Early into the pandemic bicycles were hard to come by. Many retail stores had empty shelves and long wait times before new inventory would hit the floor. But what about now? Is the frenzy over? The short answer: It depends what you’re looking for.
During a typical September, Campus Cycles would have nearly 350 bikes available and the service department would be turning around orders in about a week to a week-and-a-half. This September, however, the Denver-based cycling store only has about 80 bikes available and the service department is scheduling two-and-a-half weeks out, says owner Michael Bower. (Earlier this summer, the service department was five to six weeks out.)
Bower describes this year as “unprecedented,” adding the bicycle market is similar to the buying craze with toilet paper we all experienced earlier this year. While the bicycle market has slightly slowed down from April, May, and June, Bower says inventory may not fully recover until late next year or early 2022.
“Because of COVID-19, the industry as a whole sold over a year’s worth of bikes in the first four and a half to five months of this year,” Bower says. “It caught us off guard as bike shops, it caught bike manufacturers off guard, and caught parts manufacturers off guard.”
The Pro’s Closet, a Boulder-based company selling used bicycles, had 1,000 bikes for sale when COVID-19 hit, says Matt Heitmann, the chief marketing officer. While TPC’s inventory is still stable, sitting at 600 bikes, the company is selling through its inventory in 12 to 13 days. Before the pandemic hit, TPC’s inventory would sell out in 20 days, Heitmann says.
While it’s still possible to find bikes at retail stores, the inventory isn’t as vast as it used to be, and many bikes sell online before making it to the showroom floor. The supply and demand largely depends on the type of bike you’re looking for and the amount of money you’re willing to spend. Bower says he’s receiving one or two bikes per week in the $500–$1,200 price range, but has more inventory for bikes priced at $2,500 and above. “What I would tell people is if you’re interested in a bicycle, if there’s something that you want, I would do my investigation right now. I would make plans right now,” he says. When it comes to mountain bikes, Bower says he won’t get them in until next April, yet he has several people paying deposits to reserve one.
The shortage of supply in retail stores has led many consumers to look for used or preowned bikes on websites like Craig’s List, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace. According to a fielded survey from PeopleForBikes—a nonprofit cycling organization based in Boulder—six percent of people who purchased a bike before March 1 (pre-COVID-19) did so from a private party, such as a neighbor or online marketplace. That number doubled to 12 percent between March 1 and September 1. “We have seen more folks turn to the used market and the private-sale market than in previous years, but it’s certainly not the majority,” says Patrick Hogan, bicycle industry research manager at PeopleForBikes. “But we are seeing some supply be supplemented by that market.”
Sloan Lake resident Phil Heyer has been buying and selling bicycles online since 2016. Heyer says pre-COVID-19, a mid-range bicycle would take several months or a full year to sell on eBay. This year, he’s selling them in a matter of days. Heyer has sold four road bikes and five bike frames since April, but now finds himself on a six-month search for a new mountain bike.
Kate Agathon, a Golden resident and cyclist, has been buying and selling bicycles since 2012. Three years ago, Agathon sold a full-suspension mountain bike that retails for $3,500 for $1,200. If she sold that bike this year, it would have gone for $3,000, she says. “That’s what made this year so unusual. You could sell bikes for unheard of prices,” Agathon says. Additionally, Agathon has been getting inquiries from people out-of-state, something she says hasn’t happened before.
Several Denverites are using this hot bicycle market as a side gig. Central Park resident John Reeves, who has worked primarily as a nurse for the last four years, has been buying and selling items online for years. When he was placed on a mandatory furlough, he shifted his focus to selling bicycles. “When I went on furlough, I noticed the prices of bikes were going up and supply was going way down,” he says. “So, I just started buying as many as I could. And it’s been kind of crazy.” Reeves says he’s sold nearly 100 bicycles since April and typical offers them for 20 to 40 percent more than the listed price on Bicycle Blue Book. Prices on Bicycle Blue Book are based on “predictable supply and demand and stable markets,” Reeves says. “And with bikes, it hasn’t been predictable supply and demand at all and the market has been completely unstable.”
While it’s hard to track the private-sale market, it’s apparent that the demand is still there, and bicycles are still a hot commodity. Hogan, with PeopleForBikes, says he doesn’t think demand will slow down much this year. “I think the demand is still there. I think independent bike dealers will have to get creative with how they meet that demand,” Hogan says. “We will still see demand in November and December when parents are looking for bikes to give their kids for Christmas and that sort of stuff. I’m not totally sure if the industry will be able to meet that supply as they had in previous years.”