The Great Pandemic Bike Boom: Year Two

It’s hard to imagine how biking could become more popular than it was in 2020. But that’s just what retailers see happening.

“Last year left tremors in the industry,” says Heather Mason, the president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, a nonprofit representing bike stores across the country. “We’re expecting another year of demand outpacing supply.”

According to NPD Group, a market research company, bike sales grew 75 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, as everyone took to two wheels to deal with the pandemic. Incredible numbers of people dusted off the old 10 speed, fixed up the broken mountain bike and shelled out for a new bike—to avoid public transportation and for the mental and physical health benefits. Bike shops and the supply chain, already winded from lockdowns and shipping issues, couldn’t keep up, says Mason. By the middle of the summer, many bike shops were sold out of everything but the priciest models.

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Big Bike Sales, Big Picture

A slowdown in demand through the winter helped manufacturers and stores restock shelves. But it’s a false flat, says Mason. There were strong preseason orders, continued shortages in carbon fiber and other materials, and exceptional early-season demand. NPD says bike sales jumped 130 percent in January and February compared to the same pre-pandemic months in 2020. Wait times for pre-ordered bikes are now up to 18 months and some bike shops are returning deposits because they don’t think they will be able to deliver some models this year at all.

“The industry is going full-out trying to connect the dots to ramp up production,” Mason says. “But until manufacturing, delivery, and demand gets more normal, supply issues probably won’t change.”

She says things won’t go back to normal until at least spring 2022 or even 2023.

REI, one of the nation’s largest bike retailers, says all their stores anticipate strong demand throughout 2021 for its in-house brand and third-party bikes.

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“We expect bicycles to go quickly when they do arrive to our stores,” says Courtenay Gearhart, the senior public affairs program manager. “In some cases we will probably temporarily sell out.”

While all kinds and price ranges of bikes will be hard to find, the most in-demand are kids bikes and ones costing less than $1,000, says Mason. Conversely, there are lots of e-bikes. The industry had anticipated strong demand before the pandemic and still has excess inventory.

For those still hoping to get something other than an e-bike this year, there is hope.

“Bike industry people are finding new bikes,” she says. “There are ways.”

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Bike Shopping Tips

Her best advice is to figure out what you want and then be flexible. Look online and call retailers that carry the brand you want to see if anyone has the model you’re looking for. Increasing your budget will open up more potential, too. If you can’t find anything that works, visit a local shop.

“Tell them what you want and ask them what they would do,”  Mason says. “They might have a good alternative brand or model or a creative solution.”

It also gets them looking for you, in case a trade-in comes in or someone turns down a bike they ordered. If all that ends in a flat, she suggests ordering a bike and being patient.

“Conversations we’re having today about availability are changing tomorrow,” Mason says. “Don’t be afraid to wait for the bike you want.”

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