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Pedalling up the value chain

Arun Katiyar  |  New Delhi 

A bicycle that costs twice as much as a Nano? People are buying high-performance bicycles to swing by the countryside.

In December 2008, 56 people set off on a tough seven-day, 919-km bicycle ride called the Tour of Nilgiris. Among the participants was a bare-foot grape farmer, Dattatreya Patil, whose bicycles of choice are a Colnago road racer and a Merida-MTB. The average price tag of a Colnago racer is Rs 1.5 lakh. Colnago makes limited-edition bicycles for Ferrari promoted by F1 drivers Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.

Together, the 56 bicycles must have cost about Rs 20 lakh. With accessories, they would have been worth Rs 25 lakh. What are people in India doing riding bicycles that have an average price tag of Rs 35,000?

But hang on to your bicycle seats. Last week, TI Cycles of India, part of the Murugappa Group that commands 30 per cent of India’s bicycle market with its BSA brand, launched two international trendsetters: Bianchi and Cannondale. Bianchi’s Rs 2 lakh cycle incorporates technology that is used in aircraft to absorb vibrations. Between the 17 models they launched, the prices range from Rs 20,990 to Rs 200,000 which will be sold through a chain of stores called Track & Trail.

Bianchi and Cannondale have joined Trek, Merida and Rockrider in the premium segment and the total number of international models available between them is around 60. “Our prices are lower than the US prices. We are focusing on the urban segment through the introduction of hybrid bicycles and a complete line of accessories and spares,” says TI Cycles Managing Director L Ramkumar.

It is people like Sunil Savara, Founder, Automated Workflow, who are buying these high performance bicycles. Says Savara, “I like to go cycling across the countryside on weekends. It is very relaxing. And the high performance bicycles — with their reliability and ease of use — have helped do that.”

Christopher Leigh, Shell’s senior development officer, on one of his first rides to Nandi Hills, a punishing climb of over 1,850 feet, was astonished by the number of cyclists and their high-performance bicycles he saw on the ascent. “I did not know there was such a healthy bicycle culture in Bangalore,” says Leigh, who uses a beautiful 20-year-old Raleigh road bicycle.

There are thousands of such cycling enthusiasts all over India who have begun to splurge on bicycles. Says Ashwath Kapur, the exclusive distributor of Merida bicycles in India, “We expect high-end bicycle sales to go up 40 per cent this year.” Currently, he estimates that about 400 high-performance bicycles are sold each month in India.

The biggest factors for the growth of this premium segment, as pointed out by Richard Stroem, director, international sales, Bianchi, is the rise in income levels and the large youth population. This could only mean one thing: if brands like Bianchi and Cannondale show traction, we could soon see a flood of sophisticated bicycles in the market.

The author helps organise the Tour of Nilgiris (www.tourofnilgiris.com). He is an independent corporate communications consultant arun.katiyar@gmail.com

First Published: Fri, April 03 2009. 00:51 IST
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