Firefox Bikes Crank It Up

Shiv Inder Singh, who identified a niche for Firefox Bikes in the premium bicycle segment, is unfazed by other established players entering his terrain

Published: May 3, 2012
Firefox Bikes Crank It Up
Image: Amit Verma

Shiv Inder Singh is 62 and by any demographic definition an old man.  A contrast to the young and rather sporty looking thing which he is flaunting. If you are thinking bicycles, you are pedalling in the right direction.

Over the last six years, Singh has built Firefox into, perhaps, the most differentiated Indian brand in cycles. Singh has occupied a niche in a market that has strong entrenched players like Hero and TI Cycles by not just selling bicycles, but doing so at a premium of 40-50 percent over existing brands. And he has been very successful.

A seller of premium cycles, Firefox Bikes began operations in April 2005 and sold just 1,200 bikes in its first year of operations. But in little over seven years, it’s selling well over 4,000 bikes a month and has an annual turnover of about Rs 50 crore.

Singh got into this business purely by chance. He was attending a friend’s wedding in New York in 2004, when his close friend Pradip Mehrotra, who then had a bicycle manufacturing facility in Taiwan, asked Singh to start his own business. Singh, an alumnus of Doon School and a civil engineer from IIT-Delhi, had little experience of entrepreneurship. And the milieu wasn’t too encouraging either.

“A number of people around me discouraged me and still do,” he says. But Mehrotra, who he knew for more than 30 years, egged him on. It was Mehrotra who saw a void in the bicycle segment in India and tried to persuade Singh to start the business many times before. In 2004,  when Mehrotra asked, he agreed. “I thought ‘I got to do it now, or it’ll never happen again’,” says Singh. Mehrotra agreed to pump in the money and handle the manufacturing. Firefox Bikes was set up later that year.

Singh and Mehrotra knew that cars and motorcycles had moved on from standard to premium segments.  But for some reason, the bicycle segment in India didn’t follow the pattern. Established players were selling two kinds of cycles: Standard and fancy.

Standard was the typical green-coloured cycle used for commute while fancy cycles, mainly targeted at teenagers, were slightly tweaked by changing the colour and shape of the frame. The basic components were the same for both. This was at one end of the spectrum where the maximum price was about Rs 6,000. At the other end was an extremely niche market for high-end imported bikes, where prices started at Rs 20,000.

Firefox saw an untapped market in between.  Many Indians, who experienced the US and European cycling habit, were returning home. They wanted cycles that were as good. “It is not that 10 years ago, premium cycles didn’t exist, but there wasn’t so much concentration on them, ” says Vijay Bharadwaj, head of research & consultancy at Sport18, a part of Network18, the media company that publishes Forbes India.

Singh initially targeted children. But when he saw people using it for commuting and other activities he quickly figured the game out.

A year into operations, Firefox organised a bike ride from India Gate to Chanakyapuri in New Delhi. There Singh met a representative from an American NGO that was working with Trek Bicycle—one of the biggest bicycle makers in the world and a brand endorsed by seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. The representative saw the Firefox store and was impressed. He got Singh to meet Trek officials.

Trek had been keen to enter India, but was unsuccessful in its search for a suitable partner. In Firefox they found a company that understood their cycles. Singh soon had rights to sell Trek bikes in India. It was a match made in heaven for Firefox.

With Trek, Firefox’s line-up in the premium (above Rs 7,000) and super-premium (above Rs 18,000) segment was complete. Currently, they sell 50 different models of Firefox bikes varying between Rs 7,000 and Rs 21,000, while there are 15 Trek models in the Rs 22,000-Rs 80,000 range. They are sold through a mix of company-owned and franchise outlets, which number 83 in all.

Firefox follows a strategy of screening dealers, giving them exclusive rights to an area and a part of the marketing budget. This is a fundamental shift from how other cycles are distributed.

Competition isn’t sleeping though. Hero, India’s largest cycle company, has about 2,300 dealers, of which 200-odd have been chosen for launching  its premium range—Urban Trail. It also plans to open company-owned stores this year. TI Cycles has gone a step further and tied up with foreign brands like Schwinn, Cannondale and Bianchi, apart from launching its own flagship premium brand Montra. TI Cycles channels all this through its 15 (so far) exclusive ‘Track & Trail’ stores. On the other hand, its BSA and Hercules brands have upgraded their range to fight with Firefox.

