Business

North Fork retailers: COVID-19 biking boom has led to shortage

The United States is in the midst of a bicycle boom, right in the middle of a global pandemic. The two are unquestionably linked.

Now, if only the supply could keep up with the demand.

Therein lies the problem in this good news/bad news scenario. Ever since COVID-19 began ravaging the country in March, customers have scrambled for bicycles for transportation, exercise and recreation. That has resulted in what Nick Attisano, owner of Twin Forks Bicycles in Riverhead, called a national bike shortage.

“There’s no bicycles to be delivered,” he said. “The warehouses are empty.”

Mr. Attisano believed he had five bicycles for sale Monday, whereas he would normally have had about 200 this time of the year. He has worked in the industry since the 1980s and has “never seen anything like this before.”

While the growing interest in cycling is certainly welcomed, thinning inventory levels don’t help, especially now that bike sellers are in their busy summer season, when a major chunk of their sales are made. “Once it’s game on, you need to go,” Mr. Attisano said. “You don’t make up for a lost day.”

Greg Williams, owner of Country Time Cycle in Mattituck, said: “Fortunately, we still have inventory. Some of our best-selling bikes are still available. When I saw this [pandemic] breaking, I ordered. I ordered heavy.”

Both shop owners said they don’t expect stock levels to normalize until the fall.

A Bicycle Retailer story carried the headline, “Bike market skyrockets, with sales up 75% in April.” That story reported that U.S. cycling retail sales totaled about $1 billion for the month. Typically, the story said, April sales fall between $550 million and $575 million.

“According to figures from the NPD Group’s retail tracking service, bicycle sales in the United States soared in March 2020, with some categories seeing growth rates of more than 100 percent compared to the previous year,” reported an article published by Statista. Sales of leisure bikes rose by 121% in March 2020 as compared to March 2019, according to a Statista graphic.

Last year Statista said the U.S. bicycle market was estimated to be worth about $6 billion, with some 3,800 bike retail locations in the U.S. About 99% percent of the bikes sold in the U.S. were imported from China and Taiwan, according to Statista.

Mr. Attisano said it takes a minimum of 45 days from the time a bike leaves Asia in a freight container until it reaches a warehouse in the U.S.

A bike comes to a stop at the end of Narrow River Road in Orient. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Bike parts are becoming harder to get, too, and that has impeded repairs.

“Nobody planned for this,” Mr. Attisano said. “Even when a warehouse gets a shipment of parts in, they vanish immediately.

“One of my distributors has 11 warehouses scattered around the country. And one particular part they got into their main warehouse last week. They got 800 of them, and they were gone in, to the best of my knowledge, less than 12 hours. The next morning when I went onto their website to order them, it said there was zero and I called them and said, ‘Didn’t you just put them on the website yesterday?’ He said: ‘Yep. They’re all gone.’ ”

Mr. Williams, who began working at his shop in 1991, said the lack of new inventory has prompted an uptick in repairs. “I’ve never seen this many repairs,” he said.

Whereas a repair in the past could typically be completed in one to three days, it now takes seven or eight days to finish, and that’s with several mechanics working full time, he said.

Those having trouble finding a bike may just want to rent one. That’s the business Nicole Delaurentis is in.

Ms. Delaurentis, owner of East End Bike Tours, said her Mattituck-based business has had to adapt to the COVID-19 era. Guided bicycle tours of the North Fork, its breweries and vineyards has been the bedrock of the business, but it now has a new offering: private, self-guided bike tours with a digital route plan that features voice navigation for some 10 routes.

“This has really been a salvation for us,” said Ms. Delaurentis.

So, what’s the outlook for this summer season?

“Business is not what it [was] pre-COVID, obviously, but we’re doing the best that we can,” Ms. Delaurentis said. She added, “It’s hard to know what [it] will be [like] the whole season, but obviously it’s not going to be a normal season.”

Meanwhile, bike shops are doing things they never did before. In the case of Country Time Cycle, that includes ordering a pallet of gel seats to make sure it doesn’t run out of them.

“I’m 47 years old,” Mr. Williams said. “I’ll be comfortable seeing this only once in my life.”

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