Wednesday 24 September 2008

Dutch bicycles are the most expensive in the world. Visiting a bike shop to find out why.

Today I visited a bike shop here in Assen. Bike shops in the Netherlands are quite different from those in parts of the world where few people cycle daily.

Apart from special shops which stock special types of bikes, bike shops mostly stock practical bikes which can be used for every day journeys.

60% of bicycles sold in the Netherlands are city bikes. These are generally fitted with mudguards, chainguards, luggage racks and dynamo lights and they have a relatively comfortable upright riding position (another post describes all the features of such bikes).

There is a tendency for foreigners to view these bikes bikes as an anachronism. However, in reality they are the perfect utility machine. Reliable, long lasting and efficient for getting around on a daily basis. They are perfectly evolved for their purpose, and make a lot more sense for utility purposes than adaptions of other types of bicycles, such as MTBs or road bikes.

The Dutch pay a lot for their good quality bikes. The average sale price for a bicycle in the Netherlands is € 603 vs. an average of around $320 (today equivalent to € 220) in the USA.

The bike shop in which I took the photos is quite typical. The majority of bikes on sale fit into the practical category which makes up 60% of sales.

Children's bikes are 17% of the market. Also well worth the average bike shop stocking. Note that bicycles are definitely not toys for children in this country, and that as the children will also be using their bikes for practical purposes, children's bikes are also fully fitted with mudguards, chainguards, a luggage rack and dynamo lighting. You can see how these bikes continue to be ridden to school in the winter here.

Mountain bikes are around 3% of the market and racing bikes are a part of the "other" category which makes up 4% of the market. Most shops stock them, but unless they are specialists they will have a much smaller selection than of the practical bicycles. Because these bikes are only bought by people who wish to race them (or pretend to race them), you only rarely find cheap mountain or road bikes. Normally there are only highly specified sport bikes - with prices to match.

Electric bicycles have now grown to 6% of the market. They're generally slick looking and relatively high performance machines with batteries hidden in the main tubes and small motors. Mostly they are ridden by people who are in the later stages of their lives, but they still don't want people to know that they now ride an electric assisted bike.

One of the most popular models of electric bike is marketed as having an "onzichtbare motor", which means "invisible motor", and has a slogan "Is dit echt een elektrische fiets" ("Is this really an electric bike ?")

Note that people don't restrict themselves to one bike. There are 1.1 bikes per person in the Netherlands - the only country where bicycles outnumber people.

And of course, these bike shops sell everything you need to go along with a lifestyle where bicycles are practical machines. High capacity front and rear racks, stands, baskets, panniers, map holders, baby seats etc. etc.

To finish, I've a video that I made of a visit to a Dutch bicycle manufacturer, in this case Azor - a local manufacturer of good quality bikes. Note the effort taken to produce a long lasting and useful product. The steaming brine bath used to screen components for durability is a part of making a machine which will be reliable for every day use right through the year, and which will still be usable 20 years after it was made.

After all, that's what these bicycles are for: Daily use by everyone.

Update with later figures
Average prices paid for bicycles in the EU (source). People are prepared to pay more on average for a quality bicycle in the countries where their also likely to ride it a lot. Hence the highest average prices are paid in the Netherlands and Denmark while most people living in a low cycling country such as France or the UK are willing to pay far less on average for a bicycle.

We have our own online shop for bicycle components

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