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B-N Bike Shops Weather Pandemic-Driven Shortage

Bloomington Cycle & Fitness
Summer is always a busy season for bike shops. But pandemic-driven demand for outdoor activities coupled with supply strains mean people looking for a bicycle will likely struggle to find one.

Bike rides are a summer staple. But those looking for a new set of wheels are having a hard time finding them. Bicycles are among the growing list of supply-and-demand issues emerging from the pandemic.

Caryn Davis, owner of Bloomington Cycle and Fitness, said it’s a multilayered issue.

“We saw, as you saw in other industries, a big demand for outdoor types of things that folks could participate in safely during the pandemic,” Davis said. “The supply, for various reasons, didn't keep up—because it was an unplanned boom. Just like everything else, there were factories that shut down all over. That impacted our supply.”

There’s also an aluminum shortage—a common component in bicycle parts—plus, logistical challenges in importing stock to the U.S.

"It's hard for me to keep a bike in my store this year that's under $1,000 for more than literally an hour."

Davis said supply challenges are impacting all styles of bikes: mountain bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, etc. The demand boom has largely stayed concentrated in one area:

“I would say that everyday active supply, which is kind of the most common, least expensive fitness bike, is the most significantly impacted,” Davis said. “It's hard for me to keep a bike in my store this year that's under $1,000 for more than literally an hour.”

Davis said staff is helping customers figure out what type of bike they want, taking down their information, and contacting them when a good option becomes available. But that can take a while. Davis said some are waiting a few weeks. Others have been waiting since last summer.

Davis said some are springing for a different style or higher-end bike, just because that’s what’s available. But unlike some other types of outdoor gear, bicycles aren’t one-size-fits-all, she said. Customers often leave empty handed, with no real prospects to find a bike elsewhere.

“It can be disheartening to be in here every day and have to tell people ‘No, sorry, I don't have what you want.’ We're all doing this because we love seeing people find joy in cycling, and not being able to help with that kind of takes the wind out of our sails,” Davis said. “The hardest part for me is not knowing how to plan. I really don't know when that supply is gonna get better. And I don't know when that demand is going to slack ... off.”

Parts are another challenge, Davis said. Repairs are a big part of Bloomington Cycle’s business. The shop also sell components for bike enthusiasts to work on their own rides at home. Both of those services are suffering.

Davis said Bloomington Cycle ramped up its trade-in program for used bikes to help fill some of the void. But she said the used bike market also is seeing a boom, and customers may have better luck elsewhere.

“Most customers aren't going to get as much out of their bike if they're doing a trade. Just like a car, if you trade it in, you're going to get more if you sell it outright, usually. We're telling people the same thing: ‘Yes, we'll gladly evaluate your bike for trade when we sell you this new one. However, I'd encourage you to go listed on social media and or on a website or something like that, so that you can get the most out of it that you can.’”

Those in the industry are getting mixed signals on when conditions might improve.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos owns Vitesse Cycle Shop.

"The major manufacturer for components is Shimano. They're just not able to produce what's needed in the marketplace, and then you have logistical issues that are affecting every industry—supply chain issues. There are aluminum shortage issues. There's a lot of aluminum used in bicycle componentry," Koos said. "It's just a perfect storm in the supply chain."

That impacts everyone, from locally-owned bike shops like Vitesse to big box stores like Walmart or Dick's Sporting Goods, he said.

Koos said some are forecasting the bike shortage could last a year or two. Others are optimistic recovery will come sooner.

"We probably are erring on the side of 'it won't be that long.' We don't want to see what some people might think is a long-term trend end up being a short-term trend and then be glutted with inventory that we can't sell," Koos said.

Current orders are backed up as far as April 2023, Koos said. Where he would normally have 250 bikes in the shop this time of year, he said, Vitesse is down to just 30.

Koos said business is still good for bike shops, but it could be better—50-60% better, in Vitesse's case—if there were more bicycles to sell.

"It's really not doom and gloom for us. It's not like it's going to affect our ability to stay in business, but it certainly is a problem and we're missing a lot of opportunity," he said.

Koos said Vitesse still gets bikes on a weekly basis—and they sell everything almost as soon as a shipment comes through the door. That saves them the cost of carrying unsold inventory. But it also means customers need to move quickly.

"When we get a run of bikes—say a specific bike like an entry-level mountain bike—we have customers drive in from Michigan, Tennessee, Wisconsin to buy these bikes. Our customers are doing the same thing. Wherever they can find a bike, they'll go get it," he said.

Koos said prices have stayed relatively steady, despite the shortage. He said suppliers have warned against price gouging, noting that demand is cyclical and will soon drop off again.

Koos said the best thing for those on the market for a bicycle can do is talk with a bike shop about what they're looking for and trust they'll reach out when stock is available.

Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.