Have you been getting frustrated with your local and online bicycle stores being out of stock of that really cool latest Fox suspension fork you want, or that latest greatest dream bike with the dream build in the perfect color in your size? Cyclists all around the world are experiencing the same frustrations and no bike shop is immune to this problem. Read on to learn a little more about what has caused this unprecedented situation, when it might end, what bicycle shops are trying to do about it, and how you can best survive these shortages.
As we all know, the global COVID-19 pandemic has directly resulted in many countries around the world taking drastic actions to reduce the spread of the disease. These actions included extended lock-downs in house, closure of many bars, cafes, and restaurants, social isolation, and mask wearing amongst other measures. In many parts of the world the lock-down meant complete closure of ports and manufacturing, and even 18 months later few ports or factories are operating at full capacity. The obvious result of this for the bicycle industry, both mountain biking and road cycling, was a drastic reduction in supply of parts and bicycles. This was first caused by the closed factories and ports, but secondly as those slowly got back up to speed, they caused production bottlenecks (because a bike is made of parts manufactured around the world, if even one part does not arrive then the bicycle can't be shipped, further delaying reduced production levels). As ports slowly came back online at reduced capacity (reduced because many had cut staff thinking that COVID would mean financial ruin as the economy ground to a halt) then shipping times were drastically extended, resulting in even more production bottlenecks (because parts were delayed) and finally delivery delays in trying to ship the finished product to the importer, or even around the country.
Most governments, understanding the psychological and physical toll of the strict lock-down and social distancing and social isolation measures allowed some more relaxed rules for exercise and fresh air providing you remained socially isolated. Being able to get out of the house legitimately was embraced by the general public, people jumped on bicycles, threw on their running shoes and got their sweat on in the glorious (socially distance) fresh air. Cycling and running stores around the country were bombarded with orders for new bikes, parts to fix old bikes, new shoes and more. This massive uptick in demand (most of it online shopping) emptied shelves in physical and online stores of bikes, accessories, and parts. Stores tried to restock and order from Wholesalers and Importers but those suppliers quickly ran out of product as well. Wholesalers and Importers place orders with suppliers who place orders with Manufacturers, and at each stage of the process there are more delays and uncertainties over when (or if) things will arrive.
Some of the constraints are quite comical, with so many people in lock-down many people turned to purchasing more things online, this boom in online purchasing further overwhelmed in-country delivery systems like the postal service and couriers, causing yet more delays. The demand for online goods to be sent to people's homes got so high that many countries experience a nationwide cardboard carton shortage. Laughably some people ordering bikes couldn't get them because there were no cardboard boxes to put them in to ship them to the shop! The bikes were finally ready in the Suppliers warehouse but simply couldn't be shipped.
Ludicrous Lead times.
As these combined impacts spread throughout the supply chain some items critical to bicycles became so high in demand, and so low in production capacity that supply lead times stretched out to more than a year. Some bike suppliers were finding they couldn't ship bikes because they were needing to wait a year or more for a simple part like a bike seat. With so many uncertainties in supply times for so many components from so many parts of the world for one bicycle it is no wonder that lead times for new models have stretched further and further, sometimes literally to the point of suppliers having to say "we don't know when we can deliver x or y model".
An Electrical Problem.
Now if you think this problem is bad for a standard pedal powered bicycle or mountain bike, wait until you throw in the complication of an electric bicycle. With a motor and controller onboard obviously more parts required from all around the world, but in particular computer chips required and if there is one thing that is in short supply for every industry involving electronics at the moment ... it is computer chips. From cars to fridges to Tvs to watches to, yes, ebikes, the world-wide shortage of computer chips is further stretching out lead times on a vast array of products. Oh, and if you were just thinking that increasing capacity at factories might be a good answer for all these shortages... well, expanding capacity in modern factories requires a lot of ... computer chips, which are in exceedingly short supply.
When Might it All end?
