Why SA is the place for the bike economy

Last year I did a report for the Department of State Development on the SA Bike Economy. The report was released last week. The Government has announced that  a bike economy summit will be held later in the year.

A link to the report is at the end of this post.

 Like many cities Adelaide finds it difficult to create safe conditions for cycling. The debate around protected bike lanes has gone on for many years and progress is slow.

South Australians are also still in love with their cars. It’s no wonder. The car industry has been enormously important for the state. It’s delivered thousands of jobs. And the extended urban form of Adelaide makes it hard to commute by bike for many. The proportion of people in Adelaide who commute by bike remains low.

Yet even with low numbers of commuter cycling, SA is a cycling state. And it can be a thriving node in the global bike economy.

Some may laugh at the idea of the bike economy. But it’s big business, it’s growing globally and it’s accessible for new entrants. It also plays to the strengths that we have.

The global bike economy is growing because bikes play into mega trends – urbanisation, technology, sustainability and globalisation. Cities are investing in bike infrastructure to reduce congestion and increase urban and environmental quality. More than 200 cities have large-scale shared bike schemes. Cities have reached the limits of cars, driverless or not. This will make the growth of bike commuters inevitable.

Where are there opportunities?

Technology is transforming cycling. More than a quarter of new bike sales in the Netherlands, a great cycling nation, are electric. Just like Tesla has reinvented the electric car, companies are reinventing the electric bike. Even car companies are making electric bikes. Riding an electric bike is fun. It’s now a real choice for people who are not sure their fitness is up to a longish commute or for bike tourists. It will be a game changer for commuter cycling and cycle tourism. As such there are opportunities for bike entrepreneurs to capitalise through combining technology, design and experiences.

Bikes are full of components, so it’s possible to specialise in making one thing really well. Already people in SA are creating great wheels, lights, frames, seats and finding a niche in global markets. 3D printing, new materials and production processes, sensors, apps are all being used in bikes to make them safer, lighter, stronger, easier to ride, intelligent and difficult to steal. As with other industries, building great brands is about story and design, not just technology. So people from many different sectors – creative, design, engineering, sales and so on- can find a niche in the bike sector.

One example to illustrate the opportunity. Last year the Melbourne based design brand Knog created ‘Oi’ a new bike bell. It’s not high tech in the traditional sense. Their crowd funding campaign originally sought around $20k. They ended up raising over $1million in a month. For a bike bell.

Cyclists also specialise, they prefer a certain type of cycling or bike, so this creates niche opportunities. Bike tribes include commuters, racers, mountain bikers, BMX – and each uses specialist products. They have special bikes, shoes, clothes and events. Even bike-share bikes are a niche. They need to be very strong and simple to maintain. The quest to make a strong, yet very light bike-share bike is still open.

New platforms are also being created like CycleLifeHQ which started last year in Canberra. It aims to be a global platform for bike related experiences and tourism. There is no reason bike platforms could not be created out of South Australia.

There are opportunities to design great accessories here – clothes, shoes, helmets. In this era people may also prefer to invest in great experiences rather than more ‘stuff’ – cyclists love exploring trails in new environments, they usually cycle on holidays, they may plan to participate in bike events, and attend stages of significant races.

There are other types of cycling experiences. Executives meet to cycle and network. Communities connect in places like Detroit through ‘slow cycling’ events. People gather to fix bikes and share food in places like the Adelaide Bike Kitchen.

So let’s map out what we already have and do.

Our natural environment. We have a great range of terrains, hills, sea, wine districts, trails and outback adventures that appeal to gentle tourism cycling and to more extreme experiences. We’re also the right size to create enough depth and critical mass while also building a connected community around bikes.

Mountain biking. Places like Melrose are already on the international mountain bike circuit. The Mount Lofty Ranges are being developed as an international mountain bike destination and the state government is investing around $2million to support that.

Our knowledge. Our universities are creating new products and services for the bike industry. The University of Adelaide created the world’s most aerodynamic bike helmet this year. Flinders University worked with Finch Composites to help them create a bike wheel suitable for use with disc brakes.

It’s not just the universities. Companies and individuals are innovating and creating products that add value to cycling. Titomic 3D printed a titanium frame in 20 minutes using its patented technology. Defence research companies, based in SA, working on new materials and processes are developing technology that can be applied to bike development. How many more opportunities are out there from other sectors that we are yet to find?

