Supply-Chain Challenges Saddle Bicycle Industry With Delays, Shortages

By Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.
October 15, 2021 Updated: October 19, 2021

Walk into a bicycle shop these days and chances are you may get what you need, but not necessarily what you want.

Supply-chain disruptions affecting the availability of bicycles and bike parts have prompted many stores to seek other options and products to meet demand.

“What we’ve done is we’ve really gotten into the world of, ‘What else is out there?’” said Robert Ford, general manager of Global Bikes & E-bikes in Arizona.

“I think we’re past the drama (of the pandemic). Now, it’s a question of managing what we can manage. That’s the reality now.”

While the demand for bicycles “shot through the roof” in 2020, doubling—sometimes tripling—in volume, overseas manufacturers were shutting down their production lines due to the pandemic, Ford said.

According to consumer marketing analyst NPD Group, bicycle sales in the United States jumped 57 percent from March 2020 to April of this year. U.S. bicycle sales account for $6.5 billion in sales across both large and specialty retailers, including electric bicycles, or e-bikes.

Strict COVID-19 protocols for imports have also hampered supply lines and delivery schedules, according to Ford.

A nationwide shortage of truck drivers has also contributed to the shortages due to delayed shipments and deliveries, sometimes lasting for months at a time, Ford said.

“The most immediate touchpoint is transportation—after that, it’s production,” he told The Epoch Times. “Demand has leveled off, but it is still high. Parts continue to be back-order hell.

“When the pandemic hit Asia, all those factories shut down. Many of those factories did not start back up.”

Ford said the challenge for many shops in 2020 was to figure out where bicycles were still being made and pre-order shipments accordingly, but with the expectation of longer-wait times for deliveries. Orders that would normally arrive in three months, now take six to nine months to reach bicycle showrooms. Diversification into other product brands “was the only way we could get bikes.”

Epoch Times Photo
Chuck Seppanen, lead mechanic at Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution in Arizona, works on repairing a customer’s bicycle on Oct. 12. In spite of a shortage of parts at many bicycle shops, assembly and repairs remain brisk. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

Arnold Kamler, owner of Kent Bicycles in Fairfield, New Jersey, said transportation delays—both foreign and domestic—remain a problem.

Kamler said the average cost of a shipping container of bicycles costs about $5,000 with a contract. Each container that he receives holds roughly 450 bicycles.

As a high-volume, family-owned business founded in 1972, Kent Bicycles sells an average of 3 million bikes each year. But even before the pandemic, there has been an “unbelievable shortage of truck drivers” to get those bicycles onto the sales floor, according to Kamler.

“It’s a matter of getting them” into the store, he said. “It’s better than a year ago during the pandemic when the bicycle factories shut down.

“The biggest problem is the ocean freight—though not for us. Our biggest problem is the shortage of trucks. The supply chain is clearly broken.”

Before the pandemic, Kent Bicycles used to off-load eight truck shipments per day. Now, it’s down to just one delivery, Kamler said.

Kamler believes that the solution to the global supply chain disruptions and product shortages is a “high-vaccination rate.”

“The end of the pandemic and the supply (chain) are related,” he said.

Austin Smith, general manager at Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution in Arizona, said that since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an inventory shortage of both parts and brand-name bicycles, although “some things are getting better, and some things are falling off.”

“There are a lot of variables to the broken supply chain,” Smith said. “It’s just really inconsistent. It just ebbs and flows.”

Correction: Arnold Kamler’s name was misspelled. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.