There are few things as exciting, as enjoyable, and as motivating as buying a brand new bike. For a lot of riders, however, that new bike day has been kicked back indefinitely. Why is it still so hard to buy a bike right now?
While much has been made of the ‘bike boom’ caused by the pandemic, bike sales have been on the rise for three years straight. Like a lot of industries, the disruption caused by COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns accelerated trends that were already in motion; in the world of bikes, it pushed the trend of bike-ownership into overdrive.
Cycling answered a lot of questions for individuals and families in 2020. For commuters, they offered a relatively inexpensive alternative to public transit and its close quarters deemed ripe for transmission. For others, a new bike offered a new way to get outside and recreate safely, with more time at home combined with fewer obligations to fill schedules. Sales were up by a reported 120%, a jump that promised plenty of challenges for suppliers.
Early on, most manufacturers did experience some supply chain issues which slowed the delivery of new bikes from overseas, particularly from China. However, the real challenge came not from the supply side, but from demand. No supply chain can double its output overnight, and the sharp rise in sales led to almost immediate and lasting shortfalls in everything from tires to chains to brake pads to pedals. With so many parts going into a completed bike, a single supplier could halt the shipment of tens of thousands of bikes which might be missing one critical part, even if everything else was in hand.
The race to build bikes comes on the heels of some tremendous change for many manufacturers. When the US, under President Trump, moved to enforce tariffs on Chinese imports, many companies jumped to new facilities in Indonesia, Thailand, and other Asian countries. Many of those facilities have either converted from making other products or are brand-new, but by and large, have proven themselves up to the task of handling record-breaking sales orders.
Some brands are confident that they’ll not only be able to meet spring orders from bike shops, but also be able to bring up their inventory to normal levels by late spring, just in time to meet the April and May rush. That may be optimistic thinking, but with northern states in the middle of a cold winter, brands are still scrambling to meet the demands of customers in states like Texas and Florida, who are experiencing nearly ideal riding conditions.
Larger companies should fare better over the next six months, but there are plenty of industry experts that predict 2021 could be another tough year for anyone looking to pick up a new rig. It could even be a challenge to find basic parts for repair, so if you have tubes or brake pads on your bike bench, treasure them.
If you are in the market, let your local shop know what’s on your wishlist and have them add you to their pre-season orders. That’ll help them make sure they have what you need on the floor whenever bikes do ship.