As bicycle sales double and triple, overseas manufacturers are having trouble keeping up with demand
Head mechanic Simon Kovara works on a wheel that a customer brought in after an accident as bike stores from the big box to to the mom and pop stores are either sold out or almost sold out of bikes and some are backlogged with repairs of bicycles due to the coronavirus pandemic as people are getting outside and riding. The Cub House in has a few bikes left and a one to two weeks waiting list on repairs in San Marino on Thursday, September 17, 2020. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)
On a recent July day, Andrew Yip dragged nine old bicycles from his garage and listed them for sale on a mobile platform called OfferUp.
What was intended as a summer quarantine project lasted just six hours — the time it took to sell all nine to separate buyers. From college students to transplanted Europeans to a man who drove from Santa Clarita, the buyers came to his Hacienda Heights home almost immediately. All nine bicycles were gone before sundown.
“It was amazing,” said Yip, a cycling enthusiast. “People came nonstop and picked up the bikes. All told me they were having a hard time finding bikes.”
In the coronavirus pandemic, bicycles are selling as quickly as toilet paper did in the first weeks of the outbreak. And due to rocketing demand and supply chain disruptions, bicycles are now becoming as hard to find as Clorox wipes and jigsaw puzzles.
In the United States, cycling sales are through the roof. And the bike explosion is occurring throughout the world, especially in the Philippines, Italy and Great Britain.
In April, U.S. sales of traditional bikes, indoor bikes, parts and other accessories grew a combined 75%, according to NPD Group, a national retail sales tracking firm. April sales as compared to April 2019 crested $1 billion — doubling the typical April number for the first time ever, said NPD.
Bicycles were purchased for family use and neighborhood rides. NPD reported a 203% increased in year-over-year sales of basic adult bikes priced around $200, while sales of children’s bikes increased by 107%. As gyms and schools closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, more and more people cooped up during the pandemic took to bike riding as a socially distanced way to exercise.
In June, bicycle aisles at big box stores such as Walmart and Target were empty, the Associated Press reported. In mid-August, Yip went to the Target store in Rosemead and found the same thing: Zero bikes for sale.
As lower-priced bikes became harder to find, more expensive bikes began selling.
NPD noticed a shift to higher-end bikes selling at $1,000 or more, according to an Aug. 19 report. High performance road bikes were up 87% in June over last year, mountain bikes up 92%, gravel bikes up 144% and electric bikes up 190%.
An NPD report released Wednesday said bicycle sales from April 2020 to July 2020 increased by 81% from the prior year, while total sales from January to July topped $3.4 billion.
Trek Bicycles, one of the top three bicycle makers in the world, would not release its sales numbers. But Eric Bjorling, director of brands for the Wisconsin-based company, said Trek echoed the NPD numbers, with Trek experiencing “unprecedented” sales in 2020.
“At the beginning (of the pandemic), it was kids’ bikes. Kids were home and parents needed to find them something to do. Next were entry-level bikes, then mountain bikes, then high-end stuff took off in June and July,” Bjorling explained on Wednesday, Sept. 16.
The pandemic-fueled biking revolution can be measured best at individual bike stores, said Bjorling. And every store owner interviewed reported unprecedented sales increases followed by dwindling supplies.
Low inventory is the flip side of a bullish bike market. Just ask Heather Bryer, manager of Cyclery USA in Redlands. Sales doubled at her store in April, May and June. But now, pre-ordered mountain bikes, low-end road and hybrid bikes are not expected to arrive until early 2021, she said.
“What people want is what we don’t have,” Bryer said Wednesday.
Many bicycle makers — mostly in China and Taiwan — shut down factories in January and February when the coronavirus hit hard, resulting in a slowdown of up to four months for new bikes coming into the U.S.
Carlos Morales, owner of Stan’s Bike Shop in downtown Azusa in the San Gabriel Valley, said he felt guilty capitalizing on a deadly virus.
“I’ve sold more bikes these past five months than I’ve sold in eight years,” he said Tuesday as he waited in line at a distribution warehouse in El Monte to buy bicycle parts.
“Pretty much any bike I bring into the store gets sold. All the mountain bikes sell within a week. Next are the hybrid and children’s bikes,” Morales said.
Astronomical jumps in sales volumes told the story at Roy’s Cyclery in Upland, as well.
“We’ve seen a 300% increase (in sales) since the start of the pandemic. People just want to get outside and ride,” said Mike Nittel, owner.
In Costa Mesa, Jonathan Wilson, manager of Two Wheels, One Planet Bike Store, said adjusting to high demand while keeping customers in the parking lot and properly socially-distanced was tough.
“There was a line of people waiting to be assisted every day from mid-March to mid-April,” Wilson said.
Standing outside his shop, an old gasoline station converted into a bicycle/plants/sports apparel store in San Marino, was Danny Heeley, manager. The Cub House normally has 50 or more bikes on the showroom floor. On Thursday, they had seven.
Instead of relying on sales, they’ve shifted to customer bike repairs. Heeley hired Simon Kovara, considered one of the best bike mechanics in the region, according to Wes Reutiman, special program manager with Active SGV, formerly Bike SGV, a nonprofit promoting alternative transportation and bike safety.
During the early pandemic months, The Cub House had 150 bikes in for repairs during a week. Now that number is down to around five per day, Heeley said.
“Our mechanic was staying here until 2 in the morning to finish repairs,” Heeley said.
On Thursday, Tom Todd of Pasadena rolled his old road bike up to the outdoor check-in station. The bike had been collecting rust in his garage.
“I want to get it tuned up. My 26-year-old son is showing an interest in biking. It needs new tires and a new seat and brakes,” Todd said.
But repairs are being hampered by a shortage of tire tubes, brake pads and other parts, Heeley said. A three-week wait in June has come down at Cub House. Reutiman said it took a week to get the appointment for a tune-up to his bike and another week until completion.
Nittel at Roy’s in Upland said the turnaround time for a bike repair went from six weeks in the spring to about two weeks in September.
“Oh, yeah. People are taking that old bike from the garage and bringing them here,” he said.
“The family bike ride is back in a big way,” agreed Bjorling, who’s also noticed an increase in mountain biking league memberships among teenagers.
Morales in Azusa said he was quick to order more parts in March, accommodating one- to two-day repair turnaround times in September. “I have 5,000 inner tubes in my store,” he said.
He’s adjusted his buying strategies, talking directly to Chinese companies. “This pandemic has taken me into different markets,” he said. But he says the increase in bicycle riding is a good thing for people and the environment.
“When someone buys a bike for their child or spouse, I can see it in their eyes. You can see the excitement,” Morales said.
Bike store owners and manufacturing reps are often cycling enthusiasts themselves and they say they love what they are seeing. Many wonder whether the switch by commuters to bicycles as a zero-pollution option, or by kids who ride as an antidote to inactivity from playing video games, will last.
Bjorling said the pandemic is forcing people to examine their habits.
“What we would like to see after all of this is a world where people take their health and their contribution to the environment more seriously,” he said.