Korea's bicycle industry is changing.
As a growing number of upper-income professionals pick the two-wheelers to commute to work, enjoy it as healthy hobby and, moreover, express themselves, the premium bicycle market is booming, driving the whole industry forward.
According to market analysts, 30-40 year old professionals have become major consumers of the local bike industry, which is estimated at 550 billion won (US$487 million or S$674 million) in size this year.
It's a big change from the past when the majority were teenagers pedaling around the neighborhood or serious cyclists on their heavy mountain bike.
These new customers are willing to spend big bucks on their new mode of transport, for a smarter, fancier and singular ride, with some costing more than 10 million won (S$12,231).
The premium bicycle market here, which constitutes approximately 25 per cent of the industry, is still dominated by imported bicycles such as Taiwan's Giant and Merida, Italy's Bianchi, US' Specialized Bicycle Components and Germany's Focus.
According to data by the Korea Customs Service, imported bikes are ever on the rise, recording US$210 million last year, an 18.5 per cent increase in the last three years.
But local bike manufacturers are also eyeing the premium market, rolling out pricey, high-performance bicycles.
Samchuly, Korea's oldest and largest bicycle manufacturer that mainly focused on affordable bicycles, plans to concentrate on its high-end line Appalanchia brand this year and going forward.
The Appalanchia brand offers an array of products from mountain to road, fixed-gear and hybrid bicycles. From aluminium frame to carbon frame, consumers can choose their configuration and make upgrades, which also ups the price.
The sudden increase of people cycling for recreation, commuting and traveling is a reason behind the company's emphasis on the high-end line, said Jung Hee-jung, a public relations representative of Samchuly.
"Now, many consumers purchase or continue to upgrade their bicycles to the level of professional cyclists," she said.
Runner-up Alton Sports also launched its premium line Infiza, with the price stretching between 1 million won and 2 million won.
Other local companies are eyeing alternatives like electric bikes, which cater to environmentally conscious consumers as a quick means of transport around the city.
Major Korean automotive parts company Mando created the chainless, foldable electric bike Mando Footloose in 2012, reflecting the increasing demand of e-bikes in Korea, like elsewhere in the world.
The first generation Mando Footloose, even with a hefty price tag of 4.47 million won, sold roughly 1,000 units last year. The company is expected to double sales this year, especially with its newest model Mando Footloose IM, which is set to be more affordable than the first.
The buyers of this savvy bike are mainly men in their 30s and 40s, information technology professionals and early adopters looking to commute or ride for a short distance, said Han Sun-ok, marketing manager at the company.
Some shops that only sell high-end, limited-edition bicycles are also burgeoning.
"The premium bicycle market is continuously rising as cycling became more of a lifestyle and source of healing," said an official from Bikeand, a premium bike shop that opened at upscale retailer Shinsegae Department Store.
"People want special bicycles as speed and function are given," he said. "Consumers want bicycles with stories, such as being able to enjoy them together with their children."