Former professional driver Russ Downing and his business partner Tim Hammond has linked bike dealers together with a new store car. Alex Ballinger learns more about BikeFlex and how it works.
This article first appeared in the March issue of BikeBiz Magazine – get your free subscription here
Times are changing. From TV to food, the way consumers pay for services is changing.
Subscription business models are ubiquitous in the modern world, and rental services are nothing new in the bike trade.
However, as retailers have started to adopt more continuous payment methods, a number of brands are helping to secure their place by offering flexible services for cyclists.
Enter BikeFlex, a new venture by former pro rider Russ Downing, entrepreneur Tim Hammond and Olympic medalist Ryan Owens.
BikeFlex, recently rebranded from Ride Up, is a subscription service that offers riders flexible access to premium road, gravel and electric bikes.
What makes BikeFlex unique is that the brand works with retailers across the country who are also part of the Cycle Espresso coffee network, also operated by Downing and Hammond.
“We were on a little journey from Cycle Espresso,” Hammond told BikeBiz, “where we’ve built a network of bike cafes. The original idea was to turn them into bike cafes that offer a little bit more – great coffee and a great community.
“So adding bikes into the mix was an evolution. We only run one business which is Russ and I who in partnership make products for the cyclists but go to bike cafes where you see them, pick them up, have your bike serviced and so on.”
The original idea for the shop was for cyclists (hence the original name) to go to their bike shop, trade in their old bike and subscribe for a new bike.
However, due to the added overhead of the trade-in option, Hammond and Downing decided to shift the focus to bike subscription access, leading to the renaming to BikeFlex.
If there are areas Downing knows inside and out, it’s coffee and performance cycling.
Downing spent two decades as a professional road rider alongside his brother Dean and before retiring in 2019 competed with some legendary teams including UK WorldTour team Sky ProCycling and domestic team JLT Condor.
While Downing had a lot planned for his retirement, the Covid-19 pandemic was very quick to clean up his calendar: “I only retired in 2019, right on the edge of Covid and I’ve had so much planned – events, training camps, just being out there. That rug was pulled and it was back to the drawing board.
“Me and Tim felt like I had a huge following and built an online community, so hopefully we wanted to convert some of them into customers.
“Tim has some great business ideas and I’m coming to get my cycling contacts. We work well together and it will be exciting.”
Commenting on Downing’s experience as a professional cyclist, Hammond added: “In the start-up world, they say you need industry experience. Russ has in-depth industry knowledge, not just from riding bikes, but from so many people in the industry.
“There are a lot of e-bike startups, right? Many people subscribe to e-bikes and fleets – none of them have any knowledge of the industry.
“We’re doing it right. We want to help these brands open up a new channel. We already have a few, but they won’t all jump on day one. You will look and see.
“So we are the pioneers.”
Cycle Espresso, the first part of the company created by Downing and Hammond, was founded in January 2022 and is a network of coffee-loving bike shops and cafes, backed by an online Cycle Espresso map to help riders find these locations to find.
The Company also offers Bike Cafes Dealer Packs, allowing them to create new revenue streams from selling Rocket Espresso machines and bike product lines for home use without the need to hold stock or handle fulfillment, with support from Pro Espresso, the official UK distributor of Rocket espresso machines (also owned by Hammond).
Then last September, the pair launched BikeFlex, a bike subscription service that allows customers to pay a fixed price for some highly sought-after bikes on either six- or 12-month contracts.
BikeFlex utilizes the network of Cycle Espresso locations and offers Downing and Chris Ratcliff from specialist titanium bike brand Reilly Showroom, collection and servicing of the hired bikes.
At the time of writing, 32 locations are registered with the BikeFlex service network.
Traditional bike subscriptions offer new riders a flexible way to try out cycling, with many services specifically aimed at commuters, casual riders and non-cyclists.
But who is the target audience for BikeFlex, with its range of mid-to-high-end road and gravel bikes, including models from British brands Orro and Reilly, along with Basso, BH, KTM and Cooper e-bikes?
“The new cyclist,” Downing said, “or the people who bought an £800 bike in lockdown and really enjoyed it, now want to step up to the next level.
“One of the other areas that we think it could be a great market for is parents with youngsters – 15-year-olds who could outgrow the bike in 12 months so they can bring it back and step up [a size], or when they stop falling in love with him. So there are a couple of good channels that we think can really work.”
Hammond added, “I think a lot of people are looking at e-bikes, but they don’t necessarily want to go all out and own one – two and a half grand is a lot of money.”
BikeFlex has also partnered with bike-specific insurer Laka to offer coverage for its leased bikes, including race cover for competitive riders, offering some peace of mind for all new cyclists.
As well as offering bikes, the brand offers bike tech like Wahoo turbo trainers for rent, along with payment plans for Assos apparel.
the next steps
According to Hammond and Downing, which launched a new flexible cycle-to-work option in January, there’s a lot in the works for BikeFlex, which will allow riders to lease a bike and pay via drop in pay.
The bike is leased from the employee’s company and the cost is then deducted from the employee’s gross salary.
“There are many programs that bike to work, but they all have a major flaw, which is that they want you to own the bike, or effectively pay for the entire bike,” Hammond said.
“What we’ve done is get rid of that – you’re going to lease the bike, pay a lot less, and then have the option to end up owning it or giving it back. I think that’s going to be a huge opportunity because a lot of employers can’t take more than a few grand to take from other cash flows.”
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BikeFlex is also looking for additional partners, both retailers and bike manufacturers, to expand the network, including an option to offer the leasing service through their own websites.
Hammond said, “What we’re doing is a new way of getting a bike – we definitely want more partners and we love working with them.”
To find out more about becoming a BikeFlex or Cycle Espresso partner contact Russ Downing on 07969 339631 or [email protected]