For Eugene’s bike shops, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword.
On one hand, the surging popularity of recreational cycling brought high demand for bikes, accessories and services when many other businesses were struggling. On the other hand, uncontrollable delays in the global supply chains that support the industry made it difficult to keep enough product in stock to satisfy demand and keep riders rolling; that may be even more challenging this summer than it was last year.
“I was in the bike business in the 70s, 80s, 90s and starting again in 2007,” Paul Moore, manager and owner of Arriving by Bike, said. “And I’ve never seen anything where it’s so difficult to get parts.”
Matt Ritzow, partner and general manager at Bicycle Way of Life, said that, compared to last summer, the availability of complete bikes and components is “a little worse.”
“Over the years, I’ve dealt with hundreds of students that come to town, and parents want to buy them a new bike,” Ritzow said. “There will be a limited supply in that category. I encourage people to get on a waiting list and identify a bike.”
Most of the bike industry’s major manufacturers are located in China and Taiwan. For everything from complete bikes to individual parts like tires and chains, distributors and local retailers depend on these Asian production hubs and the international transportation networks that connect them to the US market.
“This year, the problem has been the fact that all of the manufacturers –– most of them in Asia and even U.S. manufacturers of parts and bikes –– have been impacted by the shutdown or long term pause in manufacturing in Asia,” Aaron Land, owner of Landspeed’s Fix, said. “The demand has remained high. Anything that can be manufactured is bought up instantly.”
Land shifted his focus away from complete bike sales. As a smaller retailer, he said his shop wasn’t a priority for suppliers allocating the few bikes available.
“There’s nothing I can do to make them give me more bikes,” Land said.
Instead, he’s concentrating on service, accessories and tapping into as many distributors as possible to source parts quickly and keep wait times down.
Ritzow described the arrival of new complete bikes as a slow but steady stream. When contacted in late June, he said his shop had a strong supply of commuter bikes in the sub-$1000 price range — a particularly in-demand segment of the bicycle market — but he considered it “probably a 30-day supply at the current rate.” The range of models and colors is also not as broad as what he’s used to offering, he said.
As manufacturers and distributors continue to struggle to catch up, the predicted delay in product availability has only increased.
“Going forward, we’re facing remarkably challenging product delivery dates — probably for the next year-and-a-half to two years,” Ritzow said. “I honestly think we haven’t seen the worst of the parts shortages yet. That is going to sneak up on a lot of shops and a lot of consumers.”
Other local shops assessed the situation similarly. From replacement parts for repairs to key shop supplies, “everything’s hard to get ahold of right now,” Jason Oakley, service manager at Hutch’s Bicycle Shop, said.
“We’ve moderated our expectations,” Oakley said. “We have to try to help customers out with their expectations.”
Mostly, that’s a matter of patience. Since the start of the pandemic, wait times for bikes and parts shot up from one-to-two weeks to six months or more, but Oakley emphasized that manufacturers haven’t stopped production.
“There are options. I think it sounds more bleak than it really is,” he said.
He recommended that anyone interested in purchasing a bike this year “get it on order now.”
“You just have to be patient,” Oakley said.
As Moore put it, “Somewhere, they’re building bikes. And, somewhere, they’ll be coming in.”
He believes that times for repairs and maintenance — which were averaging between one to two weeks across all shops — will be “vastly improved” by the time the fall term begins.
“Even though the university is coming back on, the rest of the community is kinda finished, having brought in a whole lot of repair bikes in the springtime,” Moore said. “We stocked super heavy before this all started. We’re definitely set up to take care of people who’ve got a bike and are looking for the things they need to make it more useful.”
One local shop closed its doors for good during the pandemic: Blue Heron Bicycles on 13th Ave just west of the university. The shop shut down permanently in March 2021, after more than 25 years in business. Two months prior, Eugene Weekly reported that the Duck Store, which owns the property where the shop operated, would switch all of its tenants to month-to-month leases beginning in July to prepare for renovations and potential rent increases. The former owner of Blue Heron could not be reached for comment.