Bicycle boom leads to shortages amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Ash-har Quraishi, Scripps National Correspondent
8:44 PM, Jul 08, 2020

CHICAGO — One sector of the economy that skyrocketed as the pandemic hit is now seeing global shortages.

Demand for bikes is nearing all-time highs. And if you’re in the market for a new two-wheeler, it may be months before you can wrap your fingers around some handlebars.

Bicycles seem to be everywhere, unless you’re trying to buy one.

At Edgebrook Cycle & Sport in Chicago, bikes have become a hot commodity during the pandemic.

“It has been off the charts. It’s unprecedented,” said owner Jim Kirsten.

So much so that there’s a critical shortage, not just in the Windy City, but everywhere.

“We have about 10% of our usual inventory and our service work which you see kind of surrounding me here is about 300% where it normally is,” said Kirsten.

In fact, bike racks at retail giants like Walmart, Target and Dick’s Sport Goods are almost completely bare.

Online vendors like Torrance, California-based Sixthreezero say demand for their bikes has jumped 800%. They’ve had to triple their staff to handle the increased interest.

April sales for traditional bikes, indoor bikes, and other accessories grew by 75% compared to the same time last year and reached $1 billion for the first time in a single month.

Industry experts say commuters abandoning public transportation, gym closures and the search for socially distanced recreation created a perfect storm.

Today’s bike boom, they say, is one not seen since the oil crisis of the early 1970s.

“Mid to low price bicycles are just wiped out across the country,” said Jay Townley, a consultant with Human Powered Solutions.

Townley spent much of his 60-year career at Schwinn and as president of Giant Bicycle Company.

“Along with new bike sales, bicycle repair has skyrocketed. There are a lot of shops if you call around the shops in your area, you’ll find a lot of them are weeks out for repair,” he said.

Townley says the U.S. bicycle market is import dependent with more than 90% coming from china.

Punitive trade tariffs, supply chain disruptions and lackluster 2019 sales caught manufacturers off guard and forecasts didn’t predict the increased demand accelerated by the pandemic.

“Now, we’re in a phase where we’re trying to get that pipeline to replenish those inventories and that’s going to be extremely difficult as we go forward,” said Townley.

It could be late fall before supply catches up to demand. In the meantime, buying used may be the best way to pedal forward.