We are transitioning to a brighter future as the deadly COVID-19 crisis loosens its grip, with more people being inoculated each day. But the path forward is still far from certain. There are many questions around local transportation as we become freer to move about, socialize, and engage in more activities that we took for granted prior to the pandemic shutdown. Will locals go back to their pre-COVID transportation behavior? Can the bike boom be sustained with the potential headwinds of a prolonged shortage of bikes and cycling equipment, more traffic on the road, and more alternative options for exercise, socializing, and family time as COVID restrictions are lifted?
The bike boom has been evident here in Santa Cruz County, with historic bike sale increases, near traffic jams of bikes on the local dirt trails, more families pedaling in their neighborhoods to give cooped up kids some fresh air and exercise, and an explosion of e-bikes, which give new populations the chance to get out and ride. According to aggregated data from Strava – a popular bike fitness app – recreational bike trips in Santa Cruz County in 2020 were up a whopping 42% compared to 2019. According to the same data, there was also an 11% increase in the number of bike riders over the same time period. Bike commuter trips, however, were down compared to 2019, as many people were working from home.
According to local sales tax data, by the fall of 2020, sporting goods sales had increased 109% over fall 2019. Bikes and bike equipment are a part of this doubling of sales. Most bike shops simply cannot build bikes fast enough to keep up with surging demand. COVID-19 has created a perfect storm by getting more people on bikes while simultaneously slowing manufacturing due to health-related restrictions in factories and driving up costs and lead times for raw materials, components, and shipping. As demand has increased, supply has been and continues to be constrained as the bike industry tries to catch up. Some riders have been waiting several months for new bikes and parts.
The constraints and delays on bikes and parts are predicted by industry insiders to last well into 2022. So, just like we have had to practice a new level of patience due to the COVID-19-related restrictions on so much of our lives, we need a bit more Zen when shopping for bikes and supplies. One popular local bike manufacturer has asked bike shops not to take down payments – as it drives too much expectation – and advise consumers to not sell their current bikes before getting a new one. This is opposite of the instant gratification from one-click shopping that Amazon has cultivated.
Local bike shops have fared better than some other types of businesses, as they were designated essential services, and their products are in high demand. However, they have also had to adjust to COVID-19 safety guidelines, meet increased demand, and face a shortage of able mechanics. Supply limitations have also changed how they order, stock, and meet consumer demand. They are continually adjusting to a dynamic and uncharted market.
Santa Cruz County is lucky to have many high-quality bike shops that are staffed by knowledgeable and passionate employees. Their dedication to biking is evident in their eagerness to help customers navigate the world of bikes, parts, and accessories. You cannot go for a test ride or have shop staff evaluate your riding position when shopping online. The shop I’ve been going to for some twenty plus years has some of the same mechanics and owners since I started visiting them. The more you shop and get to know the bike shop staff, the more they get to know you and your needs. Local bike shops are part of the community bike fabric that will help sustain us as we move into a new post-COVID life – hopefully with a lot more bikes and riders!