By Eric Barker
For Inland 360
Go ride a bike — if you can find one.
Chances are it will be pretty tough. There’s a global shortage of new bicycles at the moment, caused by an unprecedented disruption in the supply chain. The dearth is coinciding with a once-in-a-generation surge in cycling.
Demand is up, supply is down.
Like everything these days, both trends are tightly linked with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lockdowns imposed in virtually every state led to a surge of interest in close-to-home, healthy activities — cycling included. Add to that an aversion to crowds and public transportation, plus many team sports and other group activities being unavailable, and more people suddenly became interested in pedal power.
Of course the lockdowns were not just an American phenomenon. They started in China and progressed to other Asian countries, like Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam where nearly all bicycles, bike components and cycling gear are manufactured. The biggest bike factories in the world were offline for 30 to 90 days earlier this year. That just happens to be the time when those factories normally would be filling orders for most American bike shops.
“One of the safe social distancing activities you can do this year is ride your bike,” said Brice Erickson of B and L Bicycles in Pullman. “So we have this bike boom on top of a bike shortage.”
Or as Tjay Clevenger of Paradise Creek Bicycles in Moscow put it, “Bikes are the new toilet paper.”
The renewed interest in cycling also led more people to venture into the depths of their garages and basements to dig out long forgotten bikes. They eagerly dusted them off, hopped on for a shakedown cruise and soon learned their rides were broken down.
As a result, bike shops filled with repair work — not uncommon for late spring and early summer — but this year’s normal wave of early season repairs was more of a tsunami.
“Instead of being a week out, we are maybe two weeks out on anything major,” said Mike Follet of Follet’s Mountain Sports in Lewiston. “Minor stuff we can usually get done right away. Anything very major, and the bike is going to be here for a little bit.”
Erickson said his mechanics have all the work they can handle.
“Everybody is working as many hours as they want, as many hours as they can physically handle,” he said.
Follett, Clevenger and Erickson said they all have some new bikes available. But they don’t have the same selection they would in a normal year, and new bikes don’t linger on the showroom floor.
“They are not all pre-sold but we have a list of people to call, so they don’t last long,” Follett said.
Erickson said desperate bike shoppers are traveling hundreds of miles when they find a shop with the product they want.
“It’s routine for people to drive over from the west side (of Washington) to Pullman,” he said. “That is just bizarre.”
Forecasts call for the shortage to begin easing as soon as next month. But it could last well into the fall or even until next year for some makes and models. Some bike parts and accessories also are tough to find. That includes products like tires, tire-patch kits, inner tubes, bike pumps and more.
With new products scarce, Clevenger is taking up a new, albeit, temporary business model.
“I bought a service truck last week, and I’m going to shift my focus to service over retail. I’m going to be coming to people’s homes to fix their bikes. We have a three-week lead time with four full-time mechanics.”
Despite the challenges presented by the shortages of bikes and parts, Erickson said he’s hopeful the pandemic may lead to a lasting interest in cycling. He noted that he now frequently sees groups of kids tooling around Pullman on their bikes — a scene that hasn’t been common for a couple of decades or more.
“Who knows? Maybe this will be the next bike boom.”
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.