Bikes in big demand, short supply during pandemic
With Asian manufacturers all but shut down, bike shops in Ottawa are feeling the squeeze
Empty racks. Parts on back order. Weeks-long waits for a tune-up.
COVID-19 and the arrival of summery weather have combined to create a perfect storm in cycling circles, drastically increasing demand and decreasing supply of bikes in Ottawa.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, public health authorities have been giving biking the thumbs up. Passing another cyclist, jogger or pedestrian on a pathway is deemed a low risk for transmission of COVID-19.
Families took to their two-wheelers en masse, eager to get out of the house and away from Google classrooms. The city was suddenly ringing with the ding-ding of bike bells as cyclists of all ages and abilities turned to pedal power.
But now, just like toilet paper, yeast, flour and seeds before them, the bikes are gone. When pandemic measures shuttered bike manufacturers in Asia, the supply chain skidded to a halt, or at least slowed significantly.
Demand for bicycles this spring is both unprecedented and way beyond projections, according to a Canadian Tire company spokesperson.
"Bicycles ... and boredom busters such as trampolines and basketball nets are a few examples where we are chasing supply to keep up with demand," Joscelyn Dosanjh wrote in an email.
It's the same story at smaller bike shops.
"The supply chain is breaking down and we can't stock up on inventory," said Joe Mamma Cycles owner Jose Bray.
"Our mid-season shipments don't exist this year," Bray said. "The major manufacturers are all sold out. I couldn't order bikes right now if I wanted to."
Second-hand bikes are a hot commodity, too. Dave Gibson is working to keep up with demand at Dave's Bike Dump on Catherine Street, where it's not uncommon these days to see customers lined up out the door and down the sidewalk.
Backlogged shipments from Asia are causing a dearth of new parts, but Gibson has been able to ride out the shortage because he has the supplies in stock already. "We have about $2 million worth of inventory," he said.
Mobile bike repair service Vélofix is reporting a banner spring. Ottawa franchisee Adam Kourakis is running three vans from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., seven days a week. "Business is A-OK," Kourakis confirmed.
But if you're in a rush for that tune-up, forget about it.
"Normally it would be a couple of days. Now it's almost a month to get a tune-up," Kourakis said.
The same goes for bike parts. "A couple times someone said, 'Hey can you get me this or that?' And the unfortunate answer is no. It's just a flat out no. Out of stock. No ETA. No update. [The suppliers] say, 'Don't contact us, we'll contact you.'"
As a result, Kourakis said, people seem to be making do with what they already have.
"We're getting a heck of a lot of older, regular bikes from the back of the garage," he said.
For businesses like Vélofix, COVID-19 has also put a dent in the workforce. One of Kourakis's mechanics had health issues that made him vulnerable to possible exposure, and another had a family member who is medically fragile. A couple of part-timers who work for the City of Ottawa were redeployed due to COVID-19.
"If you know any mechanics, we are hiring," Kourakis said.
Joe Mamma Cycles owner Jose Bray has noticed another phenomenon: sales of accessories such as locks and bike bags are down.
"People are going for a bike ride around their neighbourhoods … and then they're coming right back home," Bray said. "Even helmet sales aren't what they typically are."
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To make up for the loss in sales, Joe Mamma is ramping up its service capacity.
"We are doubling our workstations this week. It's one of the things that we can do safely and there's increased demand for it," Bray said.
Bike advocates hope the two-wheeled trend isn't just a fad that will fade with the pandemic.
"I think there's a good chance that a lot of people will have caught the [biking habit]," said Erinn Cunningham of Bike Ottawa. "When OC Transpo was on strike in the winter of 2009, winter cycling saw an uptick afterwards. That's how a lot of people adapted to no transit."