The COVID-19 pandemic has created a good news, bad news situation for a growing number of people who want to get into bicycling. Demand for bicycles is through the roof in some places, including the Joplin area, but supply has tanked because the virus forced manufacturers around the world to shut down temporarily.
Debra Johnson, owner of Bicycle Specialists in Webb City, said she sold more than 200 bicycles in April, a huge month for her business.
“In May, things started slowing down some, and it was really by June there wasn’t much left to sell,” Johnson said. “Slowly it’s getting better.”
Jeff Chase, founder of the Bike Neosho Facebook page, said he’s tried to help a couple of people get into cycling in the past couple of months, but finding bicycles has been a chore.
“We helped a couple, friends of ours who saw us riding and wanted to take it up, get into it,” Chase said. “We let them ride a couple of our bikes; then they got hooked, and they did a bunch or research to try to find the right bicycles. They found what they were looking for in Arkansas, but before that, we called around to probably five different bike shops from Kansas City to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to Jefferson City, just to see if anyone had anything, and there were very few bikes."
The NPD Group, a data company that measures retail sales, said in June that sales of basic adult bicycles under $200 grew nationwide by 203% compared with 2019. Sales of front-suspension mountain bikes were up by 150%, and sales of children’s bikes rose by 107%. Accessories sales were up significantly as well.
“The excitement that consumers are showing in cycling, particularly in recreational and family riding, is an absolutely amazing moment for the bike community,” said Dirk Sorenson, sports industry analyst at NPD. “This is a unique and powerful chance for retailers, manufacturers and nonprofit organizations to engage new riders.”
Chanti Beckham, director of the H.E.R.E. 4 Carthage healthy living initiative, said bicycling offers immeasurable health benefits in a fun and family-friendly way.
“Any movement that we can get is going to help contribute to our overall health,” she said.
Beckham said she and her husband, Brady, ride routinely with their children, Mira, 9, and Indie, 7.
“It’s a great family activity,” she said. “We’ve got through different versions of cycling with kids. When the kids were little, we were pulling them behind us in trailers or pull-behind bikes. We even had a pull-behind bike that the kids could pedal so they were contributing to the ride. Then they eventually graduated to riding their own bikes. You can change the gearing of your bike to make it a workout for you when you are riding with them.”
The shortage of bicycles and bicycle parts seems to be a global phenomenon that flies in the face of the stories of economic shutdown and recession. The New York Times reported last week that people wanting to stay in shape during the pandemic were turning to bicycles after gymnasiums were closed to try to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In addition, some of the largest bicycle makers in the world have production facilities in China, and the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China is playing a role in the shortage.
Elijah Curtis, an employee at Blue’s Bike Co. in Joplin, said sales were brisk while they could get bicycles, but supplies have dried up.
“Around the start of everything, the first two weeks into the first month of this pandemic, we had a lot of stuff available,” Curtis said. “And it was nice because we were able to sell everything. Right after that, everything went out and we haven’t been able to get anything from our suppliers. It’s just a big fat zero on every single vendor we have. We can’t do anything about it.”
The situation was similar at some of the larger retailers, with stocks of bicycles running low at Academy Sports and Outdoors in Joplin and at area Walmart stores.
Curtis and Johnson both said their stores are staying open by repairing and maintaining bikes for their customers.
“I don’t think this will threaten my business,” said Johnson, with Bicycle Specialists. “I think we can probably last because we’re doing a lot of repairs. I have two very, very fine mechanics, so I’m not too concerned. I also have a lot of faith.”