Ian Herchenroder, a service manager at Allspeed Cyclery & Snow in Portland, does a suspension rebuild on a used bike Tuesday. New bicycles and bicycle parts are in short supply after a spike in sales last year and persistent supply chain issues. Allspeed and other local bike shops predict shortages will last for at least another year. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

A year after bicycles became one of the hottest items for the pandemic consumer, a fractured supply chain and persistent demand are creating massive shortages of new bikes and bike parts that could last years.

Allspeed Cyclery and Snow in Portland has some models in stock, but many customers are on wait lists for the bikes they really want. In an email to customers this winter, co-owner Chris Carleton encouraged buying early. The store expects to sell out of many of its brands and will likely not get more until next year.

“Some of our suppliers have told us they are 100 percent sold out this year,” Carleton said. “If you don’t get a bike in early spring, come July there is a pretty good chance you are not going to get what you want. Normally we’d be able to reload midseason, but we can’t right now.”

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a boom in cycling and bicycle sales the United States has not witnessed since the oil crisis of 1973 and early 1974. Those tired of being cooped up indoors during pandemic lockdowns rushed out to buy bikes and other exercise and outdoor gear. Surging global demand, coupled with factory closures in Asia in the early days of the pandemic, created an acute shortage made worse by sustained buying.

“When the big spike in demand happened last spring into the summer, everyone in the world put in an order that was five to six times bigger than it would normally be,” Carleton said. “The supply chain got incredibly backed up. Lead times went from 90 days to get a complete bike built to 400 or 500 days.”

U.S. bicycle sales jumped 50 percent in 2020 from the year before, according to the market research firm  NPD Group Inc. of Port Washington, New York.

“Bicycles became really essential,” said Heather Mason, president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. “The bike boom didn’t just happen here, it happened in other countries – it is a global situation.”

Almost nine out of 10 U.S. bike shops have less than half their normal inventory, and in some cases they have less than 20 percent, Mason said. Manufacturers expect shortages in the market until 2023, she said.

“Even as manufacturers try to rally and put extra orders in, they just can’t meet demand,” she said. “The industry is trying to keep up, but there are small parts – tires, saddles, components that put a bike together – that are hard to find.”

Joel Wagner, a mechanic at Allspeed Cyclery & Snow in Portland, cycles through the gears on a newly built bicycle Tuesday. The store’s co-owner Chris Carleton said, “If you don’t get a bike in early spring, come July there is a pretty good chance you are not going to get what you want.”  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Sales were 60 percent higher in 2020 than in any previous year for Rainbow Bicycle, which has been a Lewiston mainstay since 1982.

“I’ve had the shop for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything remotely like this,” owner John Grenier said. “People are buying anything and everything.”

Sales, which typically dip in the winter, never slowed down, Grenier said. By late February, he was selling bikes like it was midspring. The store’s business radius has expanded from the Lewiston-Auburn region to almost the entire state. He’s even received orders from Florida and Pennsylvania because customers there can’t find the bike they want.

Even though entry-level bikes, selling for up to about $1,000, were the first to go, he’s selling out top-of-the-line models worth five or ten times that, he said.

“Price doesn’t even seem to matter,” Grenier said.

Sensing the bike boom would persist, Grenier ordered as many bikes as he could last year. Now he’s starting to run out, and every new bike he orders is already reserved.

Allspeed Cyclery & Snow co-owner Mike Davies, left, and mechanic Joel Wagner confer over a newly assembled bicycle Tuesday. Bike sales nationwide jumped 50 percent last year.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“I thought a month ago I had enough to take me through July – now I am looking at the end of April when there will be just a smattering of bikes to choose from,” he said. “Every one of the bikes coming in now are sold before they hit the floor.”

The story is the same at CycleMania in Portland. A sales floor that usually has 350 bikes in stock is down to 80, said manager Ben Sawyer. The store already has put in orders for bikes into 2023.

“Our ordering process two years ago was to see what we sold over the weekend, place an order on Monday and have the bikes in stock by Wednesday,” Sawyer said. “Now we are ordering two years out.”

If complete bikes are in short supply, some parts are even scarcer. CycleMania tried to stock up on tires, tubes, chains, cables and other basic replacement components, but with new supplies uncertain, simple repairs could be hard to do this summer if stockpiles run low.

“If someone is out riding and breaks a shifter, that could be months before we see it,” Sawyer said. “It is good to think ahead if they think they are going to need maintenance work done.”

Since new bikes are selling at a premium, some people are choosing used models instead. Sales of refurbished bikes at Portland Gear Hub shot up last year and stayed that way through the winter, said Ainsley Judge, shop director at the nonprofit.

“It almost felt like the spring season was upon us in the last weekend of February,” Judge said. “We are busy every day – we had a line out the door of our shop last week when it was raining.”

Even though the shop doesn’t have to fight for orders of new bikes, it has trouble getting enough fresh components to fix up the donated bicycles it receives. As a small operation without a dedicated buyer on staff, that means placing an order whenever supply becomes available, even in the middle of the night.

“This whole pandemic revealed a lot of flaws in our supply chain and distribution system for a lot of industries,” Judge said. “You are panic buying, which is not very healthy. The one thing we can fall back on is that we have so many used parts we can use. Recycling is not just sustainable but economically more viable, because it already exists.”

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