Leigh Mattson is still looking for a new bike.
In the early summer, she went to three bike stores near her home in Littleton and found no starter or intermediate bikes in stock. She thought she’d have better luck when she visited family in Tyler, Texas, in late June, but it was the same sight at stores in the city southeast of Dallas: rows and rows of empty bike shelves with only a handful of models left.
“It’s the waiting game,” she said.
With the coronavirus pandemic closing gyms and keeping Coloradans close to home, the demand for bicycles is at an unprecedented high across the state — and nation — helping some retailers’ bottom lines but straining a supply chain that might not stabilize until well into 2021.
Between April and July — the peak of stay-at-home measures in the U.S. — bike sales were 81% higher than in the same period in 2019, according to New York-based market research firm NPD Group. In April alone, as the coronavirus raged across the country, sales for bikes and accessories grew to $1 billion — far higher than a typical April, when sales add up to $550 million to $575 million.
Giant, the world’s largest bike manufacturer, sold 48% more bikes directly to customers in August than it did the same month last year, according to Second Measure, which analyzes anonymized consumer purchases. Specialized, another major bike manufacturer, sold 213% more bikes directly to riders this August compared to 2019. Trek expects to more than double its sales this year.
“Cycling has been one of the major activities that folks have turned to [during the pandemic], which in turn has fueled the market for new bicycles, and used bicycles, parts and accessories to fix up older bicycles, as more and more people are looking to get out on the trails,” said Patrick Hogan, bicycle industry research manager for PeopleForBikes, a Boulder-based trade group.
At some points during the pandemic, bicycle tire tubes and new bicycles priced at under $1,500 have been nearly impossible to purchase, industry experts say.
“Every [bicycle] brand out there in the U.S. and globally is experiencing a high demand … the demand is still higher than the inventory,” said Milay Galvez, director of marketing for Fuji Bikes. Fuji, which like most manufacturers makes most of its bikes in China, projects the market could stabilize by the end of the year. The company declined to publicly disclose its sales numbers, but Galvez said both its web traffic and sales are up. The company sells bikes to about 1,500 bike retailers across the United States.
“This is the bicycle boom that we have not seen since the 1970s in the U.S.,” Galvez added.
Brad Stewart, founder of Bicycle Outfitters, says his Grand Junction and Montrose stores are turning away 10 to 15 people a day who want to purchase a bike because the inventory just isn’t there. He normally stocks 1,100 bikes at any given time but is now down to about 150.
“The unfortunate thing is the companies aren’t telling us when we’re going to get stuff,” Stewart said, adding that he hasn’t seen this scale of demand in the 28 years he has owned his business.
Stewart is seeing a whole new segment of customers in his shop: people who haven’t ridden in decades who are returning to the sport during the pandemic. Some customers on the hunt for a bike, he said, are driving all the way from Denver or over the border from Utah.
Bicycle Outfitters stocks bikes from seven different brands, so Stewart said business has been “phenomenal.” He estimates his sales are about 30% higher than last year, and repairs for old bikes have doubled. But Stewart worries smaller shops with less inventory might not survive the supply shortage: “I think it’s going to clean out the industry.”
The demand is also unprecedented in Colorado Springs, said John Crandall, who opened Old Town Bike Shop there back in 1976. Crandall’s sales were above average in May and average in June — but limited inventory has tamped down his sales since July.
“There’s this huge range of variability of what the supply is,” Crandall explained. “It’s a double whammy of the supply chain being interrupted and the demand going way up because people weren’t going to the gyms — a worldwide shortage.”
Even with reduced hours and weekend closures, Bob Magatagan, operations manager at BikeSource’s Highlands Ranch location, said compared with the same time last year the store is seeing a record increase in sales.
“A lot of people, once they realize that they can’t find bikes are buying used bikes or pulling their bikes down from the garage, and most of that stuff has outdated components and wheels,” Magatagan said. “We normally have about 800 bikes in the store when we’re in full operation. Now I actually have more bikes in for service then I have bikes to be sold from the floor.”
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen — unlike anything this industry has seen,” added Magatagan, who has worked for BikeSource for 13 years.
As new bikes sell out, some riders are turning to pre-owned inventory, a supply chain that retailers can better control.
“We’re able to capitalize on that — people who have bikes in their garage or don’t ride anymore or who want to trade in what they have. There’s no end of supply for us,” said Matt Heitmann, chief marketing officer at The Pro’s Closet, a Colorado-based company that sells used, high-performance bikes. Almost a third of its sales are from Colorado and California customers.
The Pro’s Closet has seen 130% growth in sales so far this year, compared with 2019, and recently raised an additional $12 million in funding. The business for used bikes has been so good that the company plans to move its Boulder headquarters to a new 137,000-square-foot building in Louisville.
While the 2020 bump has been advantageous to the bicycle industry, Hogan, of PeopleForBikes, cautions that bringing all these new and reactivated riders into the bicycle community is key for long-term growth.
“2021 can see this sustained, increased rates of participation,” he said, “if we all address it from an infrastructure standpoint, from a marketing and communications standpoint, from retailers being able to build relationships with these new folks who might have purchased bikes online or purchased them used.”