The good folks at Outside Magazine interviewed Hush Money Bikes partner Nathan Baker for a story on how the cycling industry is responding to COVID-19. Reprinted from outsideonline.com.
Read the original article on outsideonline.com.
The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has been intense: since late March, one in five workers—more than 33 million Americans—have filed for unemployment, a level already far greater than the peak of the 2008 recession. But amid the catastrophe, there’s been a small bright spot: bicycles. Specifically, people are buying new ones, fixing up old ones, and riding more than before.
Some bike shops have reported booming business, far above even the normally busy days of the spring selling season. While other outdoor businesses—gear shops, climbing gyms, and ski areas, for example—have closed or are furloughing or laying off workers, bike shops are working hard, often at reduced capacity, to ensure safe customer interactions. One new shop, Hush Money Bikes in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, even moved up its planned grand-opening date to spring.
There are various reasons for this phenomenon. Amid nationwide stay-at-home-orders, mass-transit ridership is in free fall, leaving essential workers in need of a socially distant way to get around. And many people, especially families with young children at home, are looking for lockdown-compliant ways to get outside and keep everyone as healthy and happy as possible.
As they venture out, those commuters and recreational cyclists—even dedicated riders who’ve been biking for years—are encountering a world they’ve never seen before: streets with less traffic (and sometimes closed to cars altogether), vehicle lanes converted into temporary bike lanes, air that’s cleaner than it has been at any point in decades. Will these new cyclists stick with the bike once things settle on some kind of new normal? And will their numbers and the new riding landscape we’re all experiencing lead to permanent, positive change and safer places to pedal? Some in the bike world think the answer to both questions is yes. But for that to happen, both the industry and cities have to seize this opportunity.
Like all of the fallout from the pandemic, the economic effects on the bike industry have been massively uneven. Although bike shops were designated as essential businesses by federal and many state and local officials, between 10 and 20 percent of such shops have temporarily closed, according to estimates from industry insiders. Those range from single shops like Quick Release, in Chicago, which shut its doors in April out of an abundance of caution, to the five-store Bicycle Village chain in Colorado, whose parent company, Vail Resorts, furloughed 65 employees as part of larger staff cuts.
The boom is also predominantly a domestic phenomenon. Almost all European stores closed (in some countries, like Spain and Italy, riding outside was also banned and has only recently been allowed again). As a result, Specialized Bicycles laid off 46 employees last week, mostly across its European operations. Component giant Shimano reported that first-quarter sales from its bicycle division declined 15 percent from the same period in 2019. Rich Tauer, president of major distributor Quality Bicycle Products told Bicycle Retailer and Industry News that he expects the bike industry as a whole to be down 40 percent from last year.
But within that bleak forecast, there are a number of shops and bike makers doing brisk business, especially in certain categories. According to the NPD Group, which tracks retail-sporting-goods sales, children’s bike sales in March were up 56 percent compared to March 2019. Adult leisure bike sales are up a whopping 121 percent. “In April so far, we’re up over 200 percent” over last year, says Adele Nasr, chief marketing officer at Aventon, which produces a line of affordable casual and commuter e-bikes. Interest is so high that it’s having trouble keeping stock on certain models. Preorders for medium Pace 500 step-through commuter bikes, which sell for $1,399, carry wait times of more than two months.
Affordable recreational bikes and practical models for commuting and errands are in high demand right now, says Rod Judd, director of membership and development at the national bike-advocacy group People for Bikes, where his job involves daily discussions with retailers and suppliers. “Anything under $600 is just flying out,” he says, adding that child seats and trailers have also seen healthy sales. Then there are surges in categories that are clearly pandemic driven, like indoor trainers, which are up 268 percent, according to NPD Group data. During a season when makers expect orders to ebb, they’re instead sold out of many models.
For many sellers, the shift in sales happened suddenly. As Tauer put it to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, “On March 12 we were still selling lots of [expensive, high-performance] Kevlar-beaded tires, and on March 13 we started selling [affordable] wire-beaded tires.” Midpriced items have only started to see sales rebounds in the last week or so, Tauer says.
New-bike sales aren’t the only things skyrocketing. So are requests for bike service, as riders pull old, disused bikes out of garages and basements. NPD data shows that repair and maintenance demands increased 20 percent in March, compared to March 2019. “If I have any [service] openings, they’re booked quickly,” says Arleigh Greenwald, the owner and sole employee of Denver’s Bike Shop Girl Family Cyclery. She estimates her customers have been about evenly split between those interested in new bikes (especially ones for kids) and those who want to service existing ones. Nate Baker, co-owner of Hush Money, estimates that his service tickets are averaging twice the price of those he saw at a previous bike-shop employer last year. Both shops, like others, have set up social-distancing practices such as curbside drop-off and disinfecting customers’ bikes before and after service.
Demand for performance bikes has also been surprisingly durable at some brands. Trek Bicycles, one of the largest companies in the industry, has seen sales of high-end models decrease. But popular direct-to-consumer brand Canyon Bicycles has had “tremendous sales activity in all categories,” says Blair Clark, president of the company’s U.S. division. “Certainly, we’ve had a greater percentage increase in fitness bikes and lower-end mountain bikes,” he says, noting that those are smaller portions of Canyon’s business to begin with. But, he added, “We are still selling as many top-shelf bikes as we can keep in stock.”
Who’s buying all these bikes? And what kind of riding are they doing? In April, Trek commissioned a survey of 1,004 American adults through the research firm Engine Insights, and it found that 21 percent of respondents who own a bike have been riding more during the pandemic. Most of those surveyed (63 percent) said riding helps relieve stress and anxiety.
Based on the Trek survey data, as well as interviews I did with shops and riders, there seem to be three broad groups of people riding more these days. The first are existing enthusiasts. Baker’s Hush Money clientele are generally well-off and possibly have been less affected financially by the pandemic. “A lot of that crowd has high-end bikes, and they have more time than ever to ride right now,” he says.
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