Why there's a shortage of bikes, and how you can make yours last longer
With bikes hard to come by -- parts and accessories, too -- there is no better time to make friends with your local bike shop.
Unfortunately, a survey of five bike shops recommended by bike advocates across the metro area confirmed what I learned at the Feb. 10-11 CABDA Expo (originally Chicago Area Bicycle Dealers Association) -- low bike inventory will remain an issue through 2021.
Jay Townley, U.S. cycling industry consultant, noted that many dealers have a 10- to 12-month lead time for delivery of bike orders placed now. The 2020 shutdown depleted inventory with a huge surge in sales of all bikes, up 65% over 2019 totals, according to market research firm NPD Group. With China as the world's leading bike and component maker, the bike industry also suffers the same supply chain problems as others -- not enough shipping containers delivering product across the Pacific.
Besides sales out the roof last year, shop owners experienced a massive increase in tuneups and repairs. CABDA Expo organizer, James Kersten, remarked that bike dealers have "fixed more broken bikes than we ever had in the past."
While the outlook for new bikes is low, now is the time to develop a relationship with a local dealer who makes a living selling and fixing bikes. Don't wait until Mother Nature smiles. You'll be just another unfamiliar face hoping to order a bike or get yours repaired.
Best time to make friends?
Don't despair, but all five shops suggested the winter months. Rich Dziedzic, of Richards Bicycles in Palos Heights, sums it up: "Once the weather gets warmer, it gets busy fast."
Notes Cory Madsen at The Bike Haven in McHenry: "By the time February ends and the temperatures begin to rise, we see a large number of people bringing their bicycles for the yearly tuneup. Those who use the colder months are ready to ride when warmer weather arrives!"
Wheel & Sprocket's David Fletcher in Oak Park advises: "Bike shops are a lot like ice cream shops, quite slow through winter, very busy through summer. We are already a few weeks out on full services since the weather has started warming up. For next year, fall/winter is a great time to get your bike serviced."
Lorna Pecora at Villa Park's J & R Cycle, echoes that idea of servicing your bike, "when you are done riding each year. Put your bike away tuned up. It will be ready for those first nice spring days. After all, you don't wait to have your snowblower fixed a few days before the big snowstorm."
Local shop vs. big box store?
Why deal with a local bike shop at all? Kevin Stephens, at La Grange Park's The Wheel Thing, summarizes the shops' responses: "Bikes, as well as parts and accessories, from big box stores are manufactured to meet a certain price point only, not to provide a quality product. Most likely they are built by someone not experienced with bicycle mechanics."
Madsen spins it positively: "With a shop, you not only buy the bike, you buy the shop, too! Service level and attention to detail are unmatched because this is what we do. If the big box store is where you end up, be sure to have a local shop look it over."
Dziedzic at Richard's Bicycles adds: "All bikes will need some service after purchase. Big box stores don't offer that."
I can't agree more. At the time I bought my 2010 Trek road bike, it was the most expensive leisure/fitness item I'd ever purchased. Averaged over 10 years and 24,000-plus miles of road cycling, however, reliability alone has made it well worth the price. I expect at least another 10 years of dependability.
How to pick a bike shop?
"Picking a shop should be less about price and more about feel," according to Peter and Tracy Flucke, biking columnists for the Press Times in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and co-authors of "Coast to Coast on a Tandem." "Think of it more like the relationship with your doctor and less like the one with a car dealership."
The Bike Haven's Madsen agrees. "I would want to feel comfortable with the staff and make sure they listened to my needs," Madsen said. "A bicycle is an investment. It should be one that you are happy with for years to come! See what the shop offers with a new bike purchase and listen to your gut. A good shop is going to hear your concerns and help you make the best decision possible, regardless of your budget."
"The bike industry can be intimidating and confusing with lots of jargon and an overwhelming number of choices," says Wheel & Sprocket's Fletcher. "A good shop should make you feel welcome regardless of your cycling background. We talk to our staff often about being 'bike translators.' We are here to translate the jargon and guide you through picking a new bike or making decisions on servicing a bike you already have."
Pecora of J & R Cycle adds, "I think many people would want to pick a shop that is close to where they live or work. Check reviews of the store and what people are saying."
Shutdown no match for women riders
Despite the shutdown, riders in the second annual International Women's Day Together We Ride event increased more than fivefold with its virtual March 6-8 ride. Thirty states and 11 countries were represented, with 750 riders, up from 140 in 2020. Countries included Australia, Dubai, England, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago -- seven more than 2020.
Organizer and founder Dawn Piech of Lombard was delighted with the turnout and the show of support across the country, not to mention the globe.
"I was astonished by the involvement, despite the pandemic. Thanks to all who rode for equality, inclusion and empowerment of women and girls all over the world. This bike movement, celebrating the 110th anniversary of International Women's Day, pledges to challenge inequity, call out bias, question stereotypes and address all forms of gender inequality," said Piech.
Sharing the road
On Thursday, April 15, Ride Illinois hosts the free webinar, "What You Need to Know About E-bikes," by e-bike enthusiast and retailer Sharon Kaminecki. You can learn their pros and cons, various e-bike classes and technologies, and their legal status. Register at Ride Illinois to find out. To register, visit https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Zru3Cc8vRtK-AoijZfXudw.
• Do you have a bike shop story you'd like to share? Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at email@example.com.