Bike shops, customers left spinning their wheels as supply dries up

Think you're having trouble finding a new bicycle this spring? You're not alone: bike shops across Ottawa say they can't get their hands on new stock either.

Ottawa cycle shops telling frustrated customers to come back in 2022

Rami Aroosi says in his 30-plus years in the bicycle business, he's never experienced such a shortage of stock. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

In his 30-plus years selling bicycles in Ottawa, Rami Aroosi says he's never seen anything like what's happening this spring.

"It's so bad. Normally, I'd probably have close to 1,000 bikes in the shop," said the owner of Foster's Sports Centre on Bank Street. "Now, I don't think I have 20 bikes. And it's not just bikes — we can't get anything that has to do with bicycles."

The pandemic and its associated restrictions have prompted more of us to reconnect with our bikes, and some of us to take up cycling for the first time.

In a normal year, a shop like Foster's would be fully stocked by February in anticipation of the spring rush. But as of early May, Aroosi said he'd received only 60 per cent of his orders, leaving far less supply than there is demand.

It's a wild time. [Bike] chains are the new toilet paper.- Kent Dougall, Phat Moose Cycles

"We sold everything we had. Our sales are doing very well," said Aroosi. "We're just waiting to get more product."

Aroosi said he's had the same customers calling his shop week after week in search of a new bike.

"It's frustrating," he said. "They can't find bikes in the city. The worst part is when you see kids coming [in] hoping to find a bike and you tell them, 'Sorry, I don't have a bike for you.' Just the look on their face makes you sad."

In a normal year, Foster's Sports Centre on Bank Street would have 1,000 bikes on display. This spring, a jump in demand combined with a shortage of supply has left the racks mostly empty. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Parts also in short supply

At Phat Moose Cycles on Hawthorne Avenue, owner Kent Dougall is equally ill-equipped to satisfy his customers' requests for new bikes 

"There's no availability of summer bikes to order for the rest of 2021," said Dougall.

Nor is it any easier to find parts for existing bikes this spring.

"All of the parts are being gobbled up by the bike manufacturers building complete bikes," said Dougall. "It's a wild time. [Bike] chains are the new toilet paper."

Former bike importer Peter Metuzals says in addition to manufacturing challenges in Asia and Europe, bike builders are having trouble shipping their products to Canada. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The shortage of bicycles and bike parts is a worldwide phenomenon, according to Peter Metuzals, a bicycle importer in Ottawa who still keeps tabs on the industry.

"The factories are not able to meet the demand because of COVID. They're not operating at 100 per cent capacity, yet the orders and demand are overwhelming," said Metuzals.

At the same time, manufacturers are facing their own problems trying to ship their products to Canada from Asia or Europe.

"Even if you do have the bikes ready, there aren't any containers to ship them, and also I've heard there's a cardboard [supply] issue," Metuzals said.

Tired of walking everywhere, James Wharton said he reached out to 10 bike shops before finally snagging his new wheels at Foster's. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

A few lucky customers

James Wharton knows how difficult it is to find a new bike in Ottawa this spring. He said he reached out to 10 shops over the past four weeks with no luck.

"Many emails and many calls, most of them saying, 'We'll have stock available in 2022,' so not much help," said Wharton. 

Wharton finally managed to snag one of the few available bikes at Foster's, and now he can't wait to get riding.

"I've been going on so many walks and I can only see the same things so many times," he said. 

Gabrielle Myers, 8, is one of the lucky ones who managed to find a new bike in 2021. (Giacomo panico/CBC)

One happy customer untroubled by supply and demand issues is eight-year-old Gabrielle Myers, who proudly showed off her new bike after waiting patiently for weeks for it to arrive.

"When I got it I was excited and I said, 'Yessss,'" she recalled. "I love it because it's purple and it's way better than my old bike."

Looking to buy a bike in Ottawa? You may be out of luck

CBC News Ottawa

3 months ago
James Wharton says his attempt to buy a bike in Ottawa has been long and frustrating as demand far outstrips available stock in the city. 0:39