According to NPD, year over year bicycle sales were up 57% in 2021, hitting $6.5 billion across the retail sphere. But starting this April, bike sales dropped 22% compared to April 2020, a decline that aligns with the recovery of the U.S. economy and that NPD Executive Director Dirk Sorenson says falsely suggests weakening sales.
The explanation for the decline isn’t less consumer demand; it’s a bicycle supply chain with historically low inventory that just can’t deliver.
Bike companies are trying to make more bikes. “We have our own factory, so our orders aren’t getting bumped by a larger customer. We’ve been delivering bikes reliably, but there are tons of sourcing challenges,” says Marin Mountain Bike brand director Chris Holmes.
Marin’s deliveries are hampered by missing components. “There’s a shortage of containers,” says Holmes. “At one point, we had a 900-day lead time on brakes.”
In the bike industry, almost all saddles come from Velo, and SRAM and Shimano control drivetrain supply. There’s no sign a smaller component brand will make a break for it any-time soon to try and gain market share.
“We’re not able to ship a bike if we’re missing one bolt,” says Ryan “Rocket” Thornberry, Yeti Cycles product manager. “The industry is having cardboard issues, container issues, and planes and ships are full.” Yeti and other brands are sold out of model year ’21 bikes.
The world wants more bikes, but it can’t get them. So, instead, brands are working with sales reps and dealers to place “realistic” orders based on what brands say they can supply. Marin’s factory went to 100% capacity in May last year based on the bike market spike, and, as much as possible, it’s been running at 100% for over a year.
“When we can’t get specific components, we scale back on a specific model or substitute parts,” says Holmes. “If you don’t have planning in place to meet a delivery, you extend an already long lead time,” says Thornberry. “Initially there was enough normal, operating, safety stock to account for ebbs and flows in the market. That’s depleted. Now it’s just-in-time delivery, and everything that’s delivered to us turns immediately and goes out the door again. Everything is presold.”
There’s no end in sight, but there is also no plan to elevate production to the levels consumers are asking for. Like they did when the pandemic started, brands are hedging their bets, fearful that if they go too big, they’ll eventually get stuck with a warehouse full of last year’s rides. But, according to Holmes, even if consumer demand stopped tomorrow, it would take more than a year to refill the pipeline. “Our warehouses, our dealers’ warehouses, and dealers’ floors are empty,” Thornberry says.
So, retailers are being asked to buy 2023 bikes a year early. They’re guessing what their preseasons for two years from now should be, while trying to anticipate what won’t show that’s been promised for 2022. Brands, including Marin, have stopped taking on new dealers.
“We’re expecting strong sales to continue, but how far into the future is the question,” Thornberry says. “We don’t see it slowing down. We’ve scaled up, and we continue to scale up. We’re operating like it’s going to continue for a while.”
At the same time, Southeast Asia, the epicenter of bicycle frame and component manufacturing, is in the darkest depths of a COVID-19 surge, which promises to make matters worse.
“Four months ago, I would have told you my’22 stuff would land on time and that there was going to be an end to the shortage,” says Nat Campbell, Yeti Cycles global sales manager. “That hasn’t happened. Our sales program will be looking at supply a quarter or trimester at a time. We’ll only sell what we believe we will have in stock for that period.”
To compound the confusion, prices are climbing haphazardly, particularly for historically less-expensive bikes. Campbell says he’s lost count of how many times he’s redoneYeti’s 2022 pricing, which will go up 8–15% for 2022. But there are rumors of $800 bikes now costing $1400.
Greg Davis, owner of DFC Cycles andFitness and South Plains Cycles—both 3,000-plus square-foot shops in Lubbock, Texas—corroborates NPD’s data. “Any decrease the bike industry sees is because the supply chain is broken,” says Davis. “I look every day to see how to get something new to replace what’s going out the door.”
Davis predicts that in the short term, there will continue to be high demand and low supply for bikes—that it’s going to be a struggle for another year and a half.
Just like NPD’s respondents as well as Marin and Yeti, Davis believes that when demand finally tapers and warehouses are restocked, sales numbers won’t be as high as they are now, but they’ll be a lot higher than they were in 2018 and 2019.
“There will be an increase in business to be done,” says Davis. “More people are coming into the sport, more people are riding for transportation, more vacationers are bringing their bikes. Cycling is becoming part of the fabric of peoples’ lives. That will trickle out and down, and there’s no sign it’s going to end.”
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