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Oh great, now we run out of bikes



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Last week, I realized that my decade-old Mongoose bike was falling apart. The brakes were buzzing like an annoyed bird, and the rear frame had bent enough that a workshop called it a significant safety issue. So in anticipation of several months of traveling by bicycle, I started calling my local stores to see what was available.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not alone in seeking a new means of transport for the pandemic. When I finally found a store that had a bike in my price ranges and sizes, there was only one left, and it was still fitted. The bike shop owners told me they never saw sales and struggled to get more variety.

This struck me as strange, as I have now also come across viral videos of bikes being taken out of service and released in a dumpster:

It turns out that the cycling situation is complicated. Bicycle shops run out of bikes, and at least one bike share company demolishes part of its stock. Jump by Uber, the company whose bikes are listed above, sent thousands of their e-bikes and scooters to be recovered in early May – Uber said they were old and had security issues – while others were transferred to e-scooter company Lime, where Uber recently made a significant investment of $ 170 million.

Still, bicycles have quickly become one of the best ways for many people to get around. All over the country, many bicycle shops have been classified as important companies, and some delivery workers who have continued to work during the pandemic have used bicycles and e-bikes to travel from place to place. At the same time, others have turned to bike-sharing programs like CitiBike, a service operated by Lyft, which offers free membership to frontline workers.

Warmer weather and the opening of various companies throughout the United States have more people wanting to buy bicycles, so much so that bike shops are now worried about ending up in stock. The NPD Group, a market research company, estimates that the bicycle company has seen sales increase by more than 30 percent since the first quarter of this year. Sales for adult lifestyle bikes more than doubled in March, while sales for transit and mountain bikes also increased that month. At the same time, some cities give way to an expected sharp increase in cyclists and add extra cycle lanes while turning off the entire streets for cars.

It is unclear how long the cycling shortage will last or whether people’s transport habits will change forever. Meanwhile, we have divided what got us to this point.

The bicycle supply chain was not prepared

When the US began to close earlier this year, Trek Bikes began preparing their stores and customers for a dip in business. Even when bicycle shops were declared to be important companies, they were preparing to adapt their stores for social distance and expected only limited traffic. Then during the first week of April, web visits to the Trek spike website began, and the company’s brand director, Eric Bjorling, noticed that the number of people searching for local bike shops was growing.

“We thought it might be an anomaly,” Bjorling told Recode. “But then it just kept happening.”

Now, he says, sales are growing.

“Lo and behold, we’re in the middle of one of the largest bicycle booms in US history,” Bjorling said.

But just because people are looking for bicycles does not mean they are available. Jenn Dice, CEO of PeopleforBikes, a bicycle promotion organization, says bike shops will usually order more bikes based on their sales from the year before and their previous inventory. No one had foreseen a pandemic.

At the same time, many of the factories in Asia closed – which Bjorling calls “the center of the supply chain” due to the pandemic. These factories produce not only fully assembled bicycles, but also bicycle components, such as tires, wheels and steering. So when they closed, the supply of all types of bicycle-related goods that came to the United States declined. In addition to all this, China’s customs battle with the Trump administration had already disrupted bicycle production because some companies looked to move production out of the country.

“Probably about 90 to 95 percent of our US bikes come from China, and with the Chinese New Year and the coronavirus, everything closed down for weeks,” says Dice. “Of course, it delayed production, and it took a long time to get started again.”

Bjorling also regretted the closures in China, but is still optimistic about future production. “The nice little silver lining to it is the factories that have been running,” he said, “and these bikes are on the way.”

Others were more cautious. Mehdi Farsi, founder of Arizona-based Bicycle Co., says his company has already sold out all of its pre-orders for June. The bikes people bought in May, he says, would have been produced back in February or January.

“The lead time for most bike manufacturers – at least in our case – is 90 to 120 days when things are up,” Farsi said.

Imbert Jimenez, manager of the Master Bike Shop in Manhattan, also manages shortcomings, especially for more affordable models.

A woman rides on a Citi bike across a street.

Bicycle sharing companies see mixed success as home orders have discouraged people from commuting.
Noam Galai / Getty Images

“The only bike you can get is over $ 2,000,” Jimenez said. He added that getting a new warehouse will be “almost impossible” and probably won’t happen until September or October.

At the same time, increased interest in cycling has also increased bicycle shops that struggle to keep demand for maintenance services. Master Bike Shop currently has a 10-day order of repairs.

How people use bicycle parts is changing

Bicycle companies do not seem to see quite the same enthusiastic rush of new customers as bike shops. Many are still recovering from the negative effects of keeping at home and social distance measures and are still looking for how the pandemic can change how people travel around cities. It is possible that people prefer to buy their own bicycles because they are afraid to touch a bicycle used by strangers, even if companies had also promised to improve sanitation in the middle of the pandemic.

At present, the figures do not look good. A Lyft spokesman told Recode that although there were more than 1.7 million rides on Citi Bikes in April 2019, there were less than 700,000 in April this year. The comparison between years and years in riders is similar for May, although demand seems to be recovering somewhat.

There are signs of distress elsewhere in the micro-mobility industry. A company called Zagster pulls its bikes from multiple communities across the country, including from smaller cities in Colorado, Georgia, Virginia and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, snowmobile companies Lime and Bird have laid off hundreds of workers together.

And then there’s Jump by Uber. Earlier this week, video on social media of the company’s signature red bikes ran into a dumpster in North Carolina, frustrating bicycle advocates. The situation was a little more complicated than Jump just sweeping a bunch of bikes. In early May, Uber invested $ 140 million in Lime and transferred the Jump division to Lime as part of the deal.

“As part of our latest deal, Lime brought in tens of thousands of new model bikes and scooters,” an Uber spokesman told Recode. “We investigated donating the remaining bikes with older models, but given many important issues – including maintenance, responsibility, safety issues and lack of consumer grade charging equipment – we decided that the best method was to reuse them.”

At the same time, the Jump service has been turned off in many cities, and in some places it is unclear if their bikes will ever return to use. According to a report from the Washington Post earlier this month, Lime worked in only 20 markets, which is a fraction of the 120 markets where its bikes are normally available. Lime told Recode on Friday that it now operates in 50 markets and that it has since started Jump bikes in Denver and also plans to start Jump bikes in other cities.

On the question of a more permanent transition to work from home may threaten the company’s long-term business model, David Spielfogel, chief political officer at Lime, told Recode that he was not worried.

“The data we see from our first few weeks indicates that people are probably relying on micro mobility even more to run their daily activities,” Spielfogel said.

So if you want to take a weekend trip, your best bet might be a bike sharing program. Of course, it is assumed that you do not live in a city that was recently abandoned by these sometimes struggling companies.

But if you are still looking to buy your own bike, Bjorling recommends that you get in touch with your local bike shop as soon as you can because it may be a wait. There is also nothing wrong with buying a used bike from Craigslist or just repairing your rusty old bike if it still works.

“It’s just a great way to get up and ride while you wait for a new bike,” says Bjorling. “The worst thing that can happen to a bicycle is if it just sits unused in a garage.”

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