Bicycle retail and repair shops in La Jolla and Pacific Beach are faring better than most during the pandemic. But now there’s a new problem: supply.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” said Jason Millard, manager of California Bicycle, a 45-year-old bike shop at 7462 La Jolla Blvd. “We’re extremely busy. But at the same time, there’s a huge lack of inventory across the nation. That has put quite a few bicycle stores out of business.”
“In March 2020 when the lock down happened, we were slow,” confided Greg Heath, general manager of Bicycle Discovery at 742 Felspar St. in PB. “I was sure we were going to have trouble finding enough business. But as we went into about the one-month mark (mid-April), people started pouring in the shop, looking to get back on bikes and get outside.”
Millard of California Bicycle put the current bicycle supply shortage into perspective.
“The supply train has been broken in the industry as a whole,” he concluded. “Last year in April, May and June, we sold more bikes than we traditionally sell in a year. After all the beaches and gyms closed down, people had nowhere to go but outside and do sports like cycling.”
Added Millard: “What happened is, due to the much greater demand, it put the industry into a tailspin the rest of the year. For example, I had 800 bikes I ordered back in April and May of 2020. As of the end of December, I had received about 30 of them.”
Heath of Bicycle Discovery has had similar supply and delivery issues, though not nearly as severe.
“Since the gyms and other sources of exercise were not available, we saw a huge volume of new bike riders coming in,” he said. “Over the next few months we had a hard time even getting bikes built fast enough for all the customers we had. My team worked really hard to keep up with the demand. But by the time we got to July, we had a hard time getting more product in.”
Heath talked about how Bicycle Discovery coped.
“We started adapting how we ordered everything just to try our best to keep all our customers riding, and get as many new bikes in as possible,” he said. “As production started back up, we started getting more bikes in. Although, there are some types of bikes that are still difficult for everyone to get.
“The whole cycling industry got a large boost, but the sudden growth in sales means the more complicated bike builds (high-end road bikes/mountain bikes) have long lead times and people are usually buying in advance to make sure they get what they want.”
Millard too, is coping as best he can with the shortage situation.
“As of right now my company is still not able to deliver a lot of bikes and we probably won’t see them until August of this year,” he said adding, “It affects all of us in the industry. Nobody’s immune. It’s the vendors being out of product, which produces a trickle down effect. If they don’t have it – we don’t have it.”
Added Millard of the shortage, “It’s definitely a negative. A dozen times a day I get people ready to plop down money, but we have no bikes to sell them.”
The supply shortage has even impacted Millard’s in-house bike repair shop. “It’s become a full-time job just to access components like gears and brake pads to repair bicycles,” he said.
Fortunately, California Bicycle was prepared.
“Having been in business for 45 years, we have a huge stockpile internally of bicycle components that’s kept us afloat,” Millard said. “I don’t want to say we planned for this. But we planned for this.”
Heath sees better times ahead, though the road seems a bit uncertain.
“Never in my years as a manager have I had so many bikes that were on order, but that's the new way we are running things to make sure we have enough for everyone who comes in,” he said. “We remained steady all (last) year and going into the new year. We are now making sure we are doing whatever we can to keep the shop full so customers can get what they want. Cycling is a hit right now because it’s outdoors and COVID-safe.”
“Pretty much every bike manufacturer was sold out of every bike they make by mid-year last year,” continued Heath. “Now the real strain is getting things in, and how to adjust your business to keep customers happy. There will be challenges for this next year. But overall, the industry is strong and we are happy to see so many people riding bikes.”