A huge run on bicycle sales and repairs that began in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of letting up, with some parts unavailable into next year.
One type of high-end brake could take until October 2022 to get to consumers.
“I’d actually say it’s crazier now than it was a year ago, if you can believe that,” said Evan Girard, a staff member at Marty’s Mountain Cycle. “It’s wild.”
Last year at this time, many people were off work and had more free time to spend with their families, fuelling interest in bikes, he said. “They were kind of looking for stuff to do and hopping on bikes and using that as their outlet, being outdoors and getting active.”
At the same time, many bike and bike-part suppliers were shut down for about three months after the pandemic hit, creating “a big backlog” of needs in stores for the 2020 and 2021 model years.
Bikes and parts just haven’t been getting produced as quickly, Girard said.
“Bikes that we were expecting to see in September, October, November last year we didn’t see until December, January, February of this year,” he said. “So on one hand, you’ve got product that’s not showing up when we were expecting it, then you’ve also got people who are still trying to get active, trying to get started.
“And then those people who got into it last year are needing repairs, they’re needing consumable parts on their bikes replaced.”
Conor Conley, an owner at the Sidney location of Russ Hay’s The Bicycle Stop, said the first part of the pandemic had him wondering if he could stay in business. Then things turned around and sales went through the roof.
He doesn’t expect much to change for at least a year. “I’ve got mostly empty shelves,” he said. “Shipping, raw supplies, availability of product period, it’s bad.”
Conley said he saw about a 30 per cent increase in demand in the initial surge. Since then, planning ahead has been an important part of the job.
“Hopefully I did a good job last summer for ordering, and then I hope again I get everything that I did order,” he said. “If somebody needs something today and we don’t have it in the pipeline already, then it’s going to be sometime next year, probably.
“I’ve been in the bike industry 20 years. I’ve said no to more people in the last month than I have in the rest of my career.”
Girard said basic parts like bike chains are in short supply for repair work because they’re largely going to new bikes due to pent-up demand. “So there’s no chains to be put into the bike shops for people who need to replace a broken chain or need to replace a worn-out chain.”
Still, general repair work is booming, and has been throughout the typically quiet time of December to February.
“We were about as busy through those months as we normally are in the spring, and now we’re booking three to four weeks out,” Girard said. “Normally we’re only a day or two out, just in terms of repairs.”
Spring tune-ups, which would normally start in earnest about now, have already been happening in droves.
Bike sales have been particularly strong for certain models, said Girard, with some 2021 stock sold out by mid-February.
“We can’t complain too much,” he said. “We are obviously still busy and we are doing what we want to be doing, but it’s posing some unique challenges.”
One issue is that some of the bikes getting delivered are not coming complete — some are missing components such as seats, tires or brakes because of the scarcity of parts. Shop owners have to complete the package.
“We’ve been doing a lot more of that, but that’s something that’s never really happened before,” Girard said.
While at a certain point, everyone who wants a bike will be able to get one, problems getting parts are expected to linger much longer, he said.