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Bicycle industry: Though environment friendly, but still facing challenges
India is the second largest producer of bicycles in the world, next only to China, which remains in first position for a prolong time in the world.
The bicycle, once a poor man's vehicle, has now accrued a sporty, recreational tag by rich companies. It has become very popular amongst the urban youth. But the rural demand for bicycles is not picking up very much. This can be attributed to better public transport and easy availability of two wheelers at low monthly instalments.

Over time, urban and rural areas of India have experienced a gradual reduction in the number of cyclists. What used to be one of the primary modes of transport in the city is now a fading memory with the few remaining ones staging a difficult survival.

Recently, Delhi had been declared as one of the most polluted cities in the world and National Green Tribunal has set up a strong action of rule and regulation to implement to protect environment. Meanwhile, bicycles' popularity has gone down in metropolitan cities in India. The conventional set of wheels that ruled the roads for ages have been replaced with futuristic and trendy models having sleek features.

Domestic demand for bicycles is decreasing in many countries. This has happened even in countries like China, Germany, Austria and US. China is therefore banking on exports. Every year China produces around 80 million units. In 2005, it had 450 million bicycles.

More than two-thirds of production is meant for exports, mainly to Europe, Middle East, South America and the United States. More than nine in ten bikes bought by Americans are made in China. However, the Chinese industry is facing rough weather, particularly on the export front.

An ecologically sound means of transport, the bicycle does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. It is the only ecologically sound means of transport ever invented. Yet, because of simplicity, it gets ignored. Cycling is eco friendly for environment.

While choosing a bike, the buyer has to keep few things in mind. One has to select a good height that ensures comfortable ride. Frame length is also important for cyclist. One should be able to reach the handle bars easily. Of course, the bicycle seat is adjustable. Regarding safety features, the pedal should have an anti-slip grip. There should be standard reflectors at the front, rear and the spoke of the bike for making the bike more visible at night. It is better to take a test ride.

The manufacturing industry is focused in Ludhiana, which accounts for 80 per cent of the bicycles and parts, Kanpur, Mumbai, Sonepat, Chennai and Kolkata.

Even in rich countries in Europe and United States, high fuel prices are compelling people to go for bicycles. About 18 million bicycles have been sold annually in the US over the past few years, accounting for about $6 billion in annual sales.

India is manufacturing around 12 million bicycles annually. Ludhiana manufactures more than 6.5 per cent of the total bicycles. Hero Cycles has a production capacity of about 5.5 million bicycles per annum and manufactures 35 to 40 per cent of the country's production.

There is a change in demand pattern. Earlier, villagers preferred standard cycles, but now even they demand fancy cycles. The fancy segment is growing by 12-15 per cent per annum. The future of the modern fancy bicycle industry is bright. However, for survival, the companies have to successfully restructure and modernize to achieve global competitiveness in terms of cost and distribution system and quality.

Some companies have launched battery operated electric bikes called e-bikes. These are eco friendly, pollution free as they save petrol and protect environment. The two-wheeler does not require any license, registration, insurance and maintenance. It is easy to operate. There is no difficulty in recharging the battery.

A major problem being faced by bicycle manufactures, however, is the rising steel prices in India. Also, the industry is facing stiff competition from countries like China.

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