Cell Bikes, once a familiar name as the leading online Australian bike shop, are now back in business. Following an abrupt departure in 2018, they left a trail of mixed feelings. The new Cell Bikes shares the branding but in almost every other way is new. In this interview we talk with bike designer, Dave Musgrove who was behind the popular and affordably priced bikes that propelled the old business and is now kickstarting the new Cell Bikes brand.
There was a time when Cell Bikes were the most popular Australian online bike shop, only trailing the UK online retailers Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. With a range of affordably priced bikes, the bike shop from Sydney’s inner west appeared to be doing a lot of things right. But in April 2018 Cell Bikes unravelled and distributers raced to the Stanmore retail bike store to try to recover stock while online customers started wondering why their orders hadn’t arrived. When the Cell Bikes owner Plex Pty Ltd filed for liquidation on April 18, customers, distributors, service providers and staff were left out of pocket.
The original bike designer for Cell Bikes, Dave Musgrove had already left the business a year prior, moving into a role with Flow Mountain Bike magazine before starting work with Bicycles Online in Sydney’s north. Bicycles Online had already established a strong online retail platform across the nation with Polygon bikes (and now Marin bikes) and have been building an in-house brand of components call Entity. When Cell Bikes closed in 2018, Bicycles Online took over the name and brand rights for Cell Bikes, though not the liability and debt.
For Australian cyclists expecting to see the return of a familiar bikes models, the Cell Akuna, Omeo, Awaba, Lapa and Stromlo are absent. In fact, the new Cell Bikes are all e-bikes and they don’t sell parts and accessories. Dave Musgrove shares more about the Cell Bikes relaunch with Bicycles Network Australia.
Christopher Jones: Cell Bikes is returning, the brand name was purchased by Bicycles Online when Cell closed and as the brand manager and bike designer you were involved in the previous business, have you been the driving force behind the relaunch?
Dave Musgrove: I’ve been driving the product development, testing and factory QC side of things however it’s been a real team effort from the crew at Bicycles Online. I’ve always been focussed on great design, and I think that it’s a shame that so often in the bike industry, bikes ridden by the mass market aren’t well thought out and can leave new riders with a pretty average experience. This was my original philosophy at Cell, to make quality products accessible to all, and Bicycles Online have a similar approach with bike brands direct from factory. Having Cell under the one umbrella compliments the line up and allows us to produce bikes specific to our customers and market.
Christopher Jones: In the press release it suggests, “It’s been two years since CELL Bikes disappeared from the market after being forced to close their retail operations due to intense competition”. This is one way of describing the circumstances and rapid departure of the brand, would you care to share more on this and whether, under Bicycles Online, Cell Bikes will operate differently?
Dave Musgrove: The bike retail industry was changing a lot, not only for traditional bricks and mortar stores but also online. Cell Bikes online retail shop was attempting to compete with the likes of Chain Reaction and Wiggle on brand name parts and accessories but with some pretty big disadvantages, such as GST on imported goods. At the same time we were also developing the Cell brand of bikes and, as popular as the bikes were, there was significant capital required to fund the lead times with the Asian factories. With some pretty major cashflow challenges across the retail business, this hamstrung the bike production and eventually lead to its retail demise.
Under Bicycles Online, Cell Bikes is relaunching purely as a bike brand – not a retail operation. It was the bikes that most resonated with customers and there is a lot of loyalty towards the brand because of that. As Australia’s largest online bike retailer, Bicycles Online offers the Cell brand the stability, capital and wealth of experience that comes from 10 years in retail and wholesale. We think relaunching the brand initially through ALDI, Australia’s most trusted brand, adds some significant retail credibility back to the brand.
Christopher Jones: For previous Cell Bikes customers, if they have warranty issues, can they come to the new Cell Bikes?
Dave Musgrove: Yes, they should get in contact. I should note that the official line is that Bicycles Online cannot be held liable for any products sold by Plex Pty Ltd.. Bicycles Online bought only the brand trademark, not the business or stock, so there is no spare frames etc – that was sold to another party. However as new custodians of the Cell brand, we want to maintain the brand image and will help customers as much as we can. All the components such as Shimano are covered by their warranty policies. We can also help with derailleur hangers etc. For frame issues, we would ask customers to contact us directly so that we can provide some individual support and any technical info we can.
Christopher Jones: Moving onto the ’new’ Cell which will now operate as a bike brand and not as an online bike shop with branded products and parts and accessories from other brands. Can we expect Cell Bikes to be distributed primarily by other retail shops or just for purchase via Bicycles Online.
Dave Musgrove: Cell Bikes will be sold through BicyclesOnline.com.au in Australia, with the initial relaunch models available through ALDI Australia’s Special Buys. Cell Bikes will also be sold in the USA through BikesOnline.com.
Christopher Jones: A glance of the Cell Bikes website shows four commuter e-bike models (from $999 to $1,499) and one eMTB ($1,999), is Cell Bikes now exclusively an e-bike brand?
Dave Musgrove: While our initial range is primarily utility focused e-bikes, we will be expanding into other categories of both e-bikes and non-assisted “analogue” bikes to meet the needs of our customers. If there’s a particular style of bike people would like to see from Cell or brought back to market, please reach out to us through our website or our social media channels.
Christopher Jones: The Cell Ultimo 1.0 e-bike has a very competitive retail price of $999 and has a Shimano drivetrain though it appears not to use the mid-drive Shimano Steps, rather a rear hub-drive motor from the Bicycles Online house-brand Entity. Is this the first own-brand ebike motor / controller from entity / Bicycles Online?
Dave Musgrove: Entity is another brand that comes under the Bicycles Online umbrella, but is separate from Cell. Entity has a history of supplying OEM parts on bikes but also have a wide range of accessories that are currently distributed outside Australia to China, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, Argentina and USA. The Entity e-bike systems were actually developed well before Cell was relaunched, with the systems featuring on a number of different bike brands.
The system is appealing as it features technologies typically only found on high end ebike systems such as on board diagnostics, reliable components, even a smart phone App. They are fully certified to EN15194 standards and come with warranty which makes it an easy decision to spec them on the bikes. It allows us to separate Cell from those really budget e-bikes you see for sale on ebay etc.
Photos Supplied by Bicycles Online