In many ways, the cycling industry was positioned to reap tremendous benefits from the significant boost in interest during the pandemic. With more and more new cyclists looking to invest in their own set of wheels, though, it quickly became apparent that supply would be a problem. With demand far outpacing its usual levels, shops, suppliers, and bike companies were left scrambling to fill orders. It has now been over a year since a supply chain shortage was first identified, so how are things looking?
Well, the short answer is—not good. There remains a great deal of uncertainty about how bike companies and component makers will adapt when things will get back to normal. There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the long-term growth of the bicycle market. Still, the result is that bicycles, components, and accessories have become scarce as the drawn-out situation reveals increasing weaknesses in how the industry supply chain works.
To get a better idea of the struggles industry insiders and consumers are facing, we talked to a few bike enthusiasts who have been impacted by the shortage in one way or another. We discussed the shortage’s consequences, how we got here, and what’s in store if the trend continues.
Cries for diversification of the parts supply chain are growing louder
“I don’t even have chains to replace broken ones.”
Mike Martin works at a large cycling store in Italy. When asked about the shortage, his answer was pretty straightforward: “There are no bikes available.” He went on to explain that aside from a few entry-level or city bikes, those looking for medium or high-range mountain, gravel, or road bikes are simply out of luck. When it comes to parts? The same story. “We have no spare parts—chains, disc brakes, derailleur, quick links, etc. Nothing is coming.”
They are also behind on orders: “We got a lot of anticipation for 2021 bikes, but everything is hugely delayed. That means all the bikes we have pre-bought for the 2021 spring are coming, maybe, in November.”
Understandably, this puts Mike and other retailers in a frustrating situation. “It is not easy,” he explained, “By the end of the summer, I’ll be going without chains to replace broken ones.”
Those obviously aren’t sustainable circumstances for running a bike shop. So we asked Mike if he has any ideas for how things could be improved, and he responded that the industry needs an overhaul. “The rules have changed. We need to create spare parts around the world and not only in Asia. This will be good for the global and local economy, meaning faster supply, better quality, work for all the people… It is now or never.”
Pre-orders are seriously backed up
“I am still hoping and waiting.”
Lorenz Papis decided in May of 2020 that he wanted to buy a gravel bike. He visited his local store, where they told him, “you’re lucky, we’ve got one left!” then proceeded to show him a high-end bike that vastly exceeded his budget. When he explained that the model in question was too much, but that he was willing to spend about 1,500-2,000 EUR on a new bike, he was assured that he could get something decent for that price—but , unfortunately, everything was sold out. He got put on a waiting list but never heard back.
Ultimately, in August 2020, he pre-ordered a 2021 model that caught his attention. As he put it, “I was hoping that with some luck, I could get it as a ‘Christmas present’ for myself. That didn’t happen, though. The delivery date has been continually postponed ever since. Newest update: possibly in mid-August of this year. I am still hoping and waiting.”
Consumers are having to make big decisions fast
“As you see, this is a ‘take it or leave it’ market.”
Jonas Almeida de Andrade also found himself in a situation where he needed to take what was available or risk being left bikeless. “I ordered a TREK Marlin 7 around Christmas time, and when I called Trek Iberia, they told me they had ONE to deliver—but not until October of the next year. So, yes, it would be a big issue if I didn’t have a plan B.”
Jonas got lucky, though. He checked what was available at a local bike shop and found a decent selection on offer. It was all timing. “The attendant explained that he had got 15 bikes in that morning and had already sold eight of them. So I needed to make a very quick decision. As you see, this is a ‘take it or leave it’ market.”
Bike shops need to rethink their strategy going forward
“Shops are living from stock they had, but there are no parts from distributors…nor by actual brands.”
Tomáš Vosyka has been involved in the cycling industry in one way or another for over 15 years. From working for SRAM distribution to being the personal mechanic for Tomáš Slavík, he has seen a lot. And his experience allows him to make some assessments about how we got here. He says there had been warning signs of a problem with the supply chain even before the pandemic.
“It’s the mistake of big companies who insist on working only with preorders while maintaining low stocks numbers. This was the case before, but then Covid comes around, the whole of China shuts down, and Shimano stopped producing—it was the perfect storm.”
He also explained that another significant issue is the quality of what is available: “quality materials such as steel, high-grade aluminium are just not available; therefore there are almost no chains, no spokes, hubs…etc.
For example, I’m trying to build my own bike with premium goods, but just buying a box of high-quality shifting cables is impossible… not to mention that things are being sold at two or three times the price.”
So, are you even going to be able to get a bike?
It seems that something has to change if the bike industry is going to get back on track anytime soon. Several bike brands have begun to address consumer questions on bike supply directly, but it will take time to work out the kind of new processes and supply chains that the industry will need to recover.
Of course, that doesn’t help any of us looking to get our hands on a bike during the current shortage. There are a few tips to help, though. Keep in mind, for example, that the most highly sought-after bikes are lower-end models, so you may decide that now is the time to invest in that pricier option you’ve been eyeing. It is also a good idea to let your local bike shop employees know what you’re looking for. That way, if someone else backs out of a purchase or the shop lucks into some unexpected inventory, you might be the first to know. And of course, the used market is always worth a gander. Just be sure that if you aren’t mechanically inclined, you bring along a friend who is before you buy. The last thing anyone needs now is a bike that isn’t in sound, working condition.