British Columbia

Bike sales spike as Vancouverites look for fitness and travel alternatives during COVID-19

Vancouver bike shops say demand for bikes is higher than ever as new customers flock to their stores, wanting to stay active and get around the city.

Some shops have daily lineups outside their doors before they open

Entry-level bikes are flying off the shelves of Vancouver shops as people discover cycling amid COVID-19 restrictions. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Vancouver bike shops say demand for bikes is higher than ever as new customers flock to their stores, wanting to stay active and get around amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Since B.C. health officials issued advice to physically distance from others, biking has become a popular alternative to crowded public transportation.

Shops like Giant Vancouver and Bicycle Sports Pacific say most days they have lineups outside their doors before they open.

"Right now I would say we're probably twice as busy as last year, maybe more," said Bicycle Sports Pacific manager John Fialkowski. "The phone never stops ringing."

Shops like Giant Vancouver say they have lineups outside their doors before they open most days. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

He says people cooped up inside because of COVID-19 restrictions are discovering — or rediscovering — their love of cycling.

"They need to get out of the house, they need to do something," said Fialkowski. "All of the gyms are closed, they can't do their normal workout so people are rediscovering cycling."

New cyclists driving demand

The general manager of Denman Bike Shop says the store is seeing unprecedented demand, particularly for more affordable, entry-level bikes.

"We have an incredible demand for new cyclists and people looking for comfort bikes and entry-level commuter bikes," said Julie Bischoff.

Fialkowski and Bischoff both say entry-level bikes were the first to be cleared out, before customers started to consider purchasing higher-end models. 

"Even in the higher-end road bikes there's been an explosion," Fialkowski said. "Bikes that we kind of thought, 'Oh we're going to sell two or three of them this season,' we've already sold maybe a dozen." 

Both shop managers say they've noticed a sense of urgency in customers looking for a new bike.

"The first wave of bikes was everyone wanted the entry-level $625 comfort bike," said Bischoff. "Those are starting to sell out and now people are realizing, 'OK well maybe I can allow myself a little bit more money in the budget.'"

Managing demand with physical distancing

The spike in demand has forced shops to come up with new ways of safely accommodating customers.

At Denman Bike Shop, Bischoff explains that sales associates consult with customers online or by phone to narrow down what kind of bike they're looking for before they come in for a test ride. Many stores require customers to make an appointment.

Fialkowski says the shop's biggest challenge has been logistics, in particular restocking sold-out items from suppliers, which is taking longer than usual.

"There's a lot of growing pains because we went from zero to a thousand in a matter of days," he said. "We had just started to think, 'OK, now it's time to find the staff to ramp up for summer' and all of a sudden we had this huge onslaught."

People line up in front of the Denman Bike Shop on Main Street in Vancouver on Friday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Bischoff believes issues with the supply chain in Asia may be trickling down and causing delays now.

"Some brands do still have some of their manufacturing in Chinese factories and so that would have been an initial slowdown in some of the 2020 arrivals and some of the 2021 restocks."

She says some of the most popular bike brands won't be back in stock until the fall.

Overall, Bischoff is excited to see a new wave of bike enthusiasts emerge to take advantage of Vancouver's cycling infrastructure.

"People who never used to ride bikes are now having the opportunity to discover just what a great solution bicycles are to everyday problems," she said. "It's a solution for exercise, transportation, stress reduction, and frankly, pollution."