Kitchener-Waterloo

Local bike shops grapple with shortages as demand surges

Bike shop owners in Waterloo region and Guelph say that their stores are emptier than usual because demand for bicycles has increased during the pandemic.

It may be hard to find the bike you want this summer, store owners say

Clayton Foxall at his bike shop, Backpeddling, in Guelph. Foxall says that, like other stores in the region, there's been a big increase in demand for bicycles. (Submitted by Clayton Foxall)

Usually at this time of year, Blake Hetherington has about a hundred bikes in his store — but right now, it's more like 20.

The owner of Grand River Cycle in Cambridge says it's because of a surge of interest in cycling that began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. 

"Last year there was a bike boom for sure," he said. "Pretty much everyone sold all of their inventory last year."

It's a trend that has shown no signs of letting up so far in 2021.

"Our numbers are way higher than they've ever been before," he said.

And that's not just true for bicycle sales. Hetherington says Grand River Cycle did unprecedented amounts of service work on bicycles this winter as well.

He's not alone, as bike shops across the region, and in other parts of the country, experience the same boom — a boom that's come with some unprecedented challenges for the bike business.

'Get into a bike shop as soon as possible'

Jen Bonneville, the owner of McPhail's Cycle and Sport in Waterloo, said over the winter months, her store focused on ulfilling orders that we're made in the spring and summer of 2020. Her forecast is that there will be shortages of bikes across stores this year as well.

"It's been very busy for a full year now," she said. "My recommendation is to get into a bike shop as soon as possible to discuss your options that you may have throughout the year."

She added that large mountain bikes in the $1,200 to $2,000 range, as well as off-road gravel bikes, will be the most scarce. For the latter, she doesn't expect supply to come in until the end of the summer.

"The demand has increased and the supply can only increase by so much," she said. "We are one of the lucky industries that have done very well in the pandemic."

She says her store has seen a lot of customers who are newcomers to biking. Many saw in cycling a way to stay active amid public health restrictions and in some cases a way of getting around town without having to take public transit.

New supply challenges

Clayton Foxall, owner/operator of Backpeddling in Guelph, says the new interest in biking has persisted into 2021.

"For last year, in 2020, it was probably the busiest year for most bike stores," he said.

He says most stores sold out their inventory in 2020, but this season presents a new challenge.

"We still have this big demand, but we have no product available, or very limited product for the start of the year available," he said.

He says most seasons he starts with around 1,000 bikes in stock. This year, his stock is less than half that at around 400.

Photo of the Backpeddling bike shop in Guelph. Owner/operator Clayton Foxall says he usually has an inventory of about 1,000 bikes, but at the start of this season he has less than half that. (Brian Williams/Backpeddling)

"Certain styles of bike I'm already sold out for the next 20 months," he said.

Hetherington says the effects of the surge in demand for bikes and the resulting shortage are going to be felt for years in the industry.

"What we're in now is, because we all ran out of bikes, the whole globe is starting from zero inventory-wise," he said. "It's going to be a few years, from the looks of it, that we get back to the place we all want to be."

But the shop owners agree that the supply issues are a sign of new people coming to share their passion for cycling.

"My motto is, 'Two wheels, one love,'" Foxall said.

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