Bicycle industry still booming



PITTSBURGH — Bicycles continue to spin out of stores in record numbers.

Last March, people began purchasing bicycles at the beginning of the pandemic. A year later, the industry continues to see an increase in sales — to the point where manufacturers are struggling to supply product, experts said.

“We used to get a truckload of bikes, and now we are getting two or three at a time,” said George Gatto, co-owner of Gatto Cycle Shop in Tarentum. “The vendors can’t keep up with the demand. It’s been a really challenging past 12 months.”

This time last year, Gatto said, he was hesitant about placing a big order, but peers from shops in other states suggested he do so.

“I am glad I did, because now there is no inventory anywhere,” Gatto said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Gatto said the shop normally has three times the number of bikes in the showroom and plenty more in inventory.

A shortage of bike parts also has affected the manufacturers — from Trek to Specialized to Cannondale to Schwinn and others — being able to make bikes, he said.

This is happening across all types, from road bikes to electronic bikes.

Gatto’s shop currently has 60 bikes, which is one-third of what he normally has in stock. And the shortage is not just in bicycles, he said.

He is seeing the trend encompass other outdoor recreation items such as jet skis, dirt bikes, off-road vehicles and motorcycles.

He’s adding pontoon boats to the inventory so he has another product to offer outdoor enthusiasts.

Don’t wait

At Flat Tire Co. Bike Shop in Greensburg, owner Ashley Reefer said if a new bike comes in, it’s usually gone within 48 hours. She has list of bikes she’s ordered, but there is no guarantee they will arrive.

Reefer said she has about 25 percent of what she would normally have in inventory.

“Sales have gone through the roof,” she said.

People began to buy bikes at the beginning of the pandemic, when children didn’t have sports practices and gyms weren’t open for people to exercise. Everyone was looking for something to do outside where they felt safe and socially distanced and where they could work out, she said.

“Bikes can help them do just that,” she said. “It’s going to be a rough summer, because I don’t see this changing much over the next few months or maybe even longer.”

A bare showroom

At Dirty Harry’s, the showroom floor is nowhere near what it usually looks like this time of year, said Jeffries, who has been in the bicycle business 41 years.

He said they normally would have “a couple hundred bikes.”

“The demand is far exceeding the supply chain,” Jeffries said. “Because of the pandemic, the supply chain was broken and that, in turn, fractured the industry. The industry is trying to repair itself, but it is worse a year later.

“I have never seen anything like this.”

He said that, before the pandemic, he would go to his computer, order bikes and know when they would be arrive. He has a list of more than 400 customer names waiting for a bike or a repair on a bike.

“We love cycling, and we really want people to get into cycling,” he said. “If you want a bike and you see one in a store, get it that day because it most likely will be gone tomorrow.”

He said one positive is seeing children’s bikes selling well, because that means a future for the bike community.

Jeffries said that, since people are at home more, it’s fostering more family time. He recalled one day when he was riding on a trail where there are usually about 40 people, he stopped and counted 504, including many families.

“People are pulling out old bikes out of garages and attics, because they want to get outside and be able to do something,” he said. “Pittsburgh has so many good trails. We as a bike community will keep pushing forward and get over this mountain, because that’s what bike riders do. We keep pedaling to get to where we want to go.”

At your service

Bike shops also are seeing a spike in service calls. Gatto said he is having difficulty hiring a bike mechanic, and the store manager has been doing repairs.

At Flat Tire, the wait for a service is usually a week, but it’s been at least two weeks recently because of the increase in bikes that need to be repaired or tuned up.

Flat Tire service manager Justin Sweed said they assess what a bike needs before they take it in to make sure they have the correct parts in stock.

In the basement at Dirty Harry’s Bicycles in Verona, there are 100 bikes that have been serviced and 60 ready to be repaired. Owner Barry Jeffries said parts that normally would take 90 days to arrive are now arriving in 350-440 days.

Jeffries said there is usually a down time in the winter, but not this past year. They usually have 100 bikes in boxes ready to be set up. On a recent Friday, he had one in a box.

At PRO BIKE + RUN in North Park, the store typically has 500-600 bikes in stock. They had 120 last week.

“Our numbers are significantly lower than usual,” said Shane Muro, sales associate at the store. “As soon as they come in, they leave. We don’t have a lot of bikes to show people.”

The store carries many types of bikes, from basic to mountain bikes to electric and other high-end bicycles.

Technology has made its way into bikes.

Electric bikes provide an easier way to go up hills and are good for someone who needs some extra assistance. They cost more than a manual bike, starting around $600-$800 and reaching as much as $8,000 or more.

Muro said PRO BIKE + RUN is one of the largest bike shops in Western Pennsylvania.

He said they noticed more people coming in right after they received their government stimulus checks. He also said people who bought an entry-level bicycle last year often came back to upgrade.

Muro said the City of Pittsburgh has bikes that people can rent Downtown and are a catalyst for bike riding, he said.

“People got active during the pandemic,” he said.

Some statistics

According to The NPD Group, a market research company based in New York, cycling industry sales growth was up 75 percent last April, generating $1 billion in sales for the month.

Purchases for traditional bikes, indoor bikes, parts, helmets and other accessories grew a combined 75 percent compared to the previous year.

Bicycles suitable for family use, neighborhood riding and those with more affordable prices showed the strongest year-over-year sales gains, the report said. It also said lifestyle and leisure bikes, sold in the $200 range, grew by 203 percent, while mountain bike sales increased by more than 150 percent. Children’s bike sales were up by 107 percent.

“For far too long the cycling industry has been solely focused on the pinnacle athlete, but these results show that a broader, family and beginner focus can reap gains,” said Matt Powell, NPD’s sports industry advisor in the report. “This is a silver lining, and one of the important sports retail lessons to come out of the pandemic.”

Dirk Sorenson, sports industry analyst at NPD said in the report that consumers are showing interest in recreational and family riding. That is a way to engage new riders, he said.

“Continued growth will require them not only to have product in stock, but to focus on new riders’ basic needs such as how to fix a flat tire, or locating a family-friendly trail to ride,” Sorenson said. “Addressing these basics right now has immeasurable return on investment, and the industry should be laser-focused on servicing these new riders.”

According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association website, the bicycle industry stands to benefit from the behavior change during the pandemic. The industry is evolving and the cycling trend is accelerating rather than slowing down.

The pandemic has caused disruption in how consumers live, work, and play. People working from home value personal mobility and are realizing the value of a bicycle, according to the association.

The website shows that in 2020, retail sales skyrocketed by more than 40 percent and, by the year 2025, revenue is projected to be $8 billion.

Go for a ride

Here are some reasons for the popularity of bikes, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association:

Changing lifestyles — People are spending much more time at home, both for work and for leisure. As travel shrinks, people are willing to spend more on family recreational activities close to home, investing more in themselves.

Discovering the joy of cycling — Craving an expanded relief from isolation and stress, consumers want the freedom of simplicity, and cycling fits the bill.

Bikes are a way to stay socially distanced and satisfy the need for social engagement among like-minded people, family and friends.

Human power pedals new wheels — Research finds consumers are riding more for sport, recreation and performance, but also for transportation.

By Paul Wager