Break in the chain: Bike shops, manufacturers work to keep up with demand amid supply crisis
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Right as the clock hits 10 a.m., opening time, the phone rings at Orange Peel. The shrill tone comes from two separate phones that aren’t quite synced, giving the illusion of multiple calls coming in and adding to the sense of stress.
The phone rings four times in the next seven minutes.
Meanwhile, three people walk their bikes to the open door with questions about quick fixes. There’s really no such thing as a quick fix these days.
Orange Peel, along with every other bike retailer and repair shop in Steamboat Springs, is overwhelmed and overloaded. Demand is higher than ever for bikes as people look for alternatives to public transportation as well as something to do amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, since foreign and domestic factories and warehouses experienced long-term closures and slow openings, the supply for bicycles and some parts and accessories can’t keep up.
Bikes are the new toilet paper
Like toilet paper was in April, bicycles are hard to find now.
Public transportation has shut down in some places, cut back in others and become a more obvious health risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So, people are looking for an alternate mode of transportation. When resorts closed, gyms and studios shuttered their doors and the snow melted, cycling became an increasingly popular way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise safely under the stay-at-home order.
The demand for a pair of wheels is higher than it has been in years, reminding those in the industry of the recession in 2008, when skyrocketing gas prices prompted a huge surge in bike sales.
The NPD Group, a market research company, said April sales for bikes, indoor bikes and accessories grew by 75% to $1 billion, compared to the same time last year. The group noted that basic adult bicycle sales grew by 203% while front suspension mountain bike sales were up more than 150%. Meanwhile, stationary bike sales grew by 270% in April.
Local shops have seen those same trends. Harry Martin, owner of Ski and Bike Kare, said gravel bikes, front suspension mountain bikes, as well as e-bikes have been flying off shelves, with only e-bikes still in stock.
Ski and Bike Kare typically maintains a stock of 400 bicycles. Right now, they have about 100. Martin said his spring sale numbers are more than double compared to years past.
Ross Kirby, sales manager at Orange Peel, said it’s near impossible to find a bike under $1,500 dollars. Being a small shop, Orange Peel only orders a couple bikes in each model. If someone needs a different size, they’ll order it. At least, that’s how it usually works.
“For the person who wants to get into biking right now, it’s a bad summer to get into it,” said Kirby. “Sorry, but with the whole pandemic and lack of inventory from manufacturers, I don’t have anything to show you.”
Schwinn, an affordable bike brand, is sold out of all 11 types of mountain bikes it offers on its website. Of the 12 road bikes they offer, six models are sold out, while all but one model of their cruiser bikes are marked as sold out.
Spring and early summer are already busy times at bike shops. People will bring in their bikes for a preseason tune and as the season hits its peak, more people need more repairs or regular maintenance. That anticipated business already keeps shops busy, but now that’s reached a new level. Service appointments are booked up for weeks in advance, and walk-ins add to the onslaught.
Maybe satisfying the hunger for two-wheeled vehicles would be easier if the supply chain hadn’t taken such a hit.
A broken supply chain
Most bikes and their parts are made in Taiwan or China. While Taiwan avoided mass shutdowns, closures in China caused a huge hiccup in the supply chain. When many factories shut down, it came right after an expected pause in production for the Chinese New Year. That break, combined with weeks of closure created a deficit in the supply, not only for bikes, but for bike components like shifters, handlebars, brake lines and more.
“It’s the weird basic stuff, like 26-inch tubes are out of stock, right now,” said Kirby. “Bike racks for cars are out of stock.”
At Ski and Bike Kare, Martin said he usually turns to one vendor to fill all his orders, but now looks to many to try to find what he needs.
“It’s a matter of going to 10 different suppliers to fill out an order,” said Martin. “Because one person has one thing, another has another thing.”
Of course, stores are still full of supplies and accessories for cyclists. A rider just shouldn’t be surprised if it takes a little longer for an occasional component to be shipped.
Thankfully, a lot of suppliers have warehouses on U.S. soil, but many of those are in California, which is operating at the lowest level possible due to a high number of COVID-19 cases in the state. There are far fewer employees working in those warehouses, meaning the supply that does exist, is taking longer to tap into.
Both Orange Peel and Ski and Bike Kare have a few bikes coming in over the next few weeks since they put models on backorder earlier in the year.
Like cars, bikes come out with new models every year. Typically, this happens in the fall, but some brands will push out new models a little earlier. The stock of 2020 bikes is dwindling as companies prepare to push out the upcoming 2021 models. So until that happens, economy bikes in popular sizes will likely remain sold out.
Expensive is the exception
Higher end bike manufacturers, such as Steamboat-based Moots, saw little change in the supply chain or sales.
Moots bikes sell for upwards of $10,000, so the new or casual rider won’t typically purchase a Moots. The demand for high-end bikes hasn’t changed much with the pandemic, so Moots hasn’t seen a dramatic rise in sales, but did have a successful June, according to Moots Marketing Director Jon Cariveau.
The company hasn’t experienced much difficulty with shipments or supplies. Moots builds its bikes in Steamboat, bringing in the titanium tubing needed to construct the frame. Since Moots forecasts the need for tubing almost a year in advance, they have plenty on hand. Even though most of the bike components are Shimano or SRAM, brands that hail from Asia, Moots hasn’t experienced any delays.
“Both of those companies typically have a warehouse in the United States that’s really well-stocked,” said Cariveau. “The delivery of those really haven’t been too much of a problem. Those were mostly in-country when all of this started happening. We’ve seen, for us, not much supply chain interruption.”
Carbon fiber forks were the one part that was on pause for a while, as the factory that makes them in Taiwan had to close. For a few weeks, Moots was unable to get any carbon fiber forks to Steamboat.
“That was the only piece of the puzzle we saw get interrupted,” said Cariveau. “There are U.S. sources for that same style of fork, and we were able to substitute a little bit, but here we are, right back with really good supply on that front.”
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