culture that makes them the perfect market for exhibition organisers - and as shown by high-end cycling magazine Rouleur, with their event Rouleur Classic, an exhibition is the ideal opportunity to show off a brand and to meet face-to-face with your audience.
Launched last year by Telegraph Events and Rouleur magazine publisher Gruppo Media, the brilliantly intimate curated exhibition provided an exclusive, visitor experience, featuring the sport’s pre-eminent brands, personalities and professional cyclists, together with exclusive previews of the latest products, equipment and technologies all under one roof.
“It was a ground breaking event,” says Chandler. “Such was the pull of this high end, niche Maserati-sponsored event that we had people flying in from all over the world to be there.
“Tickets cost as much as £200 to attend, but people don’t mind paying more if they know they are getting a unique and exclusive experience that they certainly can’t get online or anywhere else.”
Brands like Rapha are collected by cycling obsessives. Some will even buy two of everything just so they have one they can use and one they can add to their ever growing precious hoard. But on top of the cycling community being into attending cycling exhibitions and exclusive events, there is a growing sector of cycling enthusiasts who attend Bespoked – an exhibition solely for handmade bike making held at Brunel’s Old Station in Bristol.
Bespoked is the brainchild of Phil Taylor, a bespoke frame builder and passionate cyclist. When Taylor set out to make his own bike in 2009, he started thinking about why there wasn’t something along the lines of NAHBS (The North American Handmade Bike Show) where UK frame builders could promote their work to the public, as well as swapping ideas and building a community. He and his wife Tessa, realised there was an appetite for a similar event in the UK, to promote the art of bespoke bicycle making, and since it’s first show six years ago, this niche event has gone from strength to strength.
“It can be frustrating to go to as it is so busy for a small show and you almost have to queue to see the bikes up close,” says Upper Street’s Holman. “But it really works as the customers who go there love it, as it has a really nice buzz to it.”
Cycling exhibitions were around a long time before Bradley Wiggins took gold. But as the sport continues to grow in the UK, with the help of Team GB and the knock-on Wiggo effect, cycling exhibitions of all niches and sizes look set to continue to provide a great example of how to turn evolving lifestyle trends into successful exhibitions.