Luxury fashion is shifting gears to bicycles.
In December 2016, LVMH acquired Italian bicycle brand Pinarello and now is rumored to have its sights set on adding Rapha, the London-based high-end cycling apparel company. It follows a growing trend of designers experimenting in cycling in recent years, including Hermès, which added bicycles to its repertoire in 2013; Alice + Olivia, which launched a branded bicycle in partnership with Neiman Marcus and Target, also in 2013; and Gucci, which partnered with Bianchi on a lightweight bicycle and accompanying performance apparel in 2011. These flashy bikes, designed to cater to the swell of recreational riders hitting the roads, indicate status — and their price tags reflect that: an 11-gear Hermès bicycle goes for more than $13,000.
Le Flâneur Sportif d’Hermes, which retails for $13,200
“Cycling is a vacation — for a few hours at a time, you cannot use your phone, cannot do any work, cannot be plugged into the world,” said Joe Stewart, founding partner at Work & Co. “Some people want that time to be premium. It’s the same reason you’d want a first class ticket – if you have the means to do so, make the most out of that time.”
The rise of luxury bicycles is emblematic of a larger cultural shift toward health and wellness. According to data from Edited, one in five Americans has a gym membership, bolstered by the influx of spinning studios that have helped breed a devoted following of cycling enthusiasts. Ridership at SoulCycle has increased by 58 percent since 2010, helping the company increase its profitability by 85 percent. (It earned $88 million in 2014.)
“From a wellness perspective, it’s easy to understand why it’s becoming more and more popular: Biking is one of the most efficient and effective workouts, both on the open road and in a class,” said Jen Ator, fitness director at Women’s Health.
A more active lifestyle has led to demand for exercise apparel — read: athleisure — and also a desire for consumers to own bicycles and exercise equipment of their own. The more affluent the rider, the more prone they are to shell out for a set of designer wheels, and luxury brands are jumping on the ability to cash in.
“Any time somebody can look good when they’re doing something active, they feel a little bit more inclined to do it — like with sneakers and higher-end activewear, but also something like a commuter bike,” said Jaclyn Emerick, fitness director at Shape Magazine. “It’s really a good way in for people who haven’t had much experience in cycling before and now have the ability to display it as art or as a sense of their style.”
In addition to the burgeoning popularity of spinning classes, bike share programs like Citi Bike in New York City have also encouraged consumers to embrace cycling culture as part of an active lifestyle to cut carbon emissions by avoiding driving, said Lauren Jones, manager of marketing and creative at Priority Bicycles.
“After riding a bike share bike for a couple months, people think ‘Maybe I want my own bike that’s a bit more aesthetically pleasing.’ That’s definitely something that’s driven a lot of sales to us,” she said.
Jones, who has a background in fashion trend and color forecasting, was tapped to join Priority Bicycles when it started in 2014, thanks to her eye for design. Her goal was to cater to a more recreational rider and appeal to an increase of consumers who are looking for a ride that’s a bit more eye-catching and stylish than your run-of-the-mill mountain bike.
“[Our founder Dave Weiner] felt like there was a gap in the market for consumers who weren’t super serious bicyclists but wanted something that looked nice and rode nicely, the high quality that New Yorkers tend to expect,” she said.
These consumers are also increasingly female, said Ator. According to a Women’s Health study, female riders grew 20 percent between 2003 and 2012, and 60 percent of bike owners today are women between the ages of 17 and 28. The shift has opened the market to more opportunities to product diversity.
“Women’s gear and apparel has come light years from a decade ago, bringing in even more women who want to look sleek and stylish when they hop on a bike,” she said.
Ultimately, Stewart said that while alluring, brand partnerships like the Alice + Olivia bike serve primarily as collector’s items for fashion enthusiasts. More seasoned bikers will stick to traditional brands.
“The high-end cycling brands have been around for decades – generations of craftsmen have passed the business, the art, the secrets down to their children and their children’s children,” he said. “Those are the brands cyclists care about. If a fashion company wants to try to leverage that heritage, it won’t be for cyclists but more for a fan of the fashion brand. Look at it the other way: Would the fashion world want a Campagnolo dress made for Chanel?”