A British bike has won the key that promises to open the door to a huge European cycle market. By producing the victorious machine in this year's Tour de France, the firm of Raleigh expects to pedal its way to profits in France and the rest of the Continent.
The winning machine was ridden by Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk. His success was the culmination of a five-year campaign to put a British bike first across the finish line in the world's most grueling cycle race.
Raleigh so far has invested $:1.25 million [3 million) in promoting its machines in the French classic. As an early reward, the company expects to double its annual sales in France. Later it plans a broad assault on the European market, aiming at pushing continental and Japanese competition aside.
Kenneth Collins, Raleigh's marketing director, declares: "France was the route to the wider European market. Success in the Tour was the key to entering France. Five years ago our sales in France were nil. We are hoping to sell 100 ,000 next year."
Raleigh is Britain's biggest manufacturer of bicycles, and last year sold over a million here. It employs 10,000 people. The company has a $:15 million (35 million) investment program aimed at gearing up to a major spurt of growth. The company has customers in 130 countries and produces 2,000 different models. Mr. Collins believes an assault now on the huge market represented by the European Community could not be better timed.
The Tour de France win will provide the publicity boost needed to draw European attention toward Britain's bikemaking capacity.
Raleigh and smaller companies are getting strong support from the British Cycling Bureau, which promotes bikes and biking. The bureau has come up with a set of figures offering a powerful incentive for people to buy and ride cycles.
Assuming an eight-mile-a-day round trip, it says a medium-sized car costs over $:1,000 ($2,390) a year to run. Public transport costs more than $:200 ($ 478). A bicycle costs a mere $:26 ($62) a year.
The bureau says current rapid growth of cycles sales in Britain is accounted for largely by adults wanting bicycles for themselves. More women than men are equipping themselves with wheels.
Current buying statistics for bicycles in Europe explain why Raleigh, fresh from its Tour de France triumph, believes a sales assault on the Continent is the key to expanding profits.
In Britain fewer than 30 bicycles per 1,000 of population are sold each year. In France the figure is 45, in West Germany 40, and in the Netherlands 80.
The machine Joop Zoetemelk rode to victory was a superlight alloy bike costing $:2,500 ($6,000).
Raleigh's mass market models retail at between $:80 ($190) and $:170 ($300), prices that are highly competitive with those for French and other continental models.