Boom in Bike Demand Gets Crushed by Lack of Supply

Bike spike meets COVID, containers, and cost increases.

Toronto bike lane
Toronto bike lane.

Emma Alter 

One of the few good things that has come out of the pandemic is the dramatic increase in cycling, with new bike infrastructure being rolled out to accommodate everyone. In Toronto, Canada, bike activists argued for a bike lane on the major east-west street for the last dozen years; now my daughter rides safely to work on it every day. But often when there is a boom in demand for something, there can be a shortage in supply, and nobody saw this pandemic boom coming. Consultant Jay Townley tells Bike Retailer that the problems won't be ending soon:

"Bicycle business supply chains will continue to be challenged in 2021 with the result that we do not anticipate an appreciable increase in on-demand inventory in the U.S. for most of this year. We are also advising wholesale and retail clients to expect at least one more round of price-increases and further tightening of terms driven by increasing raw material, component, packaging material costs and ocean carrier and domestic freight rates."
CCM Bike ad
CCM Bikes

While there used to be many domestic bike manufacturers in North America (I rode a Canadian-made CCM bike across Canada after high school) it is all globalized today and most bikes come from Asia. Not much is getting over from Asia right now because the global shipping container transport system has broken down; the cost of shipping a container across the Pacific has spiked from $2,000 to $13,000 – if you can find one. Many are full of stuff on ships waiting to get into American ports. According to Bloomberg,

"...the world needs the equivalent of 500,000 more 20-foot containers -- roughly enough to fill 25 of the largest ships in operation -- to satisfy the current demand. In the meantime, standard container rates on transpacific routes are quadruple what they were a year ago. And that’s before equipment surcharges and premiums for guaranteed loading are added."
Dismount Bike Shop
Dismount Bikes and Coffee, Toronto. Lloyd Alter

This adds up to a real problem for people who want to buy bikes and the people who are trying to sell them. Nathan Petrie of Toronto's Dismount Bike Shop tells Treehugger:

"We are definitely being affected by the supply chain shortages, we are seeing lead times stretching out to 500-600 days for parts we could normally order at any time and have in store with 48 hours in a normal season. We are receiving only a fraction of the bikes we would have normally, and our suppliers are already taking orders on 2022 bikes to try and secure production and be able to deliver bikes in time for Spring 2022. Our suppliers are facing a whole range of issues, from manufacturing capacity, labour force shortages, shipping container shortages and backlogs at ports, and continued all-time high demand globally for all things bike." 

And it's not just the bikes, it's also the parts.

"The best example of how severe the inventory situation is that some bike chains (normally not hard to find) are already out of stock until July 2022."
Curbside Cycle, Toronto
Curbside Cycle, Toronto. Bikeshare Toronto

Eric Kamphof of Toronto's Curbside Cycle went into greater detail.

"Yep, this is pretty real. It seems global demand for bikes has peaked – which, of course, is quite exciting – but supply has been seriously hampered by the same conditions driving demand: covid. Bikes are a globalized object, and from the raw materials of each part to the production and shipping of each part, to final assembly of all parts (and then to shipping all of this here), there have been labour shortages due to social distancing, et al."

Curbside is a high-end shop that sells a lot of cargo bikes and now e-bikes (you can see inside the store where they taught me how to unfold a Gocycle). They manage their own supply chain without the usual distributors, and get a lot of product from Europe and have even had trouble there.

"In Europe, companies still own factories, so that means that if they can't get a handlebar to finish bike A, they can make a quick decision to substitute, or switch to moving bike B instead. This causes delays, and these are the kind of delays we are feeling. Well, this and a worldwide container shortage. We had a consolidated order ready in Rotterdam two weeks ago and we finally got a container and sailing date for April 11th. Usually, it's a one to two week turnaround. Either way, things are indeed behind as our vendors factories have to constantly adapt and shift production, but our delays are more like a month or two rather than two entire quarters." 

The usual bike shop that gets its stock from Asia has a bigger problem.

"Most of the bike shops in North America get their bikes from Taiwan, China or Vietnam. These are all made by factories that are third-party contractors. They will make brand A's bike in one week and brand B's bike another week. This is a finely tuned machine that depends on just-in-time inventory. That means if they can't get brand A's bike out due to missing parts or labour shortages, it grinds things to a halt. They don't have the authority to substitute one part for another, so this also adds delays as decisions are made between brand and factory. Once again, add a container shortage and things are pretty dire."

Finally, Curbside is facing the same parts issues that Dismount is having:

"In terms of parts and accessories from Taiwan and China, this is where we are definitely affected. We currently have run out of some essential inner tube sizes, and while we proactively ordered thousands in advance already in July 2020, they have yet to show up! We haven't gotten a clear idea from our wholesalers on when these will arrive as I suspect they don't have the answer to this either, so I guess we're breaking out patch kits and saying prayers over every patched tube! Truly crazy times. But again, great to see worldwide bike usage on the increase."

They are strange times indeed. Bike thefts are also up about 30% in the United States. So don't forget about what we call the Chicago Rule: Add one bike lock per hour that it is parked. But given the parts situation, they might strip the bike and leave the frame. It's why we keep saying that we not only need safe places to ride, but secure parking as well.

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