Bike shops, deemed essential businesses under Gov. Larry Hogan’s orders, are experiencing surges in demand for both bicycle sales and tune-ups. But they’re also starting to become short on inventory, as bike manufacturers worldwide slow down production due to the virus.
Tom Rinker, owner of The Bicycle Escape on Wormans Mill Drive, said he has had to limit the amount of people in the store at a time as a precaution as the store is gaining a lot of customers.
The demand means Rinker has been able to keep all of his employees working and he hasn’t had to apply for any government assistance yet, although he did try during one week when his business slowed down considerably.
“After Hogan’s second announcement, we had a week that was very scary for us,” Rinker said. “Our business just dropped to the point where... we’re not going to be able to pay rent, or we’re going to have to make some huge changes here.”
But with the increased demand for bikes, Rinker hasn’t been able to maintain his inventory.
“How do we manage inventory with huge shortages? That’s taken some creativity and has been stressful,” Rinker said. “That’s one of the things, one of the common things I’ve heard from other business owners, many of whom are bicycle shop owners.”
Tom Peperone, owner of Wheel Base on Market Street, has experienced delays with his inventory arriving, too, with about 80 bikes currently on back order. Most of his bikes come from China.
“And China was shut down for a month because of the virus, so there’s a big shortage on new bikes,” Peperone said. “Even Walmart and all those stores are sold out of bikes.”
The lack of bikes at big-box stores have driven more customers to ReCycle Bikes, Matthew Fox’s Carroll Street store, which sells used bikes. Fox fixes the bikes up himself and also offers tune-up services as well.
Fox only opened his store last year and doesn’t have any employees. He wishes he had somebody to help him out now, but had no way of knowing how busy it was going to get.
For most of his inventory, Fox relies on trade-ins, where people either sell their bikes directly to him for cash or trade them in for store credit. By this time last year, Fox said, he had about 100 trade-ins. But since the beginning of 2020, he’s only had about 10.
He sometimes looks at Craigstlist and Facebook Marketplace to find bikes to fix up and sell.
“Because the demand is so high and everybody’s looking for them, they tend to get scooped up very quickly,” Fox said.
All bike shop owners said with so many people being cooped up at home and with the gyms closed, they’re looking for a way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise in one.
It’s also appealing for parents, who can use biking as an outlet for their kids.
“We’re almost out of kids’ bikes,” Peperone said.
That desire to get out and biking is also boosting the amount of repairs and tune-ups the shops are taking in. Rinker said many people are coming in with bikes they haven’t ridden in years, hoping to get them back in a rideable shape.
“So we’ve seen a lot of those riders, we’ve fixed a lot of mid-90s bicycles that haven’t been touched in a decade,” Rinker said. “That’s fun, it’s nice to see people getting exposed to, and excited for riding.”
While the increased business is better than no business, the shop owners are stressed and apprehensive. Peperone fears for the economy in the coming months, with the unemployment rate the highest it’s been since the Great Depression.
“It’s going to be really, really bad,” Peperone said. “No one’s going to have any money to spend.”
Fox is thankful for the high demand, but as a new business with no employees, he’s starting to feel overwhelmed.
“As good as it’s been for bike shops, it’s also been very stressful,” Fox said. “I’m going to be happy to see things turn around and get back to normal here.”