By Anna Gurnhill
This month I spoke with two local bike retailers about their perspectives on bicycle tourism, and what it means for their business.
Phil Hopkins, Kingston Foreshore Cycles, ACT
I admit, I was thrown at the outset of my chat with Phil at Kingston Foreshore Cycles when – not long into the conversation – I asked, “Do you think there will be a bicycle tourism boom in the next 12 months?”
Phil’s response, “I think there won’t. I think there will be a lifestyle boom, people making very conscious decisions to simplify their life.”
Located in what Phil himself describes as ‘Airbnb central’ on the Kingston foreshore, of Lake Burley Griffin, amongst some of the ACTs best restaurants and cafes, and with great access to bike trails.
“We’re right on the cusp of the lake,” he said. “When people come to Canberra, they can’t believe we’re on the edge of the lake. I go out for a 60, 70k ride and I barely touch a road.”
I expected Phil would be gearing up to welcome visiting cyclists. And he is gearing up, but for a different audience: local explorers.
Phil explained, “We had the bushfires in summer with the thick smoke; then the hailstorm with tens of thousands of cars written off; then Covid. People have come in, they’ve said, ‘Phil, I’m over it! My car’s written off. I’m not going to replace it. I want to get a really good bike. I’m going to get (pannier) racks. And bags. I’m going to live in my village and do all my shopping locally.’
Phil has one of the best ranges of panniers, racks and commuting gear in the ACT. Beyond using this gear to ‘stay in the village’, Phil also believes there’ll be a growth in bike touring. “At Kingston Foreshore Cycles we’ve become known as the destination for bike packers. People are travelling from Sydney and the south coast, regional NSW, coming for the weekend specifically to come and see us.
“It’s all the components. It’s looking after different sectors of the market and bringing them together. I’ve had decades of competing in mountain-biking and on the road. But I don’t need to do that stock. The big guys do that. And I don’t need to compete. The rebirth of cycle touring… I spent all of my teens and twenties cycle touring, to see the rebirth now, I’ve found really exciting. It’s been great to bring that into the shop.”
For Phil, cycling really is a lifestyle. It’s something he’s always known and lived and breathed, and which he describes eloquently as ‘the aesthetic of cycling.’
“I’ve always loved the aesthetic of cycling. Riding a bike is just the function. But it’s the immersion in the whole experience which has always got me. It’s all of the art and the aesthetics that come together in the activity. To bring it all together in my shop is something I wanted to do”.
And he’s done it well. Kingston Foreshore Cycles sets itself apart, offering a point of difference and attracting a broad audience, from local commuters to bike-tourers. He’s focused on the growing gravel scene with a regular Sunday morning ride leaving from the shop – for locals and visitors.
Phil is also positioning himself as a destination bike shop. One of the attractors is unusual product, including Magliamo merino jerseys inspired by his time in Belgium, together with Walz Caps.
Innes Fenton, Bspoke Bicycles, Bungendore NSW
Like Phil, Innes Fenton at Bspoke is well placed for bicycle tourism opportunities. Bungendore, on the road for Canberrans heading to the coast, is a tourist town, and has some great riding opportunities for a wide audience.
And, like Phil, Innes too is concentrating on his local community.
During our chat, Innes said, “For me, over this past three months, the influx of work and purchases is a lot from the local community and surrounding district… all these people were looking for an activity to get them outdoors. And wanting to go to the forests. I think it’s introduced a lot of new people to cycling and the outdoors.
“The two areas (of recent business) are, people wanting to explore the backroads and looking to minimise interaction with vehicles. Whether it be commuting to work or taking up a bit of adventure cycling. That’s the thing I keep bringing myself back to. The cycling product for those commuter/adventure cyclists.
“I’ve been focused on the local community (since launching the store in March 2018). The majority of that has been the mums and the dads buying a child’s bike and coming in for a tyre, a tube, a light and puncture repair kit. That’s my foundation and I can’t afford to let that go and not be the community bike shop.
“But I do want to reach out to a broader audience and embrace the environment I’ve got at my doorstep; and that’s the adventure cycling”.
Innes notes the need for promotion of the area’s cycle touring offerings, including the three-day Attack of the Buns, following largely fire trails from Bungendore to Bundanoon. He also notes the need for government support and investment in cycling infrastructure, including the opportunity to open up a 42km unused rail trail from Bungendore to Captain’s Flat.
Even without the government support, he’s doing well off his own bat. Likely because he’s grown his business organically and authentically, from a long history as a road cyclist, and understands the needs of his customers. Innes has some great plans ahead to introduce more environmentally friendly and sustainable products, developing a niche as a destination store, while continuing to support the local community.
Phil and Innes share the same outlook and prognosis for bicycle tourism. Both are committed to their local community and regular customers first and foremost as their bread and butter. And rightly so. They’re seeing opportunity to help this local audience gear up for new adventures and cycle touring; and to position themselves as destination stores with unique products, which cyclists from the surrounding region will prioritise for their commuting, exploring, adventuring and cycle tour needs.
Another critical success factor which Innes and Phil share is their expert local knowledge, and their clear willingness to chat about local ride routes and cycling opportunities with anyone in their store; together with excellent customer service.
Next month I’ll provide further advice on how you can support your local community and existing customer base to explore further by bike.
Anna Gurnhill is Managing Director at Anna Gurnhill Consulting which provides a range of professional services in the cycling industry. Key competencies include audience research, content development, editing and copywriting, marketing, business and product development, and strategic partnership development. https://annagurnhillconsulting.com | AnnaGurnhillConsulting@gmail.com | 0400 843 858