Looking back now on 2020, it’s obvious that changes like replacing indoor gym workouts with mountain bike rides or replacing mass transit commutes with socially distanced spins to the office were obvious. But, as a whole, the bicycle industry—just like almost every other business—assumed a pandemic would create a sales deficit. And it acted accordingly, slowing, and in some cases even stopping, production. By the time the massive spike in all things cycling hit, the factories were well behind the curve. In fact, even if the industry was operating at status quo throughout 2020, the massive increase in pedaling demand still would’ve outpaced production.
A year later, and the cycling industry is still trying to keep up. “Last season, we were struggling to find tires and tubes to keep customers rolling,” says Shawn Gillis, the owner of retail shop Absolute Bikes in Salida, Colorado. “This year, it’s tires, tubes, saddles, grips. Really, I could list 50 things we’re struggling to find right now.”
Indeed, both new and used bikes need parts to keep operational, and the bike boom has made the type of basic essentials cycling shops usually have stocked on the shelves rare commodities.“Some of the more scarce products in the early months of COVID-19 were tires and tubes.
COVID-19 created cascading effects across the industry impacting every manufacturer and brand,” says Aaron Chamberlain, marketing manager for Maxxis Tires, a dominant supplier of bike tires (both under its own brand, and as a producer for other companies). “Maxxis’ factories were idled briefly in early 2020 as the pandemic began and by the time things were up and running again the pandemic had spread across the globe. A lot of orders were canceled in the early days of the pandemic because of all the uncertainty. Once everyone realized that biking was the ideal socially distanced activity, orders came flying in. The orders for replacement equipment (RE)—tires you would find at a bike shop—never slowed down though. That meant our RE production was bumping into our original equipment (OE)—tires that come stock on new bikes—production.”
Furthermore, the lack of tires and other componentry is slowing the availability of new bikes. Andrew Juskaitis, Giant’s global marketing director, says there are frames ready for parts in the manufacturer’s overseas factories, but simply not enough components to assemble complete bikes. “In some cases, our factories can’t even get the cardboard needed to pack and ship the bikes,” he says. Like many brands, Giant is doing its best to make due in what Juskaitis calls unprecedented times. The brand is making relatively simple changes in model spec—like using road-marketed chains on mountain bikes or lightweight cross-country tires installed on long-travel trail bikes—just to get bikes out the factory door.
Unforeseen spikes in demand due to social distancing-related trends are also cleaning brands out of product that’s either historically seasonal, or just not usually sought after. On the soft goods front, Pearl Izumi Director ofBrand Marketing Andrew Hammond says,“Our entry-level shoes just vaporized last year, and it was because of Peloton [the indoor cycle trainer].” Hammond says Pearl Izumi’s customer service department was almost overwhelmed with this rush of new users seeking advice on their newfound workout of choice for 2020. It wasn’t just entry-level product that was moving for the clothing brand, though; Hammond says the brand saw almost equal sales of its top-tier $275 bib short as it did of its price-point $50 Quest short.
It may not be necessarily due to the limited supply of new bicycles, but many consumers are also opting to resurrect old bikes—and finding that the parts they need are difficult or impossible to attain. QBP (Quality BicycleProducts), the largest U.S. distributor of cycling components, is currently sold out of 7-,8-, and 9-speed drivetrain parts, without an ETA for new stock, which essentially leaves any bike in need of repair on standby until further notice. Shimano’s mountain bike media liaison, Joe Lawwill, was kind enough to answer Outdoor Retailer’s inquiries about its manufacturing status, but couldn’t provide anything beyond stating that Shimano is committed to increasing production. And Lawwill said he can’t go on record for their current lead times.
Lead times to get bicycle manufacturers these crucial components needed to assemble complete bikes is roughly 18 months. Factor in slower shipping times, limited packing material supply, and a myriad of other components (saddles, tires, grips, etc.) with potential to slow the process, and the cycling industry’s hope to return to normal is rather dismal.
These manufacturing delays all trickle down to the showroom floor, leaving shop owners scrambling for creative solutions. Some brands are shipping “complete” bikes with a component or three missing with the idea that it’s better than not shipping bikes at all. Gillis says these options have at least allowed the shop to get bikes to its customers, and that’s a good thing. Prices are also increasing rapidly, and, in some cases, bikes ordered from shops months ago at one price are finally trickling in, but with a price higher than when they were initially ordered. In many situations, the MSRP has increased accordingly. One shop who preferred to remain anonymous says they had several customers who put deposits on a bike at the pre-increase price, only to find out they owed more money (several hundred dollars in most cases) upon the bike’s arrival.
As with COVID-19 in general, the cycling industry’s future is uncertain. The million-dollar question is whether or not this spike in popularity is at least in part a void being filled, or if it’s a short-lived trend that will potentially backslide companies that are running at maximum capacity to meet current demands. While we obviously aren’t aware of all business plans, the general consensus of brands we contacted is that the short-term goal is to catch up as quickly and efficiently as possible to meet these historical demands, and try to sort the future out a little further down the road.
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