Hero Cycles, Trek Bicycles to cash in on growing demand for premium cycles

Cycling in India has come a long way—from being an affordable mode of transport for the masses to a fitness tool to an environment-friendly mobility solution. As the product undergoes a positioning shift, premium brands are riding the wave with a slew of new launches, improved after-sales service and a sharper focus on technology and customer experience. 

The trend, say experts, is fuelled by higher disposable incomes, exposure to global markets and international products. Millennials, in particular, are taking to cycling like never before, pushing bicycle makers to come up with unique offerings and increased brand communication.

While no official data is available on the size of the bicycle market in India, industry estimates peg it at around 15-16 million units in terms of volume. The premium end is pegged at around a third of the overall bicycle market, growing at a clip of about 20-25 per cent per annum. This is ahead of the overall market growth rate, which is estimated to be in single digits, say experts. 

Pankaj Munjal, CMD, Hero Cycles, says the culture of cycling in India, especially among middle-class Indians, has been driven not only by the need to stay fit and healthy, but also of the desire to do something for the environment. Millennials, who believe in giving back to society, he says, are the keenest to take this agenda forward, pushing his company to look at eco-friendly bikes closely.

The 18-35 age group, which is part of the millennial generation, is on the companies’radar. And this group is particularly drawn towards brands with proven technological and green credentials. Hero Cycles, for instance, has just launched throttle-assisted e-cycles, the latest in biking technology, where cyclists have the option to use the pedal or depend on battery-powered motors to commute from one place to another. Most e-cycles are priced at Rs 25,000 and above.

While the company has in the past dabbled in e-cycles with the Lectro (launched in 2016), its latest bet is what it hopes will propel the firm forward in the premium space.

“This will transform Hero Cycles,” Munjal says of his firm, which is the world’s largest bicycle maker. “My dream is that every bicycle should have a motor and move people efficiently without a fuel bill,” he says. Firefox, a premium Indian brand picked up a few years ago by Hero Cycles, is also helping it mark its presence at the upper end of the market. International acquisitions such as Germany’s MIFA, a key player in e-bikes, has enabled Hero’s access to the latest technology and is allowing it to take its e-cycle initiative forward. 

Another home-grown player TI Cycles, part of the Murugappa Group, is tying up with international brands. The company has associated with six such brands including Cannondale, Bianchi, Schwinn, GT, Mongoose, Ducati and Ridley. While the company does own premium brands, Montra and Mach City, the international labels give it an edge, it says. 

TI Cycles is also the maker of the popular BSA and Hercules, both mass-market brands. By extending the portfolio, TI Cycles hopes to cover every price and product gap at the top end. 

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Typically, a premium bike is in the Rs 10,000-30,000 range, while mass-market brands come for below Rs5,000 and the super-premium segment starts at Rs30,000 and can go over Rs100,000 a unit. In the  premium and super-premium segments, brands differentiate themselves on the basis of technology, experience and service.

Brand experience, in particular, is key for the discerning consumer, says K R Chandrasekaran, president, TI Cycles. “They want to touch and feel the bike before riding it,” he says.

TI Cycles has around 250 outlets of Track & Trail, its exclusive retail showrooms for bikes, while online helps to generate leads and give information about products, Chandrasekaran says. 

TI Cycles also uses its Track & Trail outlets to hold events, workshops and seminars, which brings together cycling enthusiasts and  spreads awareness about the brand. These events are also key in driving home the message about after-sales service, says Chandrasekaran.

Among multi-national companies, the US-based Trek Bicycles has been the most aggressive, having stepped into India over a decade ago. The company’s country manager Navneet Banka says India is an important market since the penetration of bicycles is low and headroom for growth is huge.

While Trek’s presence initially remained largely restricted to the premium bicycle space, it is the emergence of the super-premium segment in India in recent years that has the firm most excited. The segment is driven by high networth individuals who are brand-conscious and willing to spend for the latest technology.