Not (Just) for Kids: Exploring the Current State of BMX – Community

The BMX industry may be on the periphery of the bicycle business, but it’s often a portal into cycling for many young people. BikeBiz editor Alex Ballinger returns to his roots to explore the current state of the BMX market

This piece first appeared in the June issue of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

“BMX has always been a gateway to cycling,” said Wichai Saensawat, BMX brand manager for British company Ison Distribution. “Talking to the media and shop owners, BMX was often their gateway to cycling.”

It was my own road to cycling – from skatepark days to the wider world of two wheels. While cycling in the UK has grown dramatically in popularity, particularly over the past 10 years and accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, BMX continues to be the underdog in the trade, often seen as a hobby for kids.

But after Team GB’s success at the Tokyo Olympics and with the entire bicycle business booming thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, will there be a lasting impact for the BMX market? Cambridgeshire-based Ison Distribution has remained committed to BMX brands despite the sport’s fluctuating popularity, currently distributing volume bikes, demolition parts and TSG helmets.

Ison chief executive Lloyd Townsend said: “I think it’s fair to say that, like most interests in cycling, markets have their phases. BMX racing, at least in the UK, remained a relatively niche area of ​​cycling for many years, while freestyle (in its dirt, park, street variants) tended to be the most most important and visible part of the BMX that most dealers will have. have experienced in recent years. BMX freestyle hasn’t been as popular in recent years as it used to be, while racing seems to have remained relatively stable.

But there has been a significant opportunity for BMX supporters in the industry in recent years, following the inclusion of BMX in the Summer Olympics – first race in 2008, followed by the introduction of BMX freestyle at the Games of Tokyo in 2021. While the Olympics provide mainstream TV airtime for many fringe sports, it was the unprecedented success of the British BMX team that many hoped would provide a springboard for BMX brands. United Kingdom.

A British success story
Of the four medal opportunities offered in the BMX disciplines at the Olympics last year, Team GB won four, including two gold medals – Bethany Shriever won gold in the women’s BMX race, Kye Whyte won silver in the men’s race, while Charlotte Worthington won gold. in the women’s freestyle and Declan Brooks won bronze in the men’s freestyle.

Brooks said BikeBiz“I think if we hadn’t gotten any medals it wouldn’t have been half of what it was. It started making headlines, it went to a whole new level. Charlotte and Beth were in the headlines, so it was kind of surreal, for people in the industry, I think, too. A lot of people watched [the Olympics] and maybe knew what BMX was, but didn’t know what you could do on it, or thought it was just a kid’s bike. But I think the stigma may have gone a little bit, so hopefully it will continue in that direction.

While Brooks, who is sponsored by TSG Helmets and British brand Mafia Bikes, said he noticed a big increase in people cycling in skateparks immediately after the Olympics, the wave could lose momentum. . For the past 10 years or so BMX in the UK has struggled to reach previous heights as BMX media languished and events fell off the calendar.

Brooks hopes, however, that the return of events like Backyard Jam, a series of contests held by indoor skate parks across the country, run by the iconic BMX
Seventies distributor and backed by British Cycling, marks a return to top-level BMX competition in this country. But have brands seen the benefits of increased media attention after the Olympics?

The Olympic legacy
Mafia Bikes, founded in 2009 and based in Hampshire, said the answer, at least so far, is no. CEO Marc Brotherton said: “To be completely honest the answer is no and we weren’t expecting any increase in sales. It’s a positive thing that BMX has been included in a mainstream event such as the Olympics, it’s good for general exposure and a real boost for supported riders. However, to be honest, the potential clientele is not really interested in the Olympics.

Saensawat, who handles volume and demolition for Ison, said: “In freestyle, I haven’t seen a lot of increase in business as such. Because there really isn’t an obvious or inexpensive route to getting into freestyle for people who may have seen it on TV. Many other sports connect easily to clubs, activities, etc., on grass, while BMX freestyle might not be as easy or obvious as to how to get into it.

“Also, the growth of stunt scooters hasn’t particularly helped the BMX industry, perhaps because scooters are more affordable and arguably ‘easier’ to ride. We would have hoped that many scooter riders would have naturally progressed to BMX bikes in large numbers, but it seems that hasn’t happened. That said, having freestyle BMX on mainstream terrestrial television will never be a bad thing, and the positive Olympic effect may not be as instantaneous as it might have been in racing. of BMX.

Townsend added: “Interest in BMX racing has increased a lot with the inspiring performances of Beth Shriever and Kye Whyte in Japan. It seems that the biggest problem now is a serious lack of product availability. This may be related to the fact that many production plants are not as interested in running small batches of specialty parts when demand for other products is so high.

“I think the difference in ‘Olympic interest’ between freestyle and racing is perhaps primarily due to the longer established and more obvious pathways for new riders to get into the sport. After all, BMX racing was in the Olympics in 2008, so it was at least 13 years ahead of freestyle.

But the boom and bust of the BMX market continues, and despite all the benefits of Olympic coverage, the industry seems to be going through another lull. As I was writing this article, news broke that loyal BMX store Custom Riders, one of the biggest players in the online BMX market, has announced that it will be closing its doors after nearly 40 years in business. ‘activity.

Owner Mason Smith said the BMX market was slower than in recent years and rising prices had made the business unsustainable. Traditionally, BMX sales have been dominated by action sports specialty retailers like Custom Riders and others, which often combine into skateboard, scooter and bicycle specialists.

A new era?
A recent emerging trend that is changing the face of the BMX market is the demand for BMX-inspired bikes with larger wheels, colloquially referred to as “roller bikes”. With impromptu roller-bike events springing up in cities across the country, this trick-based ride has much of the appeal of a youth BMX bike, but without the need for high-quality facilities. purpose built skate parks and dirt jumps.

For Mafia, these bikes are an important aspect of the business, according to Brotherton: “Obviously I can’t speak for the other brands, but for us the current trend is to move from 20″ bikes to cruisers (26″- 29” ).

“We often call these models ‘wheelie bikes’. Demand is quite high in this area at the moment and these bikes fit in very well with more traditional bikes like urban transport or even “pub bikes” or beach cruisers. Based on that, yes, we would like to see more traditional retailers try to sell BMX products. They are bright, exciting and fun and will certainly bring new customers to cycle shops. »

For Ison, it’s also larger-wheeled bikes that seem to be the area of ​​growth, albeit in a whole different discipline. Saensawat said he noticed an increase in the number of dirt jump mountain bikes in skateparks, as he noted that these BMX bikes often outnumbered large skateparks like Adrenaline Alley in Corby.

Opportunities for bicycle dealers
But there are opportunities in BMX for more conventional cycling retailers, according to the Ison team. “The demand for BMX parts from a traditional retailer has always been low because it’s a very niche area of ​​cycling,” Saensawat said.

“That said, there are literally thousands of used BMX bikes in the market as a whole, and they still need the relatively common ‘consumable type’ parts such as tires, pedals, grips, saddles, chains and wheels.”

While BMX still seems to be struggling with swings in sales as demand fluctuates, it remains an important, albeit niche, corner of the wider cycling industry. Despite the struggles, he will not leave. As Brooks said, “If you want to ride BMX for the Olympics, that’s great, but if you just want to ride a bike and have fun, that’s great too. That’s BMX. I want to see new kids coming in and pushing us.