The best cycling city in Europe?

By Pedro Garcia
Lisbon Business reporter

Image source, Rodi
Image caption

Portugal’s manufacturers of bike parts and bikes have experienced a significant rise in their orders

Rui Mendes claims that coronavirus arrived when Rui was a manager of a business. The company had to stop immediately.

Rodi is one of Europe’s most important manufacturers of bicycle wheels, and Mr Mendes serves as a director.

“More clients needed to be notified of the pandemic’s impending onset. [bike firms]He says that he was frightened of what could happen and decided to delay orders. We ended up stopping production.

In an effort to save work and salary, 300 employees agreed immediately to take a three week vacation. However, things changed drastically a month after the pandemic. Millions of Europeans took up riding bikes.

Mendes says that “from April everything turned completely.” The market exploded, orders doubled. As employees realized that the pandemic was not going to endanger their jobs, their anxiety gave way to relief.

Portugal is home to the biggest manufacturer of bicycles in the European Union. This fact may be a surprise for many outsiders. Official EU data show that more than 2 million bicycles were manufactured in Portugal last year.

It was more than a fifth of 12.2 millions bicycles made. Italy came second on the list with 2.13 million bicycles, followed by Germany (1.3 million).

Portugal does not have big brand names for bicycles, but it is a major exporter of bikes to foreign firms. RTE, which is one of the largest producers in Portugal makes bikes for French company Decathlon. Fritz Jou Manufacturing in Taiwan owns FJ Bikes Europe.

This industry is concentrated in Agueda, a small town located about 75 km (47 mi) south of Porto. Rodi is one of the many companies that makes complete bikes. Other than that, Rodi also manufactures parts and accessories for bicycles.

The sector employs almost 8,000 workers in Agueda and has more than 60 manufacturing plants.

João Filipe Miranda says that his business will post a revenue figure of €27m ($30m; £23m) this year, “our best since the company’s foundation” in 1940.

Miranda is a manufacturer of components for bicycle gears and electric bikes.

Miranda stated that Portugal’s bike sector is known for its high quality. However, the company also has much longer supply chains than Asian rivals. Portugal benefits from the continued European Union tariffs that continue to apply to Chinese bike imports.

The current rates for these additional charges or duties are 48.5% for regular bikes and 79.3% respectively for electric bikes.

But Gil Nadais – secretary general for Portugal Bike Value – says that the biggest driver of industry’s continued growth was the pandemic.

Covid provided a unique opportunity for the sector as it encouraged healthier lifestyles. [across Europe].”

Nadais states that the industry will see exports increase between 20% and 30% in this year’s fiscal year.

However, has the popularity of cycling in Portugal increased since Covid? This is true even for the capital Lisbon, and the second city Porto. Both cities are known to have steep roads that can be clogged and people used to consider themselves to be unfit to cycle.

The new series, New Economy, explores the rapid changes in business, trade, economy, and work life.

One report shows that the usage of electric bikes in Lisbon to get to the top of hills has increased 25% from the beginning of the pandemic.

And Fernando Chicarini, the owner of Lisbon’s oldest bike shop – Armazéns Airaf, which was founded in 1951 – says his sales have soared by 40% since the start of the pandemic. There has been a significant increase in requests for his services to fix old bikes.

He says, “People who owned bikes but weren’t using them often or at all” and that they were looking for repair, revisions and restorations.

Rodi’s parts factory manager, Mendes, claims that they sold three million wheels in 2020 and 500,000 bicycle wheels. That is a 35% jump compared to 2019.

“We were blessed that the workers of the bicycle sector weren’t as affected as other employees,” he says.


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