Friday Group Ride #499

Friday Group Ride #499

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.

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22 comments

  1. Scottg

    I sold my vacation/travel bike right before the lockdown, no sense in replacing it now.
    Buying some parts to finish off a couple vintage projects, but Suntour and TA
    bits aren’t stocked at your LBS.
    My LBS has sold most of its bike stock, they’re quite busy doing repairs.

  2. Michael

    I just received a custom bike two weeks ago, a steel world tourer with couplers and brazeons for racks and bikepacking. Shimano was not great about getting the parts shipped out, so that was a little difficult (but I understand folks not being in the warehouse). I am out on that as often as I can be. I decided to replace the carbon fork and handlebar on a road bike as well as replacing the drivetrain (cluster, chainrings, pulleys, etc.), which is something I would not have done if I did not anticipate some time to actually do this (and then ride it). Right now, I have a paycheck but am expecting a significant furlough starting sometime soon, as income is way down and they can’t keep paying us. But I’ll want the bikes for those furloughs. I won’t waste money on a new car (ours just developed a too-expensive-to-fix oil leak) but bikes, yes.

  3. Alanm9

    Pretty much same for me. Still bike commuting for work, still riding on weekends, so I’m still replacing parts and clothes. My wife has been riding more so we’ll be getting her a new bike soon, but there’s no rush; I think it will be months before inventory builds back up. The best news is that my LBS is slammed with repairs and upgrades which is great for them.

  4. Jeff vdD

    I hadn’t planned any bike or significant component purchases for this year, so no change there. Except for no longer riding my 1-mile each way commute (on my folding bike), my ride frequency is unchanged from prior seasons. However, because of the cancellation of events and riding solo, my distance is down. Which means I’m breaking fewer things. Which means I’m buying fewer things. But not by a lot.

    I *have* been getting some service done, and I have been buying some smaller items (brake pads, rim tape, nutrition, so I’m not completely useless to the industry.

  5. Miles Archer

    Same.

    Close to zero. Tubes and clothes. The bikes I bought 10, 20, even 30 years ago still work fine.

  6. Jim

    I was planning a weeklong tour in BC Canada but that isn’t likely to happen. Nothing has filled that void yet.

    I’m good for bikes for awhile since I have two Moots in the garage. All I need are chains, cassettes, and tires for the time being.

    1. Jeff vdD

      Good point, I was thinking about spending on bikes/parts, not spending on trips. Trip (and event) spending will likely be way down, although I’ve got a CO event in late July that I’m still hoping will happen if it can happen safely.

  7. Quentin

    No new bikes planned, but so far I’m on track to spend more on replacement parts this year than last. It’s partly timing and partly an uptick in riding.

  8. Lyford

    Probably spending less. No events, no group rides, and riding closer to home. Don’t really need any new stuff other than parts for maintenance. Also trying to be careful with spending because of general economic uncertainty.

  9. Lloyd

    I’ve been doing short, in city rides, on paths in the local parks. One of them is a 7 km loop that I can only average 20 kph on (speed limit plus a lot of kids and people who only cycle during pandemics). I had my mountain bike tuned (use it to do park loops because the added resistance helps to create some effort). I’ve been buying some small things on line: repairs tools, degreaser, lube, etc. I don’t need any new bikes. I even sold two and donated two before the shut down.

  10. Stephen Barner

    I’m no belwether on bike sales, having purchased my last new bike at retail in 1971, and, like Miles, I tend to purchase consumables long ago discontinued by my LBS, but I think it’s worth pointing out that in 1970, the second year of the bike boom, you could walk out of your local Schwinn dealer with a new mid-level bike, the Super Sport, for $125. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $832 in today’s dollars. A larger dealer might have had the top shelf Paramount in a lighted wall display for $300, which would today be just under two grand. Certainly, the quality, complexity, and performance of bicycles has increased significantly, but this should be at least partially offset by improvements in manufacturing efficiencies. A new car in 1970 cost around $23k in 2020 dollars, and did not have a computer, air bags, fuel injection, catalytic converter, or anti-lock brakes. It’s tough not to come to the conclusion that that the increased inflation in retail bicycle pricing is primarily due to boosts in supply chain markup, and we all know that dealers were left out of this.

