2019 was not the best year in the US bike business. Combing through import and sell through numbers gives only a partial picture of what happened, but by and large it looked like this. High end road bike sales cratered. In fact, drop bar bike sales fell across the price ranges. The only growth categories were eBikes (easy to grow from a position of low market penetration) and full suspension mountain bikes. Even gravel, the industry’s previous “savior” category was down. My best guess, based on available statistics, published revenues, and anecdotal info from a wide array of shops, is that most LBSs were down around 10%.
What I heard from the shops I work with was that they committed fewer dollars to bulk orders and depended more on manufacturer inventory to fill customer needs. That led to longer leadtimes for bikes across the spectrum. Did longer leadtimes (or any leadtime at all) suppress demand? At the same time, tariffs on Chinese imports drove up the price of the lion’s share of products you might find in your local bike shop by as much as 25%. We know that higher prices will exert downward pressure on demand. If it takes longer and costs more, maybe that explains a lot.
There is something going on culturally as well. I don’t have any numbers at all for this, but my observation is that American cycling lacked an animating idea in 2019. Interest in eBikes almost qualified, but like the gravel wave that preceded it, the eBike uptick wasn’t big enough to carry most LBSs on its own. Think of the ten-speed boom of the ’70s, BMX in the ’80s, or even the road bike fad fueled by US Postal and he whose name we shall not mention. Each of those movements animated bike buyers and drove the industry forward. We lack that now, and gravel, which showed so much promise, has just not proven to be as big or as durable as the preceding movements.
That brings us to 2020. What’s to say? Most of the shop owners I know are taking in service work in a controlled and limited way, but new bike sales are massively challenged by an inability to have customers in store or out on test rides. Many of the Chinese factories that produce parts went through a slowdown if not an outright period of closure, so supply chains are thin on product and sometimes fractured. From the inside looking out, the viewing is grim.
Now here’s the good news. People are riding their bikes. They’re everywhere. Hybrids and kids’ bikes and roadies and all the rest. All. Day. Long. It didn’t take a lot of sheltering in place before people remembered they had a bike hanging in their garage/basement/living room, and while they’re mostly wearing masks where I live, they’re riding and remembering what they liked about it, and that creates new, pent-up demand. Quite whether the economy will support that demand with liquid, discretionary dollars down the road remains to be seen, but any scenario that has more people riding probably has a good outcome at some point, right?
This week’s Group Ride asks a simple question. What has the current crisis done to your own bike spending? Will you spend more as a result of having more time on your hands for riding? Will you spend the same, because you were already riding as much as you wanted to? Or will you spend less because the economy is uncertain and/or you don’t have access to the products you would most likely buy? You don’t even have to give a reason for your answer MORE/SAME/LESS. I’m just curious what you’re thinking you’ll do.