At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, consumers were grabbing up items, such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes to the point shelves were left empty and supply was unable to keep up with demand.
The pandemic and quarantines led to closed schools, gyms, and parks, while also discouraging the use of buses and subways, which led people to look for other forms of transportation and exercise — bicycles, for example.
With many looking to the two-wheel (sometimes three-wheel) non-motorized for answers, it wasn’t long before bicycles (new or used) and parts became hard to come by – not only in major cities and places like Walmart and Target but also local bicycle shops.
“New bikes and parts are really hard to get right now and there seems to be a shortage with all of the normal stuff need,” said Mike Welte, owner of Bike Works in Peru. “We have sold almost all of our new bikes and would be able to sell more if we could get them. We do have over 100 bikes on order and already over half have names on them ready to pick up when they come in.”
There also has been a backlog for many shops with customers bringing in bikes that are in need of repair after years hanging from a garage wall or aging in storage.
Bill Stewart, who has owned of Royal Auto Supply in Peru since 1973, talked about a morning in which he started working on fixing a tire, but the constant trickle of customers in the shop either looking to purchase a bike or have one fixed had the repair still unfinished at closing time.
“I have been much busier than normal the past few months for sure,” Stewart said, also adding he’s about two weeks behind on repairs. “In my opinion, most bicycles and parts come from China and they were hit with this virus first so plants and production there were shut down, meanwhile our supply chain was run down and it hasn’t caught back up yet. I mean even now, no one has 26-inch inner tubes which are the most popular size.”
Bicycle sales over the past two months saw their biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s according to a number of economic anaylists. NPD Group, an American market research company, says U.S. cycling sales through all retail channels grew 75% in April to a total of about $1 billion in retail sales for the month. According to UN trade statistics and data from the National Bicycle Dealers Association, China accounts for 90% of total bicycle imports and sales in the world.
The Bike Place is a nonprofit/volunteer bicycle shop in Princeton that repaired and sold or gave away more than 800 donated bikes since 2017. Owner Rick Brooks and Manager Steve Graham both said they have seen a major increase in folks looking for bikes for not only themselves but also for their families.
“Since early April, many people were looking for a way to exercise because of the pandemic … gyms and parks were closed, some people were laid off or out of work, and all other sorts of reasons,” said Brooks, who added tricycles have been really tough to find. “They were looking for an alternative. We also saw many grandparents buying bikes for their grandchildren.”
“We have seen a rise both in sales and repairs without a doubt,” Graham said. “When we receive a donated bike, we first see if we can fix it, but if that isn’t an option we salvage as many parts as we can from it. We have a lot of used parts, but sometimes we need a new part to get a bike back to riding condition and those have been a struggle to find. Right now we can usually turn a simple repair around in a week.”
The Bike Shop in Ottawa also confirmed it’s having trouble getting finding the parts they need.