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Only one thing could make this a better time to be in the bike business, and that’s bikes.
With demand through the roof and supply virtually non-existent, bicycle dealers are scrambling for a way to satisfy customers.
“If you have some inventory, you’re going to get rid of it. If you think you’re going to get into the bike business, there’s no parts available for you,” said Roger Nelson, co-owner of Halifax Cycles.
“It’s pretty simple, really; it’s the only thing public health officials have agreed on from the get-go, whether it’s social distancing or masking or having schools open or closed . . . one thing that Dr. Strang and every other public health official the world over are united on is to ride your bicycle.”
And people are taking that advice. Or trying to.
“We’ve seen something like a 60 per cent increase in sales, when the ability of manufacturing to increase output is no more than 10 per cent; you can’t create new factories overnight,” Nelson said.
“Typically, at the end of a season we might look to a wholesaler for some clear-out deals on bikes and they might have some inventory left over in their warehouse, maybe in extra large or extra small sizes from the year before, even two or three years before. This past season, come the end of August, every bicycle manufacturer’s warehouse, pretty much in the world, was empty.”
During the leadup to this cycling season, even bicycles that were yet to be manufactured were already sold. In a normal spring, Halifax Cycles would have about a hundred bikes ready to go: 25 or more built, assembled and on the floor, ready for a test drive; 50 in boxes in the store’s storage facility; and another 25 or so in a manufacturer’s warehouse, ready to replenish the shelves.
“Currently, I think I have two e-bikes that are left here from last season. They’re very high-ticket items, and that’s probably why they’re here,” Nelson said of bikes that run $4,500.
“They have sat here the winter, but I expect they’ll both sell in the next week or two.
“For new bikes that we’ve received this year, there’s one here right now that was sold on our website over the weekend. It came in last week and has not been assembled yet; it’s the only new bike that we have in the store.”
The story is much the same at Long Alley Bicycles, where owner Paul Rogers has “very few” bikes for sale.
“It’s not without its challenges but I’d hesitate to complain, given the situation a lot of businesses are in right now,” he said.
“In a normal year we order bikes in the fall, they get delivered through the winter, we build them and they’re ready to go. I just haven’t received very many bicycles this year at all, so that’s the main challenge.”
Rogers, whose daily driver is a 1979 Fuji road bike, gets inventory from Canadian distributors that mainly sell bikes imported from various Asian countries. With that supply mostly dried up, shops are concentrating on service.
“Even in a non-COVID type of year we do have a heavy repair influx in the spring, so that is definitely happening,” Rogers said.
“The challenge there is actually parts. We’ve been doing our best to manage our inventory and anticipate our needs well in advance because that’s how the game is played. Bike parts are kind of like toilet paper was at the start of the pandemic. So, in terms of refurbishing bikes, in some cases we’re kind of held up because we can’t get the right parts. For repairs we’re running low on a few critical things, which is a little worrisome.”
Rogers said even finding bikes to refurbish has become tricky since it’s such a seller’s market right now.
“Being an honest merchant, I have to advise my customers who want to sell us a bike that they can sell it on kijiji and get a lot of money for it. So, I find we’re not getting as many candidates for refurbishing because of the situation there.”
At Halifax Cycles, the repair side of the business is through the roof, too, and they’ve had to add another full-time mechanic.
“That’s largely what’s making the shop still function because there aren’t bikes for sale, other than what we can cobble together used or the odd one that does trickle in from the factory,” Nelson said.
“Repairs are way, way up, and we’re seeing shortages in parts, sprockets and chains, the consumable stuff. The wait time for a sprocket can be more than a year.”