Boutique bicycle industry emerges in South Australia as car industry declines

The bicycle industry is on the rise in South Australia as the traditional car industry declines - image courtesy of Elizabeth Close and The Lead South Australia.

Boutique bike manufacturers Astir Frames, Bouwmeester Composites and Finch Composites are leading the charge as a high-end bicycle industry emerges in South Australia.

The three manufacturers are taking advantage of South Australia’s rich manufacturing history and also filling a market gap as the state’s traditional car making sector winds down with the closure of Holden’s Adelaide manufacturing facility in 2017.

The value of the bicycle industry

The bike manufacturers are also taking advantage of access to university testing facilities that exist in the state, as they try to gain a foothold in the potentially lucrative cycling market.

The global bicycle industry was worth US$48b in 2014, which saw the sale of over 133 million new bikes.

The global bicycle industry is expected to reach an estimated $65bn by 2019 on the back of rising automotive costs and growing traffic congestion, making bikes an attractive alternative to car ownership.

End of Australian-made cars

With General Motor’s Holden’s car manufacturing plant in Adelaide closing next year, boutique bike manufacturers such as Astir Frames are set to fill an obvious market void. The traditional car making sector in South Australia is set to take a back seat to bicycle manufacturing.

Astir Frames specialises in long-lasting tailor made titanium bicycles that are built using parts from around the world and assembled in Adelaide.

Astir Frames founder James Moros said the decline of South Australia’s automotive industry was opening doors and opportunities for the company.

“If there are factory machines that are idle, I’ll ask to use them,” he said.

“I’m not scavenging, but I’m utilising available equipment that other people aren’t using at the same time,

“Titanium is a beautiful material, it is precious, low maintenance, and you can leave it out for years without painting it.”

Moros has exhibited his company’s titanium bicycles at the southern hemisphere’s biggest cycling race, the Tour Down Under, for the past two years, and said it was a great opportunity to showcase what Astir Frames has to offer.

“People who bought my bikes saw me and talked about how pleased they were with my bikes, it’s a testament that the bikes that I made for them are working fantastically,” he said.

Astir Frames sold 30 bikes last year and is on track to increase sales by more than 30% this year.

Bouwmeester Composites is another boutique bike manufacturer that has found success in South Australia since the launch of its product at the end of 2014.

The company manufactures high performance carbon fibre wheels for off-road racing bikes, with its sales being in line with industry forecasts with 50% of its sales coming from exports.

Bouwmeester Composites founder and CEO Mello Bouwmeester brought the composites work to Adelaide after previously manufacturing overseas, and decision he said allowed more control over his product.

“We wanted to have total control over our manufacturing and intellectual property,” he said.

“Manufacturing in South Australia allows for us to speed up our R&D cycle and also maintain strict quality control practices,

“A wheel set sells for $3500, which is competitive against some of the big overseas brands that predominantly have their wheels made in Asia.”

Bicycles offer opportunity to car parts makers

Finch Composites is further boutique bike manufacturer showing promise in South Australia.

The company is working on prototype carbon wheels equipped with disc brakes for racing bikes.

Finch Composites will be looking to capitalise on a potential decision by the International Cycling Union to allow disc brakes in the sport from 2017 if the testing phase throughout competition this year is a success.

Finch Composites is also looking to fill a void in the market with the impending Holden closure in Adelaide by looking to partner with car component manufacturers.

Finch Composites co-founder Ben Tripodi said he was able to work with one of the local universities to test the quality of the carbon wheels and effectiveness of the disc brakes.

“We partnered with Flinders University last year and we had access to their computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which allowed us to simulate many different wind conditions,” he said.

Tripodi said disc brakes increased stopping performance for cyclists and the extra responsiveness made them safer.

“It allows them to brake a lot later so they can keep their maximum speed a lot longer into a corner, particularly downhill,” he said.

Tripodi said they would not only target weekend riders in Australia, but the lucrative US market as well.

“Our target market really is professionals like lawyers and accountants who like to ride on the weekend but have the money to spend and demand the highest quality and professional racers,” he said.

“We believe the majority of them we can sell in Australia, however, we do really want to target the American market.”

Prototype manufacture and final testing of Finch Composite’s carbon wheels is expected to take place in the coming months with the first production run coming towards the end of this year.