It’s been the best of times and the worst of times for local bike shops and their customers.
The pandemic has stoked an unprecedented demand for bicycles, while at the same time making it nearly impossible to get one. Factory shutdowns and shipping delays have gunked up the supply chain, leaving recreation-starved customers and retailers clamoring for new bikes, parts and equipment.
Bike shops that once relied on weekly shipments now find their goods backordered for as long as eight months out, said Heather Mason, president of the 600-member National Bicycle Dealers Association. Retailers depending on only about a dozen suppliers nationwide are glued to their computers, anxiously combing the web for product.
“As soon as stuff shows up, it’s gone,” said Mason, with shortages driving prices up roughly 10-20% industrywide over the past 16 months.
Stan Avedon of Hastings Velo said 2020 was his shop’s busiest year, and expected 2021 to be even more so, chiefly driven by demand for kids’ bikes and hybrid models for adult newbies. High-end models and Ebikes are also sought after.
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But the sport’s accelerated popularity has been a mixed blessing.
“We have experienced an incredible increase in people wanting to ride bikes, not just enthusiasts, but a lot of casual riders as well as commuters,” Avedon said recently. “And that’s the exciting part. The hard part is finding enough of everything. Parts are extremely hard to find, bicycles are extremely hard to find, because there are parts that you can’t complete them without.”
Avedon added: “It’s next to impossible to have every model that I had two years ago — I can’t keep that kind of inventory right now. It comes in the door, it goes out the door. Getting the right product to the people is hard, that’s become our biggest job right now. … I don’t think there’s a bike shop in this region or in the world that can tell you that they don’t have an issue getting product.”
The same factors are causing what he called “a huge backlog in our service department.”
“It’s hard to keep up with capacity because there’s just so many people who can turn a wrench the way we want wrenches turned. I’m not going to just turn and burn bikes out. We’ve got to make sure that they’re safe and be able to be ridden properly and that they’re clean and well sorted out.”
Avedon looks forward to the day he can call his supplier and get what he wants instead of settling for less. “You order 500 bikes and you get 100 bikes, and you have to be lucky with that,” he said. “Last year it was like ‘Holy cow, we’re gonna sell everything out.’ This year we’re able to keep some inventory, but it’s not the inventory that ideally we’d like to have. I don’t see that changing until the end of this year or maybe next year at this time.”
Christine Schopen, president of the Westchester Cycle Club, has seen the impact the shortage has had on shops and riders.
“Some people that recently placed orders for high-end new bikes have been told they cannot receive delivery until mid-2022,” she said. “A friend had his bike stolen right from the bike shop where he was having it repaired. Some used bikes are being sold at exorbitant prices on eBay and in classified ads.”
Schopen said her club had seen membership grow as more people have been vaccinated. The WCC limits the number of people on group rides to keep members safe.
Mason, of the retail association, hopes the cycling boom will spur advocacy for safer roads and generate other benefits.
“We’re hopeful of keeping these cyclists engaged to use this to better the environment, climate wise, and also to keep our retailers alive and strong,” she said.