Nathan Colavolpe works on a child’s bike at CycleMania in Portland on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A buying frenzy and the disruption of the global supply chain have created one of the least expected shortages of the COVID-19 pandemic – bicycles.

David Brink, a co-owner of CycleMania, poses in the shop Tuesday. He said, “It’s too bad it took a pandemic to have people enjoy the sport I’ve enjoyed for 40 years.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine bike sellers have sold out of many models and styles, and are having difficulty restoring their stock during the biggest bicycling craze in almost 50 years. Some worry spare parts soon will become scarce even as overseas factories recover from shutdowns triggered by the pandemic.

At the same time, many cycling enthusiasts are excited to see so many Americans getting back on bicycles for recreation, exercise and transportation, and hope that the surge in interest will build momentum for creating policies and infrastructure that will increase safety and accessibility.

Booming business at CycleMania in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood has had a downside for co-owner David Brink. He recalled a recent customer who came in with her daughter to buy the 6-year-old a bike for her birthday.

“I didn’t have a bike for her, it’s really tough,” Brink said. “I don’t know who’s more disappointed, me or them.”

Maine bicycle shops were classified essential and allowed to stay open during the state’s stay-at-home order more than two months ago. That helped Brink and others keep the lights on, but he didn’t expect demand to be so strong.

Now, the store is sold out of kids’ bikes, basic adult mountain and hybrid bikes, and has strong demand for more expensive models. New stock is trickling in, but Brink expects it will be at least until July before he gets an adequate number of bikes to feed customer demand.

“Everything got gobbled up and there is nothing in reserve,” Brink said. “It’s too bad it took a pandemic to have people enjoy the sport I’ve enjoyed for 40 years.”

Other Maine bicycle dealers were been cleaned out too. L.L. Bean’s bike sales have been up 200 percent this year and it sold out of many of the company’s models at its bike, boat and ski store in Freeport.

Parents started coming into Rainbow Bicycle in Lewiston to buy $400-$700 bikes for teenagers, owner John Grenier said. Then adults started buying their own bikes, into the $1,000 range, and kept coming until they were all gone. His sales in May were double what they normally are.

“All of a sudden, we looked at all of our suppliers and there were no bikes,” Grenier said. Now he’s selling high-end mountain and road bikes, with some customers coming from out of state to get their hands on one.

David Brink, a co-owner of CycleMania, talks on the phone with a customer Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nationwide, bicycle sales increased 31 percent to $1.3 billion in the first three months of the year with most of the sales in March, analyst Dirk Sorensen said in a blog post for for NPD, a market research firm. With so many new cyclists, Sorensen recommended retailers keep families in mind when thinking about customer service, inventory and display.

“More people are likely riding bikes today than in years past, and there’s no reason this new culture shouldn’t persevere,” Sorensen wrote.

But demand is outstripping supplies and labor.

Maintenance appointments at Rainbow Cycle are scheduled out until the first week of  July and Grenier’s mechanics are working overtime. Other stores reported similar maintenance backlogs.  There are signs spare parts such as gears, brake lines, tubes and tires are starting to run low, Grenier said.

During stay-at-home mandates people wanted a family activity they could do near the house to get some exercise without violating social distancing. Grenier said. He’s noticed a lot more groups of kids biking together and families taking evening rides. Some customers missing their usual gym regime or indoor spin classes took to cycling to stay in shape.

He hopes that when things get back to normal, a significant proportion of the people who got into the saddle in recent months will keep pedaling.

“I’m hoping it’s not a fad, that would be disappointing, but time will tell on that.”

More than 90 percent of bicycles and parts sold in the U.S. are made in China, where extended stay-at-home orders idled factories for weeks at least, said Tim Blumenthal, president of People for Bikes, a national advocacy group.

Production has resumed, but delays mean a possible extended shortage of popular models of entry-level bicycles, Blumenthal said.

“You could say there is a shortage of bikes right now, it is not universal and not at every price point,” he said. “The question becomes how quickly the supply chain can respond.”

The executive director of Maine’s biggest cycling organization says that with more people cycling and cities including Portland closing streets for outdoor dining, shopping and walking, the time is ripe to start talking about cycling safety and investing in cycling infrastructure.

James Young, right, speaks on the phone with a customer while Ben Sawyer works on a bike at CycleMania on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

While fewer cars than normal are on Maine’s roads, some drivers are speeding and new cyclists who might not know the rules of the road could be put in danger, said Jean Sideris, who leads the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

“At a minimum, it opens the conversation for us to ask what we need to do in this moment to keep safe and stay outside, and what we need to do for the long-term,” Sideris said. “How do we encourage people to keep up these activities and help people feel safe.”

America’s last bicycle craze in the 1970s coincided with the oil crisis, which made driving more expensive. That fad petered out shortly after the crisis faded, but Gorham Bike and Ski owner Jamie Wright doesn’t think it will this time.

Wright’s four Portland-area stores have been inundated by customers, and his staff can’t build bikes fast enough, Wright said. The hundreds of kids’ bikes he’s sold in the last few weeks give him hope for a new generation of cyclists.

“There are going to be a lot more kids that are going to put down screens and get out and ride bikes,” Wright said. “I think it all bodes well for more infrastructure, fewer cars, more bikes.”


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