Toronto

Demand for bikes is rising in Toronto amid COVID-19 but supply is scarce, cycling shops warn

Last year, bike shops around the city reported booming sales. Most shops say bicycles are in still short supply with an even greater demand this year. Added to that is a major slow-down in manufacturing in the U.S. and Asia because of COVID-19 safety protocols in workplaces.

Overseas manufacturers slowed by health protocols, shops still waiting for orders from last year

Chris Bastie, the owner of Enduro Sport in Leaside, says the ActiveTO program and the expanding bike lane network in the city are encouraging people who have never ridden to safely try it out for the first time. (Jessica Ng/CBC)

If you're considering buying a bike this spring, experienced cyclists like Christopher McGarrell say it may already be too late.

"The bike boom from last summer was so crazy that if you go into a bike store right now looking for a bicycle, all the walls are bare," McGarrell said, adding he got his new ride back in January in anticipation of the spring rush.

McGarrell, the founder of the ManDem Cycling Club, a group made up of riders of all skill levels and backgrounds, got into the sport at the start of the pandemic last year. And he wasn't the only one. 

Last year, bike shops around the city reported booming sales. The new-found interest in cycling was partly spurred on by fears of travelling on public transit amid COVID-19, and partly because the city encouraged cycling through its creation of ActiveTO, which freed up roadways for pedestrians and cyclists.

The demand was so high, McGarrell said, most shops are still in short supply and don't have enough inventory to keep up with an even greater demand this year. Added to that is a major slow-down in manufacturing in the U.S. and Asia because of COVID-19 safety protocols in workplaces.

Toronto man starts inclusive cycling club during pandemic

CBC News Toronto

10 months ago
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At the start of the pandemic, Christopher McGarrell had not been on a bike in years. Now he's the founder of the rapidly-growing ManDem Cycling Club, which welcomes riders of all skill levels and backgrounds. Dwight Drummond joined them for a ride. 4:29

"Lots of the bike suppliers, even the manufacturers, they're placing orders right now for 2022, 2023. So it's really hard to get your hands on something right now," he said.

Christopher McGarrell, the founder of the ManDem Cycling Club, warns a cycling boom mixed with manufacturing slow-downs is making it tough to buy a bike in Toronto. (Jessica Ng/CBC)

Rob Bartel, the owner of Velotique in Leslieville, has so far received just 10 to 15 per cent of what he ordered from manufacturers last year. 

"Normally, we would have well over 70 per cent of the bikes that we have, so we're looking at some serious shortages," Bartel explained. 

Bartel reached out to customers in the fall and winter, warning them to get their orders in early. 

"The bikes that are coming in ... they're often out the door within a few days," he said. 

If you already have a bike and just need a few parts replaced, like chains, gears and even seats, Bartel said you may be out of luck.

"We're urging folks to keep their bikes clean, do as much maintenance as they're willing and capable of, and that'll really help things last until we have replacement parts available again," he said.

'Tough spring' ahead for those wanting a bike

Chris Bastie, the owner of Enduro Sport in Leaside, said the ActiveTO program and the expanding bike lane network in the city is encouraging people who have never ridden to safely try it out for the first time. 

"When they closed down some of the streets for more pedestrian and bike traffic, that helped people out, especially families of smaller kids," he said. 

The biggest concern for Bastie is the first-time or more inexperienced cyclists who will only realize they want a bike when the warm weather gets here.

"Am I going to have the inventory? It's going to be a tough spring for that because everybody is sold out," Bastie said. 

A section of Lake Shore Boulevard West was closed to traffic on weekends from May until October last year as part of ActiveTO, a program that saw 25 kilometres of temporary bikeways added as well as 15 kilometres of permanent bikeways. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

The other choice is taking advantage of the city's bike share program — a network the city  expanded to 20 of its 25 wards in response to the pandemic last summer. 

Bike Share Toronto now has 6,850 bikes, 625 stations and 12,000 docking points around the city, including 300 pedal-assist e-bikes, or electric bikes. Prices range from $3.25 for a single trip to $99 for an annual membership. 

The city said it will have a report on this year's ActiveTO plan by the spring, including weekend road closures.

By this fall, city staff will send a report to the Infrastructure & Environment Committee on recommendations for ActiveTO and its potential future.

With files from Jessica Ng

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