Motorcycles today have become more than just a mode of transport. For few, it’s an aspiration, a joy, for others, a sense of liberation, freedom or a part of their personality and style, and many more things. It has become a culture and while this is widespread in the Western countries, it is only recently that it has started rapidly picking up in India too. As Harley Davidson rode on this culture and passion globally, Royal Enfield became the go-to brand for this culture in India. Following the trend, others like Triumph, Ducati, Benelli too started expanding their reach across the biking enthusiasts in India.
While the companies were busy giving air to the biking culture, soon emerged another parallel industry and with a roar – the biking gear/ protective gear segment.
“The growing demand for riding gears in India is backed by riders being more aware of the need for safety and the change in the safety norms. While there are various riding gear options in the market, the Indian market is still underserved in terms of products that are value for money, and are suitable for the Indian terrain. We are investing in developing products especially for India as the weather and terrain here are different than in other markets whilst keeping in check global safety norms. We intend to bring relevant offerings for the motorcycling enthusiasts, with a focus on three tenants: safety, comfort and style,” asserts Puneet Sood, Head – Apparel Business, Royal Enfield.
According to TechSci Research, Indian ride gear market stood at around US $ 21.4 million in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of more than 12 per cent to surpass US $ 43.6 million by 2023. Even as the data is from the pre-Covid times, Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research has maintained that the motorcycle segment in India would perform better than the rest of the auto industry and this definitely brings hope for the biking apparel segment too.
Some of the major players in the Indian ride gear market include Rynox Gears, Spartan ProGear Co., Solace Gears, Biking Brotherhood, Zeus Motorcycle Gear, Alpinestar S.p.A, Dream Sporting Gear, Cramster Gear Co., Royal Enfield and H-D Motor Company Private Limited.
What’s running the engines?
The last few years has witnessed a growth in demand for riding gears in India and this is backed by rising awareness among the riders about the benefits of using them. There also has been a drastic growth in sales of higher capacity motorcycles along with a number of motorcycle clubs across the country further pushing the biking apparel market.
Vijay Chhikara, Managing Director, Trifecta Automotive Pvt Ltd (MotoFlux), avers, “When I entered this market in 2005, biking gear was a segment non-existent in Indian market. Annual sales were in a few million rupees for our entire industry. Most products were sourced by consumers directly from international markets. Big changes came with evolving trends in market and there came a shift from commuter motorcycles to high-powered motorcycles. The number of motorcycle riding enthusiasts going for long rides in varied terrains also increased with time and these rides demanded technical riding apparel. Additionally, advancements in ride gears and their increasing availability across India too facilitated growth in the segment.”
Furthermore, major companies such as Triumph Motorcycles, Royal Enfield, Harley Davidson and Ducati also organise bike tours throughout the year and these help create biking communities, who give biking gears utmost importance due to the terrain they ride in and the safety measures required. While these rides had come to a halt and so was the business during the lockdown period and even post that with social distancing norms in place, bikers across the country have once again taken to the road and various biking gear brands and retailers have yet again started getting traction and business on their websites and stores.
Royal Enfield has created an engaging online platform for its customers at Magento to enhance customer experience radically. “While it is stabilising for us, we are confident about the potential it holds. We see a lot of new customers coming to the website. The trend has been that 60 per cent of the traffic on the website is from new users and the number is only growing for us. It also includes a lot of pieces on educating the users through blogs, suggestions and recommendations depending on the riding needs. Additionally, we’ve introduced the new Make It Yours (MIY) helmets configurator and will be launching more categories soon in line with the company’s vision for MIY and customisation. These initiatives have doubled the average time spent on the platform. In terms of business revenue, we have exceeded the expectations and our riding gear segment contributes to a major portion of our business revenue,” tells Puneet Sood.
This decade has been the best ever for motorcycle enthusiasts in India since the Indian market, which was largely into bikes within the 100 to 200 cc or 350 cc to the most, welcomed the bikes in higher displacement segment (500 cc and above), leading to a great market growth, which ultimately gave a push to the biking gear sector. The category showed such potential that a number of motorcycle companies launched their own collection of riding apparel to offer a complete motorcycling experience.
Royal Enfield launched its riding gear range for men in 2014 and for women in 2020, TVS Motor Company launched its performance biking gear range in October 2019, to compete with others in the same business like BMW, Harley-Davidson, among others for the use of riders, both for casual as well as sporting activities. While this has affected sales at speciality stores offering protective gears, the market size has increased so drastically that there has been enough market share for all the players.
Automotive influencer Faisal Khan who is also the Founder of FK-R and MotorBeam Digital Private Limited banner, maintains, “As awareness is spreading about the importance of riding gear, more people are investing in it, and this growth in demand is also led by more value for money and easier finance options. The current growth is majorly led by new bikers who are very aware about the benefits of riding gear while the more mature audience is yet to join this bandwagon. Furthermore, I think most motorcycle brands use their own riding gear brand to complete the motorcycling experience, and this is not affecting sales of other companies in the segment. It is only promoting the benefits and importance of riding gear.”
Even as the riding gear market is focused on protective apparel, Faisal Khan is of the view that there is a shift towards fashion-led protective gear like a hoodie jacket and denim pants, with adequate protectors. And rightly so. The collaboration between Levi’s and Royal Enfield in September 2020 to launch a capsule collection of jeans and jackets, suggests the same. The collection, made from CORDURA® denim, is designed with features like armour slots for shoulder, elbow and knee, a 3D pocket with a hidden zipper, high visibility reflective tape and more.
