The worldwide bicycle shortage created by the pandemic is hardly breaking news.
What might cause two-wheel enthusiasts to do a double-take starts with word that the waiting time for a new set of pedals could take up to a year.
You heard it right.
Due to shipping delays in moving merchandise out of major bike-producing countries such as China (again, due to the pandemic), the back orders guarantee a bike purchased now probably won’t arrive at your local store until well into 2022.
That’s a big reason why so many people are bringing their bikes to repair shops for tune-ups and overhauls.
Bob Burke, co-owner of Guy’s Bicycles in Feasterville, smiles and shakes his head when asked if this is the craziest time he’s experienced in the 43 years he’s been involved with his establishment.
“The perfect storm is that the demand is so high. . .easily the highest since the ‘70s,’’ Burke said during a recent interview at the shop. “But the supply is the worst it’s ever been.
“The manufacturers that we know by name, like Trek and Cannondale, they want to get bikes finished and put in boxes so they can come to the warehouses here in America. But now they’re sitting in warehouses in Asia waiting to get on to a container ship.’’
Unless you’re buying a bike with a stock frame from a department store, a long wait time is probably in the cards.
Amazingly, the big bike companies haven’t found a way to speed up the process. Burke says the container ships are overwhelmed and overloaded – essentially just trying to fill back orders which were placed as far in the past as 2020.
The demand for containers has driven the cost of them so high that the process just isn’t cost efficient.
“It’s almost become a bidding war to get a container to get out of Asia,’’ Burke said. “It’s a supply problem but it’s also a shipping problem which is making all this hard to do.’’
Years ago, a vast number of bikes were built and assembled here in the United States. But less expensive foreign labor essentially put an end to that. Hence, the problem we are experiencing now.
“The shareholders in these companies want to see a profit,’’ Burke said. “How do you do that? You get the production costs to be lower. But then you have to depend on that when things like this happen. That’s the international part of having the world involved in making a bike and not having control of it all by yourself.’’
The days of a nationally recognized company such as Schwinn producing bikes out of a U.S. city such as Chicago are decidedly over.
Stores such as Guy’s carry a large inventory of bikes, enough to not only fill a store but a warehouse. But the end of last spring, every single bike was sold.
Much of that had to do with the pandemic. With so many people home from work or school, the desire to exercise (or just get out of the house) shot through the roof.
“We want to replace the inventory,’’ Burke said. “We just can’t. This is the worst it’s been. I don’t know if it can get worse – how can it get worse than zero?’’
Hopefully, by the spring of 2022, the supply shortage will correct itself and things will get back to normal.
But there are no guarantees.
Meanwhile, the number of people getting into biking continues to grow.
Two years ago, Burke estimates he knew 25-30 percent of the customers who walked through his store’s doors.
Now? Not much more than 10 percent, which means 90 percent are new faces looking to take up biking for perhaps the first time since they were kids.
Burke, a Trevose native, grew up about a mile from his store. He started working there in 1978, a couple years before he graduated from Neshaminy High School.
“All I wanted to do was be here,’’ Burke said with a chuckle. He would go on to become one of the area’s top cyclists/triathletes, winning such prestigious races as the Liberty-to-Liberty Triathlon (Statue of Liberty to the Liberty Bell) a couple decades ago.
Currently, he’s about to compete in a 200-mile gravel road bike competition in Kansas. At 57, he’s still looking for the next challenge.
Perhaps the only good thing to come out of the bike shortage from a store business perspective is the aforementioned uptick in service and repairs.
Here’s that wait time again: If you want to get your bike worked on, you’re probably looking at three weeks to a month.
As for new bikes, if you’re willing to wait, you’re not alone. This pre-order stuff has been going on almost as long as the pandemic.
“When we get the bikes, what’s usually coming in now has been pre-sold already,’’ Burke explained. “So at the time that we placed orders for these bikes months and months ago – we ordered more than we thought we needed – but we’re just not getting them.
“So whatever comes in is pretty much gone already.’’
Things could get better and maybe somehow the wait time shrinks a bit. As the cliché goes, only time will tell.