Digital Exclusive: Increase in cycling causing bike shortage worldwide

Digital Exclusive

New and experienced cyclists are currently finding empty bike racks in department stores. In the local bike shops in Erie County, you will either find inventory that is well-built but expensive or electric bikes, better known as e-bikes. That’s it.

“A bike under $1000 is like a unicorn right now,” said Nathan Latimer, president and owner of 814 Outdoor Sports in Edinboro. “It’s very hard to get and that’s what everybody wants.”

According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, bicycling participation in the United States — be it BMX, mountain or paved road — increased across the board by about 5.5 million new riders in 2020, which is more than the previous four years combined.

This has caused a bike shortage, worldwide. Bike shops have hundreds of bikes on backorder, and a representative from Yellow Bike, the rental shop at Presque Isle, said the business has seen a major influx in people trying to rent bikes from them, too.

The major reason for this surge was COVID-19. Biking was one of the only activities people could do safely outdoors.

“There was nothing to do,” said Jackie Raver, inventory manager and mechanic at Competitive Gear in Erie. “Everything is closed, and people want to be outside and not trapped in the house.”

According to Peter McMaster, who owns Competitive Gear, prior to 2020, bicycling participation was growing steadily, so the main bike manufacturers had a regular quota they planned for, annually. When the pandemic hit, they were not ready for this cycling explosion. Now, according to Alex Grennan, co-owner of Lake Erie eBikes who sell both electric bikes and traditional bikes, just ordering parts is a nightmare.

“It is chaos,” Grennan said. “It’s hard. It’s mind-boggling for me to sit there at 10, 11:00 at night on the computer, and you see one of the largest distributors of parts in the United States. You’ll get an email, saying ‘Hey, we had 50 plus of these [parts] arrive, and they limit you to five… When you go back into the computer in five to 10 minutes, they’re gone. It’s happening that fast.”

For example: McMaster’s primary supplier, Trek, was about to run out of their entire yearly stock last May, so they ordered 1.5 million new bikes immediately to keep business going while other companies started to run out of supplies. That purchase has kept Competitive Gear functional, but they still have 500 to 600 bikes on backorder at all times after selling out last April. And when they get new bikes in — only about five to 10 at a time — they sell immediately.

The United States has not seen cycling become this popular since the Bike Boom of 1973. Partially due to the gas shortage and partially to preserve the environment and stay healthy, bike sales soared from 1973 to 1977. The owner of John Adams Cycling and Fitness, the only bike shop that was operational at that time, said the main difference from then to now is they actually had product to sell back then.

Now, if cyclists want to ride, their options are extremely limited.

“People that can’t get the bikes are bringing their bikes in, and that’s good for business, too,” said Latimer. “People are searching the garage and searching the attic to see what they can find.”

On the surface, this is a good idea: Instead of a customer paying thousands for a brand new bike that they feel obligated to get, they can dig out a bike from their past and have it fixed for a couple hundred dollars.

But there’s a downside to that, too. Many times, a bike shop ordering those parts to fix an old bike takes away the coveted inventory needed by the major manufacturers to assemble and ship their new bikes. So it becomes a waiting game — whoever gets the part first will get their bike first.

“If you walk into a store to buy a bike, a lot of people, it’s ‘I’ll think about it,’ just like a car,” Grennan said. “Don’t hesitate. You want a bike that fits and you want to be safe, but don’t hesitate.”

Grennan has only been open since March 1st, but the e-bikes he sells are beginning to catch on all over the world. They offer the same excitement of biking but to a wider range of people because they have a motor to help beginners tackle tough terrain.

Lake Erie eBikes, 814 Outdoor Sports and Competitive Gear all said electric bikes are the only product they can order, stock and sell consistently right now because these bicycles are still relatively new to the area and they are more expensive.

So is this new Bike Boom a good thing or a bad thing for business?

“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” said Raver. “It makes my heart happy that people want to be out biking.”

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