If it feels like the world is running out of bicycles, there is some truth to that.
An increased interest in the two-wheeled vehicles, combined with pandemic-related production and supply-chain disruptions, has brought about a shortage, leaving shops scrambling for inventory and customers paying more than they had planned to pedal this spring.
“Sales have been amazing,” Patty Clark, co-owner of Norm’s Ski and Bike Shop in Keene, said Tuesday, in between helping customers and making sales. “We have sold so many bikes. It’s been beyond our wildest imagination.”
Clark and her husband, Jaycee, have owned the business for 23 years.
Business has been brisk since late March, she said, and the store has sold out of entry-level and mid-price bikes. Sales for May were triple what they were the year before, she said.
“I just feel like this pandemic has brought people all the way from New Jersey to our shop and from all the states in between.”
While the business remained open for bicycle repairs during the coronavirus shutdown, its hours and retail sales were limited for much of the early spring.
The downside is now, when people come in to buy a bike, the store doesn’t have many to sell, Clark noted. Norm’s may get a couple bikes here and there over the next month, she said, but most won’t be available until the fall or December. That has created uncertainty for the rest of the season.
The business also has 140 bikes on back order and likely won’t get those until the fall as well, she said.
“The way production of bikes has been, we have to sit back, and we have to wait, which is very difficult to do since it’s mid-June,” she said. “The nice thing is people are bringing out the older bikes they have had in their cellars and sheds. Everyone is getting out and riding.”
In a normal year, Norm’s would put in its bike order during the fall to have the inventory delivered for the spring, Clark said. Then, the store would be reordering bikes throughout the season as demand required. This year, that isn’t an option.
“There is nothing to be ordered at this point,” she said.
As of early May, sales of children’s and BMX bikes in the United States were up more than 50 percent compared to the same time period in 2019, while sales of adult leisure bicycles had increased by 121 percent, according to The NPD Group, a market research firm. Further, the sales of trainers and rollers that allow road bikes to be used as stationary bikes went up 268 percent, the firm reported, and independent bike shops saw an increase of 20 percent in bike service and repair sales.
The Associated Press reported Sunday that the increase in bicycle sales during the pandemic has been caused by people looking for a transportation alternative to buses and subways, outlets for exercise during gym closures and activities for their children during the stay-at-home orders put in place to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Sales of electric-assist bikes or e-bikes, which were considered a niche part of the bicycle market until recently, have also benefited from the pandemic, according to the article. While a person riding an e-bike still has to pedal, the electric motor provides an extra boost of power.
Bike Magazine reported in April that the sudden closures of entertainment and recreational venues, such as gyms, malls, parks and theaters, left gaps that many people turned to cycling to fill.
Independent shops, many of them struggling in prior years, noted that the biggest growth in sales came from bikes in the $500 to $1,000 price range, the article states.
Tim Chock, an owner of the Brattleboro Bike Shop, said Tuesday he wouldn’t describe what he’s experiencing as a boom in sales, but it has been challenging to keep up inventory.
“Right now we have an interesting situation. I just had four entry-level-price mountain bikes delivered, and it’s exciting. Prior to 15 minutes ago, we had one mountain bike in the store,” he said.
However, there are four other bikes still on order, and he said he didn’t know when those would arrive.
About 90 percent of the bicycles sold in the U.S. come from China, and most production in that country is just starting back up after being shut down because of COVID-19, according to the Associated Press article.
The virus originated in China, specifically in Wuhan in the country’s Hubei province, in December 2019.
“Bicycles have always been global things,” Chock said.
For example, components like mountain-bike tires and gear systems have never been produced in the U.S., he said.
Because of the disruption caused by the pandemic, companies have bicycles that are otherwise ready but can’t be shipped because they’re missing parts, he explained.
Bruce Anderson, owner of Andy’s Cycle in Surry, attributes the shortage of bicycles and their parts more to supply than demand.
Because of the shutdowns in China, shipments of bicycles that would normally be arriving at shops this time of year to replenish inventory are not, he explained. Instead, those shipments will be arriving mid-summer.
Further complicating the situation on a national level, most bicycle importers in the U.S. have kept limited inventory since 2018 — an outcome of President Donald Trump’s order placing new tariffs on goods produced in China, according to a May 18 New York Times article.
Bike sales in the Northeast are heavily seasonal, so pre-season ordering begins in the fall, according to Chock of the Brattleboro Bicycle Shop. The shop would then build up its inventory over the winter to get ready to sell through the spring and summer, he said. He likened it to a hot dog vendor beginning each day with the same number of hot dogs to sell. The difference is not in how many hot dogs the vendor sells, but whether he sells out of them by 1:30 p.m. or 4 p.m., Chock said.
In the case of the bike shop, he expected to have enough bikes to get through the summer but sold out of most everything in the first half of the season, he said.
Anderson, who had his bike shop and repair business on Winchester Street in Keene for decades, said that there will be an increase in bicycles coming into stores in the next four or five weeks, but by then it will almost be too late to help sales.
“People aren’t going to wait; they’re going to put off buying until next year,” he said.
He predicts when the year is done, bike sales will be down from 2019.
“I don’t believe more people are interested in buying bikes,” he said. “The biggest thing is bikes are unavailable right now.”