A couple of weeks ago, having braved the Saturday morning shops to buy trainers for my eldest, I popped into the local bike store. It’s become a bit of a ritual – perusing rows of new bikes is chicken soup for the Sports Directaddled soul.
Or at least it might have been had there been any. The displays were not exactly bare, but it looked like a panic buying situation that reminded me of trying to buy flour in Sainsbury’s early in the pandemic — I was looking at the bicycle equivalent of a few random packets of speciality bread mix.
Not that this should have been a surprise. A shortage of bicycles and the associated kit has become as much a feature of the pandemic as clapping on the doorstep and facemask chic, and according to those in the industry that CW spoke to, stocks are still well down and could be for some time.
When we spoke to Tom Pidcock right at the start of lockdown he said that even he had had a lot of trouble sourcing a turbo trainer. If a multiple world champion can’t find a turbo, what hope did the rest of us have?
Selling like hardtails...
Had he wanted a hybrid or a hardtail mountain bike though, he may have been completely out of luck, for those were the bikes that began selling fast even as people could see lockdown approaching and they looked for an alternative, socially-distanced ways to get to work.
“It was turbos that went first,” says Rutland Cycles marketing manager Dave Hicks. “We saw demand really ramp up as we got closer to lockdown becoming a thing. I think people were expecting that we might be in a situation where we might not be able to go out. And then once we got to April it went pretty nuts, particularly for lower-value hardtails and hybrids.” According to figures from the Bicycle Association, bike sales were up 112 per cent in April 2020, compared to April 2019.
Demand quickly became so high that the shelves were cleared of lower value items and if a customer wanted a bike to ride to work on the next day, they could no longer afford to be picky.
“I was talking to retailers in April where they were just literally selling ‘bikes’. It wasn’t a question of ‘have you got a mountain bike’, it was ‘have you got a bike’,” reveals Keith Murray, head of bike sales at Darlington-based distributor ZyroFisher.
And it wasn’t only commuters seeking a socially distanced way to get to the office who were buying up bikes. With schools closed and people being furloughed in increasing numbers, time was suddenly at hand. With cycling one of the few ways to get out and do something, it made sense to go out and buy a bike. This even applied to those who had switched to home working, with time previously spent commuting needing to be filled.
So perhaps surprisingly, those spending money in bike shops (be that online or in bricks and mortar establishments) were not just new and returning riders, but seasoned cyclists making the most of the fine weather and extra free time.
“Anyone who rode a bike already is riding their bike more,” says Richard Balfe, owner of the Balfe’s Bikes chain of shops in London and Surrey. And he adds: “People that didn’t ride bikes are more likely to ride bikes, and a proportion of those are now staying on their bikes.”
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