SUMMARY: The waiting time for some new bikes is over a year because of surging demand, COVID shutdowns, and the slow offloading of ships in port. Local bike shops are struggling through product shortages and hopefully, after the winter slowdown in demand, some supplies will ease.
I’m an avid cyclist who rides almost 120 miles a week. I’ve been riding for over 20 years and consider myself very knowledgeable about bikes. I decided that I might want to upgrade one of my old bikes with a new Trek Madone, but I didn’t expect the responses I got from Trek stores when they said the lead time was over 230 days.
Cycling is hot right now. Bike sales rose 78% on the year between January and March, after rising 38% during the same period last year, according to Dirk Sorenson, sports industry analyst at NPD Group, a market-research firm. But a perfect storm of increased demand, COVID shutdowns, and the slowdown to upload ships in port mean that for most brands, you’re going to wait a LONG time for a new bike.
Most of the bikes people ride in America are manufactured and assembled in China and other Asian countries, and COVID has walloped them.
According to Market Watch, “It’s clear that American consumers have relied heavily on imports of bicycles — primarily from China,” the Census Bureau said in its report. “Bike imports dipped significantly in March 2020 but, by September, imports had rebounded. More than half of the $124 million in bicycle imports in January 2021 came from China ($69.8 million). Taiwan ($30.0 million) and Cambodia ($14.6 million) ranked second and third.”
The other issue is that bike components, like drive trains and wheels, are also made in Asia, and the lead time on some of the components stretches out to 2023.
Manufacturers like Trek and Specialized can probably ride out the storm, but for local bike shops, the challenge may be too difficult to overcome. “We sell an average of 10-15 new bikes a month,” a local shop manager told me. “Right now, we have over 635 backorders, and I’m not sure customers will wait this long”. He said his shop is surviving by extending its service offerings and selling accessories which are also hard to come by because of COVID shutdowns.
Even bike frames made here in the US are struggling. Currently, most U.S. brands are struggling with the same component shortage as brands that assemble in Asia. Increased assembly here solves some problems, but they can’t overcome the component shortage.
The key question that remains to be answered is “can the industry continue its robust growth when supply chains ease?”. I guess it will, but new bikes will become more expensive, and somewhere an opportunistic new component company will disrupt Shimano and SRAM, who make 95% of drive trains.
Dealers will have to cut back staff and hope that early winter weather cuts short the summer riding season. Bike owners can help their local bike shops by bringing their bikes in for tune-ups and buying more in-stock accessories. As my local bike shop manager said, “it’s going to be a long year.”