2023 was a rough year for bicycles overall, and the general consensus was ebike sales fell ~10% from 2022. Looking at import data for January of each of the proceeding years, we see 2024 fall ~7.5%. This makes sense, as imports are a trailing indicator of sales performance. When brands sell more, they tend to increase their purchasing, and subsequently their imports. Since the bicycle market is experiencing the ups and downs of the COVID-19 bull whip, the imports we see in 2024 are likely to represent the sentiment of brands 3-6 months prior, when sales outlook was pretty dismal.
Looking forward, we expect imports to fall below 2023 in H1, with a potential right sizing in H2, depending on sales performance and holiday sales expectations. Looking at unit share of ebikes to traditional bikes, we can see the data continue to approach a stable point. With falling imports to start the year and hesitancy by brands, we expect 2024 to pull downward on the long running trend.
Imports saw a dramatic turn around in the second half of 2023. When we looked at imports of small electric scooters in August, 2023 was down ~21% compared to 2022 through the same period. This suggested a similar curve as faced by bicycles. However, imports in advance of the holiday shopping season pulled up total imports to the third consecutive year of ~13% growth.
Above we see how 2020 had abnormal growth compared to the proceeding years. Although 2023 YoY growth fell to 10%, it still stayed within the prior two years general trend.
Below we see the monthly sales by year, with 2023 highlighted. We see here how imports climbed strongly in August, September, and October, likely in anticipation of holiday demand. November continued this trend before falling off precipitously in December.
The upward trend of imports highlights the significant importance of holiday sales for the scooter industry, and how limited the affect of early season imports has on total year imports.
Finally, we see January imports in early 2024 have continued to grow, with a slight increase in the pace of growth. We’ll continue to monitor imports to see if 2024 presents another year of import growth.
Overall, shipping manifests indicated an increase in imports for both traditional and electric bikes in November. This resulted in a strong rebound from the October lows. However, the trend for H2 2023 is declining imports in traditional bikes, and a flattening import curve for electric. Heavy discounting during the early holiday season indicates there continues to be inventory pressure on brands.
The chart above shows shipping manifest data and compares data from the US ITC Import Duties records for Adult bicycles. Although certainly not perfect, for 2023, the two sources are fairly well correlated. This supports some use of shipping manifest data to provide another indicator for business activity in the bicycle market. With that said, import data should be considered the source of truth, as it relies on reporting by brands, with legal responsibility, rather than using heuristics alone. If the HTS code system is ever expanded to included electric bicycles, we will include that data on this cart to show how it compares to the rest.
The share of electric bikes mentioned in shipping manifests continues to be strong, pulling up the power series trend line above 20%. As we finish off the 2023 holiday season and enter the historically quiet Q1 winter, it will be interesting to see how imports shift, particularly when comparing traditional to electric bikes.
October saw declines in both electric and traditional bikes in US shipping manifest data. This is a normal seasonal decline that lines up with holiday imports. Any new imports in October and November will need to be rushed through supply chains, so most brands aim to have imports arrive at ports in September.
However, as seen below, electric bike imports have seen less of an import bump in 2023 compared to 2022. This is likely due to headwinds in 2023 for general bicycles, which has affected electric bikes in tern. The downtrend in imports we are seeing in Q4 is likely the result ordering decisions made in Q1/Q2
Even with the declines in electric bike imports, the substantial declines in traditional imports has allowed the ratio of electric to traditional imports to maintain above 20%. As a reminder, this figure provides a ceiling for the maximum ratio of imports of electric to traditional bikes. It is likely lower due to many small children’s bikes being imported in bulk packages, without internal quantities disclosed in shipping manifests.
The chart above shows monthly imports of ebikes comparing the last two years. We can se there is a seasonal increase in units, which declines as we move into Q4. This is likely to be in anticipation of holiday sales, as it may take a bit of time for the products to work their way through the supply chain within the united states.
A note on specific import quantities
When comparing our dataset to data from the USITC tarrif data, there are notable differences. 2023 H1 data matches well at ~1.4m units, but 2022 H1 data is divergent quite a bit. As reported in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, average bike prices jumped 60% in H1 2023, indicating that the bikes imported last year were of lower value (~$140/bike). Many of these bikes are likely to be smaller children’s bikes, which are easier to group together into bulk packages. Although we can expect that most brands will report accurate bike quantities to government authorities, they may only report bulk grouping quantities on shipping manifests.
Rebounding Traditional Bikes
Last month we reported on a precipitous drop in traditional bike imports due to a major importer pulling back. This number has rebounded slightly to similar levels seen in January. However, this drop combined with the gains seen in electric bikes have pushed the monthly ratio to 27% electric bikes. Traditional bike imports YTD appear to be up slightly at 1.3% in our data set
August import data showed Electric bikes remaining flat at -1% over July, while the average month over month variation since 2019 was 7.6%, and a standard deviation of 20%. Those figures are simply to point out that a small fluctuation in the fat of 1% is in itself unusual. This is further punctuated by the dramatic drop off in traditional bicycles where we are seeing a drop of 49.95% over July. Naturally, this required some investigation. I double checked there was not an issue with the data export, then started looking for which brands may be most highly correlated with this drop off.
These three brands topped the charts by volume, with Huffy by far leading the way. Of course, there are a lot of other brands moving, but they net out to nearly 0 compared to the shift seen from Huffy. Dynacraft showed up only in July, then dropped off. There are some heuristic improvements we can make to fine tune the model in order to identify brands more specifically. However, this data still serves as a valuable indicator of movements in the US bicycle market. An additional interesting trend seen when finding this data is from the three largest brands by retail value, Giant, Trek, and Specialized.