    Over the past decade, I’ve come to the conclusion that the bicycle industry has failed the general public by not offering them affordable, quality bikes. We all know that the performance difference between an average bike, even one decades old, and a current super bike has a very small impact on the fun factor of riding. In 1970, US auto manufacturers were developing some of the largest, least efficient cars ever made, along with smaller, less pofitable models intended to fill a market segment with product that slick salesmen and marketers would try their darndest to move the customer away from. Meanwhile, German engineers were designing the VW Rabbit, and the Japanese had a large number of affordable, small vehicles on their drawing boards: quality, fun-driving cars for which low-cost was only part of the attraction. History is clear on how that battle came out.

    If the public is to be best served, manufacturers will find a way to fill LBSs with sub-thousand dollar bikes that stress quality over features. They will be fully serviceable, with sealed bearings throughout, and components that are highly interchangeable and modularly replaceable with other components over at least a 10-year design span. No more manufacturer-specific frame interfaces, at least at this level. Put out a quality bike that anyone would enjoy riding, and structure the pricing so the dealer can make a decent margin. Keep replacement parts affordable and available, so that people will enjoy riding them for years to come, and not give up on the sport after paying for their first major service. I believe customers will appreciate dealers who find ways to keep cycling affordable while also profitable, and a few quality, commodity models that are reasonably light, rugged, fun to ride, and not intended to serve only as loss-leaders will go a long way to helping dealers achieve this goal.

    1. Lyford

      Yup. The “next step up from big-box bikes” market is important.

      You’ve also got to figure out how to get those folks in the store. There are an awful lot of adults out there whose last ride was on a clunky bike that didn’t fit properly, and had a rusty chain and dubious brakes and gears that didn’t work properly. It may not have been much fun, and their memory of bicycling is not positive. How do you change that?

      One approach might be more demo days. That’s a huge selling tool with kayaks. Small shops can’t afford the inventory or manpower, so every year manufacturer reps and their trailers full of toys tour the country to give customers an opportunity to try without sales pressure.

      More rider education might help. Sure, “everyone knows how to ride a bike”, but studies report than one of the big reasons more women don’t ride is that they feel unsure or unsafe on a bicycle. If you want to grow underrepresented markets you have to meet people where they are and address their concerns.

      On a different note, I wonder if we enthusiasts inadvertently do the sport a disservice by always going out in the full spandex(guilty!) and making that the default image of a bicycle rider. Many people have a hard time picturing themselves looking like that. In contrast, someone commented about the Netherlands: “I didn’t see any cyclists — just lots of ordinary people on bicycles.”

    2. Dirke

      So well said Mr. Barner.

      I haven’t been in the game as long as you but completely share the sentiment. Maybe Schwinn was the closest to this ideal during my lifetime, but we know how that ended.

      Where is the Volvo 240 series of bikes? Quality engineered once and then amortized over 20 years. If this came out tomorrow with technology currently available, I would guess you could have a 20 year run of a few models and acheive the ideal of which you speak. But I didn’t go to business school.

  11. Spencer Scoville

    Lbs is busy inventory down. Planning a custom build this spring that is now going to wait with job uncertainty. Will likely buy my son a new race bike as he is riding his sisters. Will travel and spend on repairs with current NICA season if it happens.

  12. David

    i’m retired US Military living in rural North Texas. My county of 28,000 has had 7 total reported confirmed cases of COVID19. I ride on rural roads and rarely encounter a car, much less another person. My riding has been unaffected by the pandemic. I’m in the queue to get a custom steel bike built by a master craftsman here in the US. Other than this, my spending is unaffected.

  13. Neil Winkelmann

    Checked stocks in the bike shed. Re-upped on a couple of cassettes and a few chains. Tyres, tubes, brake-pads, all good to go. I’m good for the foreseeable future, even if I need to go back to my second-newest bike.

    Delaying any strategic spending for now. With all my events cancelled or delayed, I’m in a holding pattern.

  14. Mike Brown

    I’ve seen a huge increase in cyclist activity here. Young and old. Good weather with lockdown free time has brought this on. I think the vehicle operator awareness of cyclists here is high so both groups can use the roads safely. And this is key. Many use only their mtb on the trails cuz of no cars to compete with. Giving up on road cycling.
    LBS said all of his suppliers are out of $1,000 (and under) bicycles.