When it comes to biking apparel, safety and comfort are paramount and the brands in this segment continuously innovate to offer just that. Royal Enfield recently launched its new range of riding jackets to meet the global safety norms. The range that includes 7 jackets of which 5 jackets are CE Certified with Class A protection under Personal Protective Equipment regulations, are priced between Rs.4,950 and Rs.14,950. While protective biking jackets are the bestselling merchandise for most brands in the segment, gloves too are in heavy demand.
Harjeet Singh Makkar, Chairman, Planet DSG, maintains, “We offer a varied range of safety gear from Alpinestars for all types of rides – be it urban riding, street riding, touring or MX biking. Alpinestars also specialises in riding gear for GP Racing suits. The most popular innovation and the bestselling product by Alpinestars is the TechAir range, which is the world’s first self-contained street airbag system that independently functions without the need for sensors to be installed on the bike. Incorporated into a specially designed vest which is then attached within and used in conjunction with a compatible jacket, it offers instantaneous, high-pressure inflatable protection by covering the full back, shoulders, kidney areas and chest. Besides these, our boots and gloves too perform well with our discerning consumers.”
While for Motoflux, textile touring jackets and its range of Vykon Havok Boots are the most popular, its black street jacket and half gauntlet gloves are most in demand for FK-R. Motorcycle protective apparel are made and sold keeping in view different terrains, weather conditions and body types. There are different kinds of riders going for city, highway and high altitude biking and while brands and retailers are offering various levels of protection, they try and ensure that the rider is always in style without compromising on safety.
“At Motoflux, we offer a range of products – leather racing suits (offers complete body protection from neck to toe with built in armours for safety of critical joints and spine), leather riding jackets (for streets, highways and an occasional track visit), leather gloves, textile jackets, textile pants, protective body armours (offer protection to neck braces, shoulder, elbow, knee and spine and is preferred by stunt riders and for ride in diverse terrains). While these products start from Rs.2,000 and go up to even lakh, the average ticket size at Motoflux is Rs.6,000,” informs Vijay Chhikara.
The safety insurance
Motorcycle riding gear took a lot of inspiration from the early users who were military men, explorers, adventurers, rebels and revolutionaries and so, classic motorcycling apparel borrowed a lot from military clothing, aviator jackets in leather and military field-jackets, cavalry pants, leather gloves, leather helmets and boots. With time, the fabric choice changed and came in a slew of innovation for a comfortable and safe ride. Brands in the segment give due importance to the selection of fabrics for these range and each one of them are tested prior to use within the range.
Prabhu S, Managing Director, V11, apprises, “With increasing awareness for safety, the segment has ballooned over the past few years. We manufacture jackets, pants, gloves, boots, tank bags and sling bags. Fabric, according to us, is the most important aspect that goes into making of these apparel. We only use Cordura and we have a tie-up with the company for our fabric requirement. We take the protection part very seriously at Uhbarp Ventures and give level 1, level 2 armours to the wearer. Some tests that the biking gear range should go through include abrasion resistance, tear and tensile strength, colour fastness to light, water and rubbing, rub resistance, flex and finish adhesion.” Most of the riding gears available have their armours CE certified (for impact protection).
Other fabrics used in protective gear include flexible polyester mesh, nylon and spandex, while for lifestyle products, these companies use fabrics like cotton, lycra, etc.
Puneet Sood states, “All our riding jackets and riding trousers come equipped with 610D cordura fabric on the shoulders, elbows and knees to provide increased abrasion resistance. The touring jackets are constructed using highly abrasion resistant fabrics like 600D polyester and 500D nylon. The leather jackets in the portfolio use high grade abrasion resistant leather and also come with internal armour pockets creating a perfect blend of protection, comfort and style. For our range of riding jackets, we’ve also collaborated with global leaders in internal armours, Knox and D3O. For lifestyle products, we largely use fabrics like 100 per cent cotton, lycra, etc., focusing on the everyday comfort of the user. The fabrics used in lifestyle apparel have largely been locally sourced whereas riding gear requires technically superior fabrics that are sourced from South Korea, Vietnam, etc.”
A smooth ride or a rocky terrain?
The increasing number of riding communities and even influencers have revolutionised the way we speak of motorcycle riding in India. While this has been inspiring the newer generation (longing for experiences more than ever before) to head out, this is simultaneously giving a much needed push to the biking gear segment. However, challenges like lack of suitable technical clothing manufacturing firm, etc., is holding India back.
Vijay Chhikara tells, “Lack of suitable technical clothing manufacturing set-up in India has been a major hindrance in the way. Practically, all products are being imported into the country from speciality manufacturers based in China and South-East Asia. I feel that the production needs to move into India to further develop the market with benefits of faster manufacturing to retail movement. Also, while India is the largest market for two-wheelers (around 17 million being sold every year), yet rider safety and protective gear are not taken up on priority and there is no mandate on this by the Government.”
Furthermore, even as the months of lockdown and fear due to the ongoing pandemic had its adverse impact on the overall segment, business is gradually coming back on track and people are now starting to adapt to the new normal way of life. Covid had affected the businesses during the months of March-April but with gradual resumption in demand from September, riding gear brands are expecting the sales to go up, also since the biking tours are back and enthusiasts are going back to the road.
The second quarter has been showing signs of improvement for majority of firms and this will only get better, with a lot of pent up desire to go out after months of staying back home. “From an industry perspective, we see a lot of potential in the overall riding gear market. With growing safety norms, increasing education and rise in disposable income, the demand for the category will only rise and consumer behaviour will evolve,” concludes Puneet Sood.