It is important to note the scale that we are comparing, where huffy imported 100,000+ bikes in a month, these three are showing much lower, at less than 5,000. Again, the specific number is not precise, due to the nature of the method used for gathering the data. Clearly, however, Specialized has had many more imports though Q2, while trek has either flown under the radar, or imported very little this year. NOTE: Electra does not show up in the data as a sub brand of Trek.
Electric Bike ratio
Due to the drop in imports of traditional bikes, the ratio of ebikes jumped, but still tracks at a rolling average of 20% of unit imports. The trend of 50,000 units per month has held pretty stable, and is the same rate of imports in 2022. The stability of these imports may reflect a general bullishness on the ebike category.
With our research into electric bicycles, we regularly come across brands who also produce other micro-mobility devices. Specifically, our interest is piqued by electric scooters, which are as close to an electric bike as these devices get. Furthermore, these consumers may overlap and data on scooters may represent an adjacent indicator to keep on our radar.
Similar to the electric vs. traditional import data we publish, the following data is pulled from shipping manifests and has been cleaned within reason to remove mopeds, which are sometimes referred to as scooters. This first chart shows the first 7 months of each year in blue, and the whole year in red. There are naturally two outliers:
Early 2020 data was heavily impacted by the uncertainty driven by the COVID-19 Pandemic, hence it’s substantial reduction.
For 2023, we currently only have data for the first 7 months. However, the trend indicates, we should expect a down year relative to 2022, which is similar to what we are seeing in electric bikes.
This next chart shows how imports varied throughout the year over the past four years. Here we can see some more detail on the 2020 drop to near zero imports and a spike in November. Similarly interesting is how the imports of these units fall in the holidays. It may be that retailers are expected to already be stocked with the product by this point in the year. 2023 appears lower than the past couple of years, but not dramatically so, reflecting that these products are likely still popular for long term use. If we can draw parallels to the ebike market, there may be excess supply in the US, pushing down new imports.
July saw shipping manifest data for both traditional and electric bikes increase. The larger increase in traditional bikes is reflected in a decreased share of ebike imports at 18%, though still in line with the annual trend of approximately 20%. Also of note is that both categories of bikes hit their peak import level of the year. This makes sense in a historical context as it typically coincides with peak bicycle sales a retail.
Electric Import Share
Shipping Manifest Import Data by Month 2023
This data falls in line with the annualized information presented by Steve Frothingham in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. The article is full of interesting information and insights. The data used for that report is more precise than the shipping manifest data we present here, but almost entirely misses electric bikes, due to the way they are categorized.
A recent webinar hosted by the NBDA had Bob Margevicius, Executive Vice President of Specialized Bicycle Components, on to explain some of the supply context. In the webinar, Bob referenced how the product we are receiving now into the US were ordered upwards of 12 months ago. Since then lead times have plummeted, but it will take some time before we will see a normalization of supply. He pegs the inventory in the US at ~14 months worth of sales.
June shipping manifest data reverses some of the shifts seen in May, with increased Ebike imports and slightly declined traditional imports. Nonetheless, traditional bike imports continue to be at elevated levels, putting strain on a market struggling with sell through constraints. For those paying attention to wholesale inventories reported by People for Bikes, and publicized by Bicycle Retailer, this pain will be little surprise.
As we can see from the following chart, the ratio of Ebike to traditional bicycles on shipping manifests appear to be converging on 20%. We will likely continue to see fluctuations in both the absolute quantity of imports and the ratio of Ebikes as the industry struggles to work through the inventory challenges currently faced throughout the US.
The global bicycle industry has experienced significant fluctuations in recent times, with imports being a key indicator of market trends. In this blog post, we will delve into the latest import figures, focusing on traditional bikes and electric bikes. Although disruptions to supply chains have somewhat skewed the comparison data, the numbers still provide valuable insights into the current state of the industry.
Traditional Bike Imports on the Rise:
Over the past month, imports of traditional bikes have seen a notable surge, increasing by 26% month-over-month (MoM) and an impressive 38% year-over-year (YoY). These figures may appear substantial at first glance, but it’s important to consider the backdrop of recent disruptions in supply chains, which have affected the availability of traditional bikes. As a result, the comparison data should be viewed with caution.
Understanding the Distortions:
Supply chain disruptions caused by various factors, such as the waning global pandemic and trade restrictions, have created challenges for the bicycle industry. These disruptions have led to inconsistencies in manufacturing, shipping, and distribution processes. Therefore, while the increased import numbers are positive for traditional bikes, they must be interpreted in light of the distorted comparison data resulting from the recent industry upheavals.
Electric Bike Imports Experience a Dip:
In contrast to the upward trend seen in traditional bike imports, electric bike imports have experienced a decline. Import figures show a decrease of 16% MoM and approximately 22% YoY. This decline has resulted in the lowest monthly import number for electric bikes since April 2020. Consequently, the proportion of electric bike imports relative to traditional bike imports has fallen to 10.4%.
Factors Influencing Electric Bike Imports:
Several factors may have contributed to the recent decline in electric bike imports. Firstly, the disruptions in global supply chains have impacted the availability of components necessary for manufacturing electric bikes, leading to production delays and reduced imports. Additionally, market saturation may have played a role in dampening demand growth for electric bikes. In response, brands may be adjusting their inventories to revised projections.
The import trends in the bicycle industry provide valuable insights into the current state of the market. While traditional bike imports have seen a significant increase, it is crucial to consider the distortions caused by disruptions to supply chains. On the other hand, the decline in electric bike imports can be attributed to a combination of supply chain challenges, changing consumer economic sentiment, and potential temporary market saturation. As the industry continues to navigate these challenges, it is essential for businesses and consumers alike to stay informed and adapt to the evolving dynamics of the bicycle market.