Want to buy a bike in the Southern Tier? Here's why you might be waiting until 2023
Buying a bike in 2021 isn’t easy. Gone are the days when you could walk into a local shop and purchase a bike off the rack for a decent amount.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a need to socially distance outdoors, and for many biking was the perfect remedy. Bicycle sales in the United States climbed 65% last year, according to NPR, despite shortages at many bike shops.
“Since the COVID lockdown the demand skyrocketed and has not come down,” said Taylor Crowe, owner of Wheels United in Bath. “The combo of demand and lack of availability has kept bikes in short supply since May/June of 2020.”
The explanation for the shortage of bicycles comes down to their imported parts: The United States relies on China for about 90% of its bicycles, Jay Townley, who analyzes cycling industry trends at Human Powered Solutions told USA Today in June 2020.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, factories overseas shut down completely or operated at limited capacity, Townley explained. Inventory was running low even before the pandemic after tariffs were imposed on China in 2019. Warehouses in the United States were cleaned out, and they’re still trying to catch up.
I want a bike. How long will it take to get one?
If you were to order a bike or certain bike components, it could take up to a year or more to get it, according to Paul Kingsbury, a 38-year veteran of the business and owner of Kingsbury's Cyclery in Elmira.
“I have bikes on backorder and I get like one bike every 10 days to two weeks,” Kingsbury said. “If you ordered a bike right now for somebody that puts them at the very end of the line, and so likely it's about a year, year-and-a-half before it possibly would show up.”
In some cases, experts predict, it could be even longer.
"Inventory levels have started to increase slightly in the last few months," said Steven Frothingham, editor-in-chief of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News online. "It's going to be at least 2023 before they are near normal. All the warehouses are empty — retailer warehouses, distributor/wholesaler warehouses, manufacturer warehouses. Just refilling the inventory will keep the factories busy for at least a year now even if there was little consumer demand."
Components that are currently hard to get are suspension, contact points and wheels, according to industry experts.
For Kingsbury, the light at the end of the tunnel isn't yet in sight.
“I don't really see anything, you know, from my end where it looks like it's changing,” said Kingsbury.
If you’re buying for your kids, however, you might be in luck.
“We have lots of kid's bikes,” said Margo Underwood, owner of Corning Bike Works in Corning, explaining that bikes for children use different parts than those for adults.
How have bike shops handled the shortage?
With a lack of bikes on the floor, local shops have cut down hours and days. Some are open only by appointment or only for repairs, if they can get the parts.
"Once the new bikes were gone, repairs started getting huge and that went on for a while, but then we ran out of parts," said Underwood. Chains, shifters, derailers, and even tires and tubes have been hard to get in a timely fashion.
"People bring in their old bikes to get him tuned up and most of the time I can get them going, but occasionally there's a big delay."
What about big box stores?
Big box stores do have bikes, but like local shops are struggling to meet demand — in part because assembling them in mass quantity takes time, according to Frothingham.
"It's often a bit harder to put a bike out on display than products that are just boxes on a shelf," said Frothingham. "So when there's a run on bikes at the local Target, it's not so easy to put out a bunch more bikes immediately."
Amazon has played a role, too, as a place where smaller retailers can put their parts and even buy some that they might need.
"It's been easy for anyone with a bit of inventory to throw it up on Amazon and get rid of it for a good price," said Frothingham. If a retailer (or even a wholesaler) needs a part to complete a bike, they might have to go to Amazon or one of the other specialty e-commerce sites.
"They might hate to do it, but if a $50 part is keeping them from completing a $3,000 bike, what else are they going to do?"
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