Want a bike this summer? Expect a wait as COVID-19 cycling boom continues in Seattle

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Do you remember last spring when the shelves of grocery stores were stripped of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and detergent?

“That’s what bike shops are like today,” said Marty Pluth, general manager of Gregg’s Cycle in Green Lake. “Every bike that arrives is sold immediately, so we never get to a point where we fill up the tank.”

In February and March, when the coronavirus hit the US, manufacturers canceled bike orders and forecast an economic slowdown for the industry.

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But by late spring, demand had skyrocketed, largely due to home orders that stopped most trips and ruined gym visits, but allowed for detached outdoor pursuits like biking. Bicycle stores across the country had a record year for sales.

Now retail stores, including the Seattle stores, are catching up on last year’s orders as demand remains high and supply is limited due to the impact of the pandemic on bike production and distribution.

For customers looking to grab a bike for this summer, the message is urgent: start shopping now and expect a two to three month wait – unless you want to put a few grand or more on an electric bike .

John Lough, right, searches for parts for his bike with service technician Priscilla Norris at Gregg's Cycle in Green Lake.  Lough is looking for a specific part to fix his wife's bike.  (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

John Lough, right, searches for parts for his bike with service technician Priscilla Norris at Gregg’s Cycle in Green Lake. Lough is looking for a specific part to fix his wife’s bike. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

Pluth, who has been in the bicycle industry since 1987, recalled a boom for mountain bikes in the 1990s and racing bikes in the 2000s influenced by Lance Armstrong. But “nothing comes close to that in terms of the demand we’re experiencing,” he said.

According to Marissa Guyduy, a spokeswoman for the NDP Group who analyzes market trends, the number of bikes sold in retail stores in the United States increased 65% over the past year compared to 2019. Bicycle sales rose 113% in January 2021 compared to January last year.

For its part, Seattle has encouraged more cycling during the pandemic by expanding its cycle path network and closing more than 20 miles of residential streets to most vehicle traffic and opening them to people who walk or cycle.

Recreational trails also saw more bicycle traffic. Seattle’s bike counter on Burke-Gilman Trail north of Northeast 70th Street saw a 22% increase between March and September last year over the same period in 2019.

Marty Pluth, general manager of Gregg's Cycles in Green Lake, says he has seen a huge surge in demand for bicycles since the coronavirus pandemic began.  But he has limited supplies to meet it.  (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

Marty Pluth, general manager of Gregg’s Cycles in Green Lake, says he has seen a huge surge in demand for bicycles since the coronavirus pandemic began. But he has limited supplies to meet it. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

Causes of Deficiency

Gregg’s Cycles typically keeps around 2,000 bikes in their store, so riders can choose from a wide variety of sizes, colors, and styles. After last year’s sales, Pluth said he only had about 200 adult bikes in stock and had reordered 7,000 bikes.

That’s because the supply chain has almost been broken. Amid record demand, COVID-19 disrupted the production and distribution of bicycles from Asia. As soon as bicycles hit the US, the shortage of staff in the ports has also slowed the pace of deliveries.

Currently, sales are mostly through pre-orders while the industry is struggling to get bikes from factories to ports to stores.

Marty Pluth, general manager of Gregg's Cycles, says the showroom is usually full of bikes.  However, due to the high demand and limited supply, it cannot fill the bike racks.  Pluth says he needs to order many of the motorcycles his customers want rather than sell one that is already in stock.  (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

Marty Pluth, general manager of Gregg’s Cycles, says the showroom is usually full of bikes. However, due to the high demand and limited supply, he cannot fill the bike racks. Pluth says he needs to order many of the motorcycles his customers want rather than sell one that is already in stock. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

Shawna Williams, who owns Free Range Cycles in Fremont, has seen a surge in bike sales and repairs. But dealers have limited the number of bikes and bike parts each store can order, so all stores have at least some inventory, Williams said.

Shawna Williams, owner of Free Range Cycles in Fremont, says her business has seen a surge in demand for new bikes and bike repairs during the pandemic.  (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Shawna Williams, owner of Free Range Cycles in Fremont, says her business has seen a surge in demand for new bikes and bike repairs during the pandemic. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

“These days the only bikes we have available are [in stock] are the ones I picked in September so we can’t meet every customer’s needs, ”Williams said in an email. However, she can order bicycles for buyers.

The demand for reconditioned bicycles has also increased. Bike Works, a not-for-profit store in Columbia City, sold more refurbished bikes last year than in 2019 – despite challenges in sourcing new parts and the temporary closure while ordering from Governor Jay Inslee, said Kellen Rack, the store manager.

“Lots of people spent the early part of the pandemic cleaning up their homes,” Rack said. In return, his business received a steady stream of bicycle donations plucked from the cobwebs in the garages.

“We could have sold more bikes if we had more space,” Rack said, but the store hired fewer workers to allow for more social distancing in the store.

Standard bikes remain popular

The most popular bikes during the pandemic were recreational models designed for riding on trails and around the neighborhood that cost less than $ 1,000, according to store owners.

Electric bikes are more expensive because they are usually more expensive.

Sharon Shewmake MP, D-Bellingham, wants to make electric bikes a bit more affordable and a more popular alternative to driving.

Their proposal, House Bill 1330, would provide tax exemption for electric bicycles and related cycling equipment. (Senator Curtis King, R-Yakima, has proposed putting more taxes on bicycles and bicycle parts, although his plans are unlikely to be implemented.)

“Personally, I had a hard time getting over the sticker shock,” she said of her electric bike. “I’ve never spent so much money on a bike. And I love bikes. I go everywhere. “

E-bikes can cost anywhere from $ 1,000 to over $ 10,000.

Despite the shortage, not all hope is lost for those in the market for a bicycle.

“If you’re lucky enough to be the right size, if you’re looking for a more expensive electric bike, we may have something in stock,” said Pluth of Gregg’s Cycle. “But it’s like winning the lottery.”