  15. TominAlbany

    Same.

    My habits haven’t changed nor have those of the rest of my family. That said, I’m not buying accessories right now, to conserve cash. Consumables, I’ve been replacing.

  16. Hemanth Shenoi

    I don’t plan to increase bike related spending, but will probably decrease just to be safe. My employment is gonna be fine, but my wife’s employer is implementing a 15% paycut for her and her colleagues through at least June. We’ll make it, but that makes me think twice about a set of long lusted after Campagnolo Boras.

    That said, in 2019 I did put a deposit down on a custom steel frame from a one-man shop. The builder is older and I’m not sure how long he is going to be around. I had one of his fine machines in 2003, but foolishly sold it. The chance to have a new one with a better fit to my now aging back was worth it. But I had not planned on this happening until later this year or maybe 2021. He called me a month ago saying cancellations in front of me now made it my turn.

    I have the cash right now, but the thought of sending that check in this age of uncertain cash flow does make me nervous. I’ll do it as he needs to eat too, but other major cycling things will most certainly be delayed or abandoned for the rest of 2020

  17. Tom Aguirre

    At 73, I’m finding out I can’t ride as many miles as I use to, although for my age I am fortunate to have zero issues with knees, joints and musculature. Recovery takes longer! I also play golf and walk/hike, so along with gym work for the upper body, my exercise regimen is a full plate, especially when the weather is nice in the Pacific NW. I enjoyed a 25 year career in the bike biz, which included eight and a half years at Specialized and 6 years as a LBS owner. The last new bike I bought was a 2007 Specialized Tarmac Expert from a LBS. Along with a 1989 Specialized RockCombo which I rebuilt with a Shimano drivetrain, I can cover road and gravel venues. In my 47 years of cycling I’ve done almost no mountain biking. I never bought the lightest and most expensive machine because in my opinion the cost difference wasn’t justified by a requisite amount of improved performance. As well at my age, there is nothing mechanical or nutritional that will reincarnate the speed of my youth. I will likely purchase at some point an aluminum framed Specialized Diverge in a price point between 2K & 2.5K. One of the main reasons for doing so is that a lighter bike will be easier to roof rack than the 29 lb RockCombo.

    During the pandemic I have never seen as many bikes being ridden in our area as is the case now. I live in a kind of cycling paradise with a world class Mountain Bike Park (Duthie Hill) less than a mile away. There are also a large number of scenic road routes and for gravel enthusiasts, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail which is a link in a trail system of well over two hundred miles. Even so, before the pandemic, many streets were plied with many more SUV’s than bikes. Shops are very busy with repairs. I have done some safety checks and minor tune ups for a few neighbors at no charge if for no other reason than my own peace of mind that someone, especially a kid won’t take a tumble due to a bad tire casing, lack of brakes or some other issue. A number of the kids bikes in our neighborhood are from quality brands and I have been impressed with how well they have survived even with almost zero maintenance.

    I am hopeful that the resurgence in cycling will continue in our area, The bicycle is a beautiful machine. Like other posters, I believe the key to this is quality at affordable prices. When I lived in France as a teenager, I was impressed by the village culture. If a car was owned, often it stayed in the garage during the week and was used only on weekends for out of town excursions. Workweek transport was walking, cycling or mopeds. I would like to see more if that in our country and a number of neighbors I talk to are appreciating the slower pace of life forced by the pandemic. There might be a silver lining in this after all, and it could be as simple as the glint of a chain doing its work on a drivetrain.

  18. Dan Murphy

    I bought a new bike in ’16, and that’s it for me.
    My wife is 64 and kinda needs a new bike. Her current bike is from ’09 and a flat-bar bike with a better fit would do her well. I met a guy last fall that is building up a frame as we speak, er, write.
    Bike related purchases will stay the same – just consumables. We’re retired and are careful with our spending,

    Swung by my LBS just yesterday and he’s pretty much out of bikes. The small store would normally be packed with cartons and bikes, but not much there now. Absolutely jammed with repairs, though.

    There’s a lot of riders out there! Normally at mid-day, I rarely see anybody, but I see a lot more now. Good to see.

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