A cooped-up population without access to gyms or playgrounds is turning to a time-tested activity: Riding bicycles. Bike shops are stretching to keep up with demand for sales and repairs.
It took most of the day and stops at several bike shops, but the Dankof family of Bexley finally found what they were looking for in Clintonville: Bicycles.
“There aren’t many bikes to be had anywhere, they’re all sold out,” Danielle Dankof says. Dankof is at Johnny Velo Bikes on North High Street, where she and her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Sophie, 9, have just scored three nice bikes. And can’t wait to turn some pedals. “There’s not a lot else to do around town, and we’ll do a lot of family bike rides now,” she says.
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, bike-shop business is booming, and inventories are running low.
“We’re cranking out repairs like crazy and we can’t get [new] bikes in fast enough,” says Ric Noland, owner of Cyclist Connection in Canal Winchester.
There are several reasons for the surge in sales and repairs, says John Robinson, owner of Johnny Velo. “The first is transportation,” he says. “People don’t feel comfortable on buses and in carpools, and the only safe transportation is bikes.”
The second reason is cooped-up kids and parents desperate to find a healthy activity for them. “They can’t go to the movies or the trampoline park, all the things families normally do, so going for a bike ride is a great way for the family to do something together,” Robinson says.
The third reason is adults who crave exercise can’t go to their gyms to pump iron or take a spin or yoga class. While bike shops are considered essential businesses, gyms remain closed.
Business has doubled this April at Johnny Velo compared to a year ago, and “all our manufacturers are sold out of kids bikes,” Robinson says.
A report by Reuters found sales were up 30 percent in March at Parsippany, New Jersey-based Kent International, a large bicycle manufacturer, and more than 50 percent through April.
Indeed, Columbus-based Roll Bicycle Co. opened its fourth shop, a Dublin store, just a few weeks ago.
Back in Clintonville, a mile or so south of Johnny Velo on North High Street, the phone is ringing off the hook at Baer Wheels.
“We’re swamped,” owner Dave Baer says as he works on a bike. “I’d say it’s 50-50 between people coming in to buy a bike and people bringing in their old bikes for repairs—bikes that have been sitting in the basement for years and need a significant amount of work.”
Baer says business in April is more like business in June, the shop’s busiest month, and adds that some of his suppliers have told him this April has been their busiest month ever.
“People are getting antsy, they want to go out and do something and the [nearby Olentangy] bike path is significantly busier,” Baer says. He notes the supply chain is beginning to show signs of wear, and it’s become difficult to order new bikes and parts. Others say the same thing.Stay up to date with the region’s business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
“All the bike shops are fighting to get bikes,” Noland says.
While the number of bike sales are way up at Cyclist Connection, Noland says his profit margin remains about the same. The reason is because he’s selling mostly lower-end $200 and $300 bikes to newer cyclists, and not higher-end, more profitable $3,000 to $15,000 all-carbon road bikes to more serious cyclists.
The safety of staff and customers is a priority at bike shops. At Cyclist Connection, customers leave their bikes outside, the staff brings them inside for repairs and wash all the bikes daily. At Johnny Velo, only two customers are allowed inside at a time, everyone wears masks and there’s a hand-sanitizing station a few feet inside the entrance.
“It’s definitely a new way of doing business and a longer process,” Noland says.
He’s optimistic the surge in interest will have legs.
“We’re seeing a bike boom like we haven’t seen since the late 1970s and 1980s,” he says. “I’ve never seen bikes going out the door so fast, and I’m hoping we get a lot of people who keep riding.”
Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.