The coronavirus pandemic has sent thousands of people back to bicycles for exercise and transportation – but it’s creating complications and even closures for local bike shops.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Kamlesh Chouhan, the owner of Bicycle Sports Pacific in Langley.
Starting in March and April, customers descended on bike shops across North America, all seeking a means of exercise that allowed them to keep their distance.
With gyms closed for months, team sports largely banned, and schools closed, cycling became very attractive.
That led to bikes and equipment being snatched up in large numbers.
Although that sounds like a boon for bike shops, it comes with downsides, Chouhan said.
“I think we are in for a bumpy ride, to say the least,” he said.
The store is still turning customers away every day as people are still looking for a good, basic, entry-level bike, between $500 and $1,000, Chouhan said.
But there’s simply nothing left. What the store has left is largely high-end road bikes, full-suspension mountain bikes, and electric assist bikes. All of those are relatively expensive and meant for dedicated, frequent riders, not those just starting out or getting into casual cycling for the first time since childhood.
“We normally have 240 bikes on hooks, we have 100 in boxes,” said Chouhan. Now there are just a couple of dozen in the store.
“We routinely have to turn away a lot of calls.”
The reasons for the lack of supply seem to include a number of things, said Chouhan. First, there have been COVID-19-related disruptions to the supply chain, as to many other industries.
However, Chouhan said he also believes that U.S.-based distributors may be putting Canadian buyers at the back of the list when it comes to shipping out scarce product to bike shops.
That means that even four months into the pandemic, local shops still can’t even begin to keep up with demand.
Bicycle Sports Pacific and longtime local store Cap’s Bicycles, in Langley City, remain open, but Walnut Grove’s primary bike shop recently announced a temporary closure due to the same issues.
“Due to severe lack of basic supplies Velocity will be closed from 19th of July to August 4th,” the shop’s website said. “We are terribly sorry for the inconvenience. We would like to thank our customers for being so understanding and awesome during these trying times.”
Velocity’s site noted they had run out of not just bikes, but out of “almost everything bicycle related,” including helmets, tires, tubes, bells, mirrors, seats, brake pads, and other components.
Chouhan said it was a similar story for his store.
“We’re now seeing issues with parts. Certain parts are no longer available,” he said.
When bikes do come in, they go out just as quickly.
An order of 20 bikes arrives, and is posted on the store’s site, he said.
“It shows up in inventory at 2 p.m., by 5 p.m. it’s all sold,” said Chouhan.
Staff member Jack Vanderzalm noted that the store has also seen a lot of older bikes being brought in for repairs and servicing, to the extent that they hired an extra person in that department.
Once cheaper bikes were sold out everywhere in the spring, he said, people scrounged up what they could and needed them fixed.
“We started getting lots of older bikes, ‘back shed specials,’ into the service centre,” Vanderzalm said.
The positive side of this turn towards cycling is that Chouhan hopes it will create lots of new life-long cyclists. It may even help push local governments in the direction of creating more bike lanes and cycling infrastructure, he said.
On the other hand, it’s very frustrating not being able to help many people.
The current wait for many bikes is four to six weeks, he notes. That puts delivery in late August or early September.
“They want to ride now, they don’t want to ride in four weeks time,” said Chouhan.