Yellow Bikes

A line of Eckerd’s iconic yellow bikes stand by Cafe Bon Appetit. This photo was taken in 2017.

Eckerd students have been known to cruise around campus on the community’s shared yellow bikes, or, with the temporary suspension of the yellow bike program this year, their personal bikes. But what does the future of Eckerd’s cyclists look like with the current national bicycle shortage? 

In early March 2020, Dan Schroeder was tearing through mountains on bikes. He was preparing for the season, testing new Santa Cruz mountain bikes for his work as a Territory Sales Manager for RP Active Sports. As Schroeder prepared to return home to the Chicagoland area, he began to hear about COVID-19 spreading around the globe. 

“If they shut the shops down, we’re out of business. We’re toast,” Schroeder said regarding the initial shock of stay-at-home orders. 

But the bike shops stayed open, deemed essential businesses because bikes are a form of transportation. And soon, shops were flooded with customers. 

It has been a year since bike shop owners first watched their racks empty. Shop floors became barren from increased demand, but with limited stock available the stores have stayed sparse. 

In March, consumers lined up outside stores in socially distanced lines for the first of many times. With a desire to stay away from crowds, and more time to spend outdoors, people flocked to bike shops. 

“Some shops saw this coming and ordered everything they could,” said Neal Norton, president of The Bikery in St. Petersburg. Others, he explained, predicted damage to the economy and waited a week or two before placing orders from bike manufacturers and found that there were few bikes left to buy. Suddenly, demand for bikes increased to a point that manufacturers could not keep up with. 

By June 2020, most companies were sold out. According to Schroeder, bike demand “gutted inventory in warehouses.”

“We’re living through economics 101,” explained Muneer Radi, owner of Spokes Bike Shops in the Chicagoland area. Radi stated that the bike shortage is a matter of supply and demand, but the history of the bike shortage is actually rooted in pre-pandemic issues.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump and the U.S. Government imposed tariffs on goods from China, where the majority of bicycle parts are manufactured. Given the additional expense, bike manufacturers imported 25 percent less product in 2019. Currently, bike frames, tubes, tires and e-bike parts are taxed 25 percent. Other bike products like helmets, handlebars and wheels are taxed 15 percent.  

As a result, national bike stock was low in March 2020 when consumers began scrambling to get their hands on a bike. With no ability to predict the boom in the bike industry, supply was limited from the start. Entry-level bikes were the first to go, leaving many customers faced with buying a much more expensive bike, or no bike at all. What was once a $300 bike was ringing up for hundreds more. 

At this point, supply is still wildly behind demand. Manufacturers cannot keep up, and prices continue to rise. In January 2021, unit imports were up 49 percent from January 2020. 

According to Bicycle Retailer, retail prices will likely increase between 10-25 percent in 2021, in addition to the 22 percent increase in 2020. 

Norton stated that bike orders placed in April 2021 will not be available for another 12 to 18 months. Consumers searching for bikes are looking for solutions, many have given bike shops deposits for products months in advance. 

Initially, The Bikery offered pre-order lists to customers with deposits but found that manufacturers would increase bike prices after order. To keep their promise to the consumer, The Bikery would lose money from this sale. Given the unpredictability of the manufacturer’s changing prices, The Bikery is no longer able to take deposits. However, people looking to get bikes can still call to inquire and they can be notified of stock availability. 

The pandemic and subsequent bike shortage have upended the industry. Bike shops that once ordered a handful of bikes every week now must order whatever they can get, even a year out. Shops are forced to make guesses about demand.

The shortage is disproportionately impacting small shops, according to Norton. Major bike manufacturers prioritize big bike shops, giving them better margins and deliveries. Now, small bike shops are working with what they can get from manufacturers, and relying on their ability to repair bikes to manage. 

As cycling popularity increases, more consumers are turning their bikes over to shops for servicing.

 “Shops are up to their eyeballs in repairs,” Schroeder said. 

Radi’s shop, Spokes, has had to rework their schedule to accommodate the volume. They now have a day where the shop is closed to the public to give employees the time to focus exclusively on fixing bikes. 

Largely, the turn around is slow. Radi stated that there is a “massive repair part shortage.” In some places, bikes in need of repair are piling up. Schroeder noted that one shop he works with has three storage units full of bikes waiting for service. 

Norton said that the shortage is a “major shakeup in brick and mortar retail.” Despite the challenges they face, small shops have a unique strength to “connect with the customer as a person.”

Schroeder said that community in cycling is “One of the few things shops can provide that you can’t buy on the internet.”

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