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Exercise fad sends sales of bicycles freewheeling

Bicycles for sale are displayed at a Giant Bikes store in central Phnom Penh in 2014.
Bicycles for sale are displayed at a Giant Bikes store in central Phnom Penh in 2014. Eli Meixler

Exercise fad sends sales of bicycles freewheeling

With a greater number of Cambodians devoting time and money to exercise, bicycles are shedding their lowly image as a cheap means of transportation and fast becoming a symbol of the wealthier, more health-conscious elite.

Retailers say that improving socio-economic conditions in Cambodia have brought about a better understanding of the link between health and exercise. Recreational biking, once an activity dominated by tourists looking for alternative ways to sightsee, is gaining popularity with Cambodians increasingly able to afford top-quality equipment.

Pierre Yves Catry, director of cycling shop Flying Bikes 2, said has he noticed a decrease in demand for entry-level bicycles while sales of mid-range bikes, priced between $600 and $1,200, have grown significantly.

Most of these bicycles are designed for off-road recreational use, a sign bike riding is no longer viewed as simply a way for schoolchildren and the rural poor to get around.

“Currently mountain bikes are the most popular product for us, representing around 70 per cent of sales,” Catry said.

“However, once people get more cycling experience, they start to consider purchasing road bikes, which require more experience as their speed is much greater.”

According to Catry, only second-hand bikes were available in Cambodia until 2009, when Giant, the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, entered the market.

Subsequently, Scott and Merida Bikes, both major companies in the global cycling industry, have opened stores in Phnom Penh.

Flying Bikes 2 sold its first mountain and road bikes in 2011. Since then the Kingdom’s authorised distributor of Cannondale and GT has seen the market evolve and competition increase.

Catry said first-time customers typically buy a $300 or $400 bike. But often they return to buy newer, more expensive models and end up owning two or three bikes.

“Once customers get better knowledge of bikes, they demand greater product quality, buying higher-grade bikes that are more expensive,” he explained.

He estimated that the current local market size is around 3,000 new quality-branded bikes per year, an estimation that excludes cheaper Chinese models of typically lower quality.

Shaping this growth is a profound change in local perception of bicycle ownership, with high-quality brands gaining status as elite Cambodians flout their wealth on specialty bikes that retail for about the cost of a new car.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), said local cyclists can now afford to purchase more sports bicycles, which can range from as little as $200 to as much as $30,000.

“Many more people are conscious of the positive effect that cycling has for their health,” he said. “It has the double benefit of not only improving physical and mental health, but also of being a fun hobby.”

Pouv Katthya, retail manager at Giant Bikes, said the higher discretionary income of Cambodia’s middle class has changed their priorities.

“People are more and more concerned about their health and are less concerned with the financial costs of staying healthy,” she said. “Bike riding can be done in groups and can be a fun way to exercise and release stress.”

Giant bike sales have increased 40 per cent this year and show no sign of slowing down, according to Katthya.

“Some of our customers have said they tried buying a gym membership but they soon realised they did not have enough time to go,” she said. “Cycling offers more flexibility both in terms of time and the locations in which it can be done.”

For Flying Bikes 2, there is still plenty of room for growth in the Kingdom’s recreational cycling retail space.

“The high-end bike market still offers a great opportunity for us,” said Catry. “And it is a much healthier way to spend money then going to karaoke bars.”

Additional reporting by Matthieu de Gaudemar

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