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Why it’s so hard to get a new bike right now

The interior of a bike shop in New York City
Reuters/Carlo Allegri
The low supply and high demand for bikes is causing shortages.
  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter

Published Last updated on

Bike shops as far apart as the US and Australia are having a similar problem: They can’t get enough new bikes to fill the rush in demand they’re seeing. While customers may occasionally get lucky and find stock in their local store, they’re frequently having to trade up to more expensive models, or join waiting lists, knowing it could be months before they get the bike they want.

The reason is a combination of supply-chain delays and a surge in interest around biking and other outdoor activities due to the pandemic. “We’re seeing a very large increase in ridership and our supply has dwindled so much,” said Heather Mason, president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, a US trade group. Retailers such as Cosmic Bikes in Chicago and West Hill Shop in Putney, Vermont have said they don’t have bikes to satisfy all the customers lining up for them. Bike-industry trade outlets in the UK and Australia are reporting similar issues.

The problems started more than a year ago in China and other parts of Asia, where most bikes are manufactured. The US, for example, imports the vast majority of its bikes, and about 90% of those came from China in 2019. Toward the end of January 2020, factories paused for Lunar New Year. Just as they were due to resume work, the pandemic started. Many closed through February under lockdown orders, causing the supply chain to come to a stop.

When Covid-19 spread through Europe and the US, companies such as Trek, a large US bike manufacturer, didn’t anticipate demand would soar as shoppers trying to stay active during lockdowns took up outdoor activities in record numbers. As they ramped up production, it took time for the supply chain to hit full speed.

The bike industry’s supply-and-demand challenge

Bikes are built from numerous parts that can be made at different factories before they’re brought together in one location and assembled. Under normal circumstances, it takes about four months from the time a bike maker places its order with a factory in Asia for the finished products to arrive in the US, according to Mason. By last May, bike shops were already starting to sell out, and the timeline for getting new bikes had already grown longer. Factories were straining to supply the orders. Lead times grew to six months, then eight, Mason said. Additional problems such as a shortage of shipping containers and the Suez Canal blockage have compounded the problems. “Now it’s almost 12 months out,” she said. “Place your order and get in line.”

Companies have increased production, but there’s not enough capacity to fill all the orders, especially for bikes costing less than $1,000. “Trek has nearly doubled its manufacturing capacity in the last nine months,” the company wrote in a March blog post. “The challenge? Demand has almost tripled. In short, while there are lots and lots of bikes flowing into bike shops every day, they are selling even faster.”

The shortages are also affecting bike parts, which—with no new stock available—customers are buying up to repair their old bikes.

The issues look set to last into 2022. Mason said she doesn’t expect demand to ease before 2023. Some shops were lucky and placed large orders months ago that are now arriving. Many shops, however, are running out of inventory.

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