Our events. The Tour Down Under is not just a major race on the international road cycling calendar, it’s one of the most important bike industry events in Australia. It’s also a huge community and tourism event for the state. We’ve also got the Fat Tyre Festival in Melrose and their ‘18 Hours of Melrose’ events. Bike SA has around 6000 members and around 60,000 participants in their events across the year.

Bike Tourism. Last year a Roy Morgan Survey found that SA had 5 of the top destinations for bike tourism in Australia. Many countries see the potential of bike tourism. New Zealand is a stand out in this area, using its trails to help create jobs and support regional communities.

Our specialist centres. SA is the home of Cycling Australia’s High Performance Unit National Training Centre that trains cyclists for the Olympics and other world titles.

Even more importantly, from an industry development perspective, we have a growing cohort of bike entrepreneurs in many areas of the industry – from design, making, experiences, and retail. These are people who know their bikes and their niche. They have ambitions to export and be international brands or offer great local experiences, or products.

These are people like Daniels Langeborg of EcoCaddy, already known for his innovative business model and with ambitions to design and make cargo bikes here. Lisa Penney of Hey Reflect’o is creating fantastic brightly coloured reflective cycling jackets. Indigo is creating powerful bike lights. James Moros of Astir Frames is handcrafting high value titanium frame bikes for those seeking a ‘made to measure’ bike. Bouwmeester Composites is exporting composite bike wheels. Trailscapes is the fastest growing trail design developer in Australia. Rich Hall of Over the Edge has helped transform the prospects of Melrose making it a destination for cyclists through trails, events and participation in an international network of mountain biking towns.

This is just a small number of a much larger group of people. Some are upcycling bike parts. Some focus on the hand made bike. Some focus on bike maintenance. Some are offering distinctive local retail or support bike communities. There are many more successful independent entrepreneurs and small companies as well as around 80 or so bike retail shops.

When you add it all together we have a lot to build on.

But the ecosystem is fragmented. It may partly be because specialist interests in the bike sector lend themselves to small niches. So those in the sector can move in relatively small circles. This may explain why many in the bike sector have only a partial understanding of what we have here.

In other sectors we know that co-ordination and knowledge sharing is critical to industry success. It’s why many cities across the world invest in industry cluster programs. But this takes intent to leverage what we have and make it a ‘smart specialisation’.

One place taking the bike industry seriously is Flanders in Belgium. They’ve created Flanders Bike Valley and are connecting businesses, research centres and government to make Flanders a centre for bike innovation. Members include the automotive sector.

There is no reason why Adelaide and SA can’t be creating a Tesla of bikes here. We have the talent, an engaged community, intellectual assets and the right climate and terrain.

How could we leverage our bike sector for economic benefit? There are many ways to do this – here are just a few ideas:

  • Smart City Adelaide could include a focus on smart low carbon travel, exploring how sensor rich infrastructure and design might create safe travel
  • ‘Come and try’ sessions for electric bikes at events like the Fringe, WOMAD, Tour Down Under
  • Workplace incentives to buy a bike from local retailers (as are available in the UK)
  • The Tour Down Under could be better leveraged as an industry event. Perhaps through a ‘TDU Fringe’ with a focus on innovation and creativity
  • Make SA the best state in Australia for bike tourism – designing experiences from a user’s perspective, creating great local products and accommodation for cycle tourists, making it easy to choose to tour the state by bike
  • Supporting knowledge sharing between innovators, makers and designers with a focus on building a competitive sector
  • Engaging with passionate cyclists around the products they’d love to be able to buy here

Here is the full report on the SA Bike Economy.

Let me know what you think. Would welcome your ideas on how to make more of this potential.

2 thoughts on “Why SA is the place for the bike economy

  1. Great article. I’m sharing it and I’ve bookmarked a couple of your links. Public transport, cars, bikes – the more choice the better, so that we can adopt a fit for purpose approach. The scale of this was brought home to me a couple of years ago on the way back from Adelaide to Canberra via the Great Ocean Road. At Lorne the highway was being shut the next day because there was a major race on. That night in Lorne I realised there were people from everywhere. This is partially about manufacturing potential but it also has crucial links to the knowledge economy of the future and the creative industries at its heart.


    1. Hey thanks Steve! Yes the opportunity goes in many directions. That’s why it’s so interesting – all the possible connections. I also wonder whether the sector needs a ‘producer’ or ‘artistic director’ headset rather than traditional economic thinking.


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