Anyone in the market for a bicycle this spring best be forewarned: Demand is strong and supply is tight — a trend that began as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year.
Bike sales surged in 2020 as cycling proved to be the perfect socially distanced outdoor activity, and as gyms and health clubs shut down while the virus raged.
This year, the story is much the same.
"It's pretty wild," said Erik Saltvold, owner of Erik's Bike Shop Inc., a Minneapolis-based chain of 30 stores throughout the Midwest. "Demand definitely hasn't slowed down, especially since early-season warm weather has accelerated it."
Bike sales in the United States increased 69% in 2020 compared with the previous year, with electric bike sales surging 147% in the same period, according to the NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm.
Most bikes sold in the United States are made in Asia, where sluggish production persisted as some manufacturing plants shut down because of COVID and shipping schedules often proved unpredictable.
"We have product that's sitting offshore," Saltvold said. "Then once the product gets here, there's a shortage of trucks to bring it here because not as many people are available to work due to COVID."
Heather Mason, president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, predicted the bike supply will remain constrained through 2023. "It's like one thing on top of another," she said.
Still, retailers say that there are bikes available to buy.
"We have bikes in stock, we are getting bikes in stock, but things have taken a little longer," Saltvold said. "You might not get your first choice."
Buyers are advised to be diligent as they search for new or used bikes and to be flexible in their choices. But anecdotes have surfaced of bidding wars on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
During the early months of the pandemic, the surge in demand was primarily driven by sales of "family-friendly, adult lifestyle and children's bicycles," according to the NPD Group.
In April 2020, sales of traditional bikes, indoor bikes, parts, helmets and other accessories grew by 75% to an unprecedented $1 billion compared with the previous year.
But in June, the cycling "story line evolved" as purchases of higher-end bikes surged by 63% compared with the same period in 2019, including road, gravel and full-suspension mountain bikes, as well as e-bikes, the firm reported.
"Consumers of these more-expensive bikes may have delayed purchases in the early months of the crisis, creating pent-up demand for these categories," said Dirk Sorenson, NPD's sports industry analyst, in a report.
The market for used bikes and parts for repairs is brisk as well.
When people couldn't find bikes to buy last spring, they brought in their old bikes for repair instead, said Benita Warns, owner of Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles, a St. Paul nonprofit. The shop repairs bikes and then gives them away to those in need.
"Because people couldn't buy a bike, they went out to their garages and hauled out bikes that hadn't seen the light of day since the first Clinton administration," she said.
Spring is normally a busy time for bike shops, as customers bring their bikes in for tuneups. But that's problematic this year, especially for smaller shops, said Warns, who also serves as president of Midway Bicycle Supply.
Because there's such a rush, there are problems securing certain bike parts, such as tubes, tires and derailleurs. "We're competing with major manufacturers of bikes," Warns said, noting that she placed an order last July for parts from Taiwan and the parts arrived in February.
The real question is whether the cycling craze will last as more people get vaccinated and feel comfortable venturing out. Warns and others expect that to be the case.
"More people are riding bikes because they don't want to use public transit, especially if they don't have a reliable car," she said.
And as more people work from home, they're finding they can take a quick bike ride at lunch or during a break.
A bike, Saltvold said, can become a means of transportation, not just a fun ride.
"The pandemic means I can be more local in the way I live," he said. "Most car trips are less than a mile or two, and you can replace them with a bike."
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752