Optimistically we might hope that this situation is short term and going to go away soon. However there are many reasons why this probably is not the case. In fact we may well be looking at these shortages extending out over several more years. In the worst case these shortages may actually get even worse stretching lead times further and further out. The key factors that will determine this are vaccination rates in different countries, herd immunity levels, and the rate of proliferation of new variations of COVID. These factors intertwine to determine whether governments are able to lift lock-down rules or not, as this whether factories can function at full capacity. As previously described this is not simply a matter of lock-down rules being lifted in one country, as most bicycles and many parts and accessories rely on supply chains spread across multiple countries. When a country like China suffers a resurgence of a new variation of COVID (like the current surge in the Delta variety) and implements draconian lock-down rules then this puts the brakes on production around the world that relies on components and parts made in China. Even if increasingly strict lock-down rules in a country only slow production the effect will be felt further down the supply and manufacture chain.
How does all this affect me?
Assuming that the world-wide supply shortage will not magically disappear anytime soon what can we do to continue to feed our cycling or mountain biking habit? Pre-COVID consumers were accustomed to walking into stores and being faced with an overwhelmingly broad selection of bikes, parts and accessories, often times discounted on a regular basis and with the ability to purchase what they wanted then and there and walk out of the store with a new mountain bike that met their needs. Competition between physical stores and online stores often meant substantial discounts were available, especially at the end of production model years as stores tried to clear space of unsold inventory before the next years' models arrived. Those days are almost certainly over for the foreseeable future. In fact increased lead-times and pressure on freight routes have also lead to industry wide price rises with many brands having to increase prices by 10% or more each year. While stores will have some stock on the floor (in limited sizes, color options, or component levels), they will be less inclined to offer sizeable "real" discounts as demand has outstripped supply. These shortages have then also put pressure on the used bicycle market with used bicycle prices nudging up much closer to the price of new bikes, even though they don't have a guarantee or that new bike smell.
Discerning customers will often find they are going to have to pre-order their dream bike as the particular size, color, model and component level is simply sold-out. Depending on the brand the lead-time on the bike of your dreams might easily be 6-9 months. Take a look at Gravity Nelson's current bike and frame inventory and you will quickly see how many models are sold out and how many need to be preordered. Failing to plan this far in advance will see consumers missing out as an increasing proportion of the bikes being shipped to markets will be pre-sold this way meaning online and physical shops will only very rarely have excess stock, and once it is put up for sale it is likely to sell fast. Consumers will have much less time to shop around for deals or compare prices as bikes will be snapped up off the floor rapidly. We are already hearing many stories about customers finding a bike they want, going home to get their spouses permission and returning the next day to the store only to find the bike has already been sold. The problem extends to parts and accessories as well, with many importers getting smaller allocations of items than they wanted and stock selling out super fast. The increase in demand for whole bikes has also seen many components sell all their stock to OEM manufacturers to put on bikes, leaving little or nothing left over for retail stores to sell to end-users. A case in point is suspension products, if you have a look at Gravity Nelson's current suspension inventory (which includes inventory in our shop and in the Importers and wholesalers) you will see how many products are marked out of stock or pre-order only. This then restricts the ability of customers to hold off buying a new bike and instead simply do some small upgrades to the one they have... as they can't get components to do the upgrade.
Woe is me, what can I do?
In a nutshell, the main thing consumers need to do is to start planning further in advance for upgrades to their bikes or equipment, or for their next bike purchase. Building a relationship with a knowledgeable shop which can keep you up to date on upcoming model releases and likely timeframes will enable the consumer to plan ahead and pre-purchase a bike or component well in advance of it even loading into a container for shipping. While delivery schedules may still be delayed this at least gives you the confidence that you are in the queue for your bike or part, and that you will be next cab off the rack, when the product finally arrives in country. Ordering so far in advance also has the advantage of giving you time to save up for the purchase, with most stores requiring only a deposit to pre-order. One slight silver lining we are seeing for people pre-ordering bikes is that they will get a good price for their old bike when they sell it. Used bike prices have risen considerably because of the bicycle shortage, with many people claiming they have sold their 18 month old used bicycle which was purchased pre-COVID for more than they bought it for! Getting a good price for selling your used bike may make some of the upcoming increases in prices of new bikes a bit more palatable. However, don't make the mistake of selling your bike before you know you have a replacement... or you could be left waiting a long time without a bicycle.
If you are interested in learning even more about these bike and bike part shortages you could pop over to Youtube and watch a great interview with the CEO of Santa Cruz Bicycles discussing the same topic.