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Spokane bike shops pedaling hard to maintain pandemic surge

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, bike shop manager Tim Dunn prepared for an empty store and employees left with nothing to do.

But Spokane has followed a national trend in which Americans appear to have fallen back in love with bicycles.

“The first week (of the stay-home order) it was kind of slow,” said Dunn, who manages The Bike Hub at 1403 W. First Ave. “And then it has been ramping up pretty consistently since then.”

Now, Dunn is faced with another problem: He can’t get enough bicycles through a broken supply chain to meet demand.

“All the bike shops in the U.S. are having the same problem. Every time we build a bike, it sells as soon as we can get it on the sales floor,” Dunn said. “Yeah, we are happy business is good.”

Bike shops across the nation are seeing a spike in demand. With gyms closed, some consumers switched to bikes for exercise and stress relief. Parents were hoping their kids – staying home from school – would burn their pent-up energy.

As America slowly reopens, commuters are turning to bicycles to stay away from crowds in subways and buses.

More than 80% of Americans see cycling as a safer alternative to taking public transportation, according to an April survey of 1,000 Americans by U.S. manufacturer Trek Bicycle Corp, one of the the biggest-selling brands in the U.S., and researcher Engine Insights.

As a result, the $54 billion global bicycle market, which grew 6.9% last year, should see some road-bike categories shoot up 35% this year, according to WinterGreen Research, based in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Before the pandemic, the industry largely was stagnant, with battery-powered e-bikes and gravel bikes showing growth and sales of traditional road bikes plummeting.

John Drumm, store manager of Fitness Fanatics at 12425 E. Trent Ave., said he’s sold out of all his bicycles priced less than $1,000.

“Bikes in the U.S. are the new toilet paper,” Drumm said. “I ordered a bike for a gal. It was $1,800. There were only three available” in the country.

Mostly, Drumm has been working on refurbishing older bikes.

“You can tell by looking at them. They are all cob-webby, tires are flat and the chains are rusty,” he said. “People have been cooped up with their kids. They are going crazy and want to do something.”

Dunn, from Bike Hub, said repair orders have skyrocketed.

“A lot of people have been dusting off their old bikes from somewhere in their garage,” he said. “We are selling a lot of family-style bikes and kids bikes in that $400 to $700 price point.”

Meeting the rush was not what he expected.

“We were just nervous that things were going to slow down quite a bit and it was going to be a rough, lean time in the bike industry,” he said. “But we have a lot of empty floor space right now.”

The majority of bikes are manufactured in China and Japan. Many of them shut down during the pandemic, which has disrupted the supply chain, Drumm said.

“If you wanted to buy a bike for $1,000 or less, you’ve got to hold. I can’t ask one of our suppliers for anything less than a $1,000 bike right now,” he said.

Dunn has been selling a lot of hybrid and mountain bikes but he’s running out.

“We’ve talked to our reps. There are bits of bikes, here and there, coming in,” Dunn said.

“But there are a limited amount of bikes coming across the water right now.”

He’s afraid the supply chain won’t be fixed in time to sustain the unexpected pandemic surge.

“What we are all worried about is that it kind of settles down in the next couple of months because we are not able to get bikes in,” Dunn said. “That will put an abrupt halt in selling anything.”

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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