ROCHESTER, Minn. — A bicycle shortage with roots in the COVID-19 pandemic has the sales managers of many bicycle shops offering stark advice: If you like the bike you see, buy it now, because it will be gone tomorrow.
It's not meant to be a hard sell or a pressure tactic, but rather a reflection of a severe imbalance between supply and demand. And with bike season just around the corner, the scarcity of two-wheelers might not let up until spring 2022, when supply is expected to be back to normal, analysts say.
When COVID-19 hit last spring and the only activity deemed safe involved being outside, the demand for bikes spiked, local bike owners and sales managers say. At the same time, the bike pipeline dried up last year, because of COVID-related shutdowns of bike manufacturers in Asia.
"They all came in and bought bikes," Jason Bond, sales manager for Bicycle Sports in Rochester, said about the sudden enthusiasm for bikes. "And if they weren't buying bikes, they were getting their old bikes that were in the barn or the garage out that they haven't seen in five years and bringing them in to get repaired."
Bond said the store has a "good 400 bikes on order," and they are arriving a few a week. Its repair shop is booked out until the middle of next month. And the problem is not a localized one. He's fielding calls from Minneapolis and Wisconsin, and selling bikes over the phone, sight unseen, "because their shops don't have a bike," he said.
"They haven't seen it. They haven't ridden it, but they know what they want," Bond said. "They're not going through a big, giant, long thought process."
Matt Hawkins, owner and manager of Rochester Cycling, said selection of bikes on his floor is "much more limited" than in previous years. Customers who can't find a bike in store face a wait time that is "severe." How severe? Until April or May of next year — perhaps even further out — for people looking to order a higher-end road or mountain bike.
"I think the frustration is coming in the next couple months, if we're not able to keep up with bike supply," he said. "It's frustrating to tell people, 'I can't help you soon. If you can wait a few months, there's hope.' "
Hawkins said he's advising the majority of customers who can't find the bike they want in his store to look anywhere. Online. Wherever.
"Find a bike that you want and buy it from anybody, because the summer is coming, and who wants to wait another year and miss out?" Hawkins said.
Industry analysts say prices went up by 10% to 15% last year, and they're about to go up by 10% to 15% again, driven mostly by freight costs. That means a bike that cost $1,000 a year ago will cost $1,200 or $1,300 today.
They also say that big corporations are faring better than the mom-and-pops. Big-box retailers like Target, Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods are at the front of the line for the new inventory, followed by regional chains such as Erik's. Small independent shops are bringing up the rear.
"(We) could use probably 10 times the inventory that we currently have and are getting," Angry Catfish owner Josh Klauck said about his South Minneapolis shop, according to Axios.
Bike shop owners and managers say the current climate is not conducive to comparative shoppers, to those who like to ride several bikes before pulling the trigger. The situation is a "drag" on bike sales managers and owners whose goal is to create a vibrant cycling community.
"I like making people happy and hooking them up with the right bike," Bond said. "But right now, given the current climate, it's not the time to drag your feet."