SALES of bicycles are expected to soar over the next five years as more people switch to two wheels to commute and get fit.

Research published yesterday by Mintel predicts that the value of annual push-bike sales will reach £800 million by 2016, up 23% on the £650m sales recorded last year, with the strongest demand coming from cyclists aged between 25 and 34.

It found that just over one-third of adults currently cycle and around half of those were a "hardcore" group who cycled regularly, suggesting there was significant scope to increase cycling levels among people who own a bike but do not use it regularly.

Mintel found that bike sales had suffered in 2011 following two severe winters and the economic downturn, which had reduced the amount of disposable income available to households. But its researchers pointed to a combination of high fuel prices and concern over obesity as factors that would drive a longer-term growth in cycling rates.