So, where does that leave Firefox, a player with just a few years of experience and a small war chest?

“The competition actually helps to expand the market. Being bigger doesn’t mean that you’re better. To achieve the position that Firefox has achieved will not be that easy,” says a supremely confident Singh.

Singh does have one clear advantage over his competition. His company has no legacy and is built around selling premium cycles. Firefox’s distribution system is also among the best in the industry. Pushkar Vora of Kohinoor Cycles, an 88-year-old bicycle shop in Mumbai , says, “Woh apna kaam badi zimmedari se karte hain [He (Shiv Inder Singh) does his work with a lot of responsibility].”    

Hero, TI and other companies have high volumes, but lower margins. Hero launched bikes in association with Adidas, which fizzled out. TI burnt its hands with the Hercules ACT series, which it discontinued. Also, Hero is still not perceived as a serious premium player. “It is difficult for them to make a dent with the Hero brand name,” says Rajesh Mani, head of marketing and retail at TI Cycles.

But Pravin V Patil, president of Hero Cycles, is optimistic, “Firefox has made its presence felt in the niche market, but competition is always going to be there. If I make each of my distributors buy five  cycles from me, I can still sell at least 10,000 cycles a month.”

Singh is unfazed and says:  “I’m not in the numbers game, I could’ve been three times my size, but I’d lose out on my brand equity.”

Apart from its brand, Firefox has another advantage which it can play on. Although, the bigger players have production facilities in India itself, Firefox is nimble on its feet and has outsourced its production to Mehrotra’s facility in Sri Lanka (which shifted base from Taiwan). India has a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka, whereby a simple cess is paid on the imported bikes and they save on any duty (which was increased in the recent Budget) in spare parts and fully imported bikes. The duty hike would effectively weed out a lot of the smaller players and it will further consolidate the industry.

In the coming year, Firefox plans to sell 5,500 bikes a month. As it has zero debt, raising funds for scaling up operations will not be a problem. For now, TI cycles poses a significant threat to it, and is, by and large, its only serious competitor. The bike industry in India is just warming up; new entrants are coming in every year. With the rise of the middle class, these companies are seeing phenomenal growth in Tier-II and Tier-III towns. This is where the next wave of growth is expected to come from.

Having navigated the mean streets of the big cities, the bylanes of smaller towns should be another thrilling ride for Singh and his Firefox.

(This story appears in the 11 May, 2012 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Bipul Roy

    I am a 65 years old cycle enthused from Calcutta,I am interested to know more details about a good quality Traditional Bicycle fitted with Sturmey Archer Gear,and should be available in the Calcutta market easily. I am interested to buy it immediately.

    on Nov 9, 2012
  • Ramachandran V

    The quality of these Forbes articles are going worse by the day. Random choice of words. No offense meant. But this is nonsensical writing.

    on Jun 7, 2012
  • Sushant

    firefox makes kids bike only. its not for adults. i had a bad experience after taking a Kompaq folding bike. On firefox site they have mentioned this bike as full suspension mountain bike however when i drove it on roads it started giving me noise problems, seat problems, gear wire getting loose in just a week and many more just after the second day of its purchase.

    on May 9, 2012
  • Pavani Magoo

    Firefox bikes don't last as they are made w shoddy components. Has anyone ever seen a serious cyclist on a Firefox? But it's not Firefox, there is no Indian company that has the in-house capability to build a good bike. The best they can do is make kids' bikes...

    on May 4, 2012
  • Rashmi Naik

    It's great to see a quality brand, bought a popeye for my 2 year old, it's of truly international quality, class and style.....unfortunately the 20 inch sweetie is unavailable, was told at the marine lines store that it would take nearly 2months to get stock from noida.....sad....had to make do with a BSA....for her fourth birthday which is next week......if firefox guys are reading.....can you please help!

    on May 3, 2012
  • Anand Manikpuri

    a big applause to shiv inder ji...and whole firefox team...

    on May 3, 2012
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