Want a cheap hybrid to ride to work, or a mountain bike so you can hit the trails? Wondering why it's taking months for a groupset to arrive? Welcome to THE BICYCLE APOCALYPSE.
Yes, as with the death of the music festival and the rise of boutique hand sanitiser, COVID-19 was the catalyst.
When the lock-downs began, how could people still get some exercise and fresh air if gyms were closed and team sports cancelled? Millions of people suddenly realised the solution: cycling.
Those working from home decided to go mountain biking instead of wrestling with Zoom. ("Er.... my laptop camera is broken.") Families bought fleets of bikes so they could escape their four walls and not kill each other. Even more people dragged neglected steeds out of sheds for servicing (even if the spiders living inside the frames had other ideas), leading to the first-ever industry-wide shortage of 26" tyres and tubes.
Data spikes worldwide showed a sudden upsweep in bike path and trail use, including a 200% increase in Adelaide, 270% in Melbourne, and an impressive 300% for Perth.
Due to this collective mind-meld, global sales of bikes and bike components went through the roof. Many bike shops had people lining up around the block -- some of those shops also tried to claim rent reductions while simultaneously boasting to local media about their record-breaking profits, but that's another story -- while service work blew out to weeks and weeks of waiting time. (Novel to some, business as usual for us. But we digress.)
It would be, if COVID-19 hadn't also hit the supply chain.
Most of the world's bikes and bike parts are made in China and Taiwan. As the virus took over in Asia (also coinciding with the Lunar New Year holiday), factories shut down to try and control the spread.
In short, the demand for bikes was skyrocketing, but production had ground to a halt. The stage was thusly set for The What Do You Mean You've Run Out Of Kids' Bikes Apocalypse.
At first, it was just a rumbling on the horizon about shortages on cheap hybrid bikes. Soon, however, the shortages started spreading to other categories -- mountain bikes, gravel bikes, road bikes, ebikes. People were taking anything they could get their hands on, even going above their original budgets, simply because they didn't have a choice.
The big problem was that stores couldn't get more bikes to replace the ones sold. People were frustrated. Tempers were frayed. Security guards were employed. Blood started running out of the taps.
The question that everyone had was: where were all the bikes? And why couldn't shops simply order more? Well, it's not that simple, unfortunately.
Although the majority of factories have since reopened, many were -- and are still -- not operating at full capacity. Most were shut for an average of three months, thereby losing a quarter of the year's production run, even before the demands of the bike boom were accounted for.
This is especially bad considering the fact that in pre-COVID times, a number of component factories operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week just to try to keep up with the traditional demand.
Compounding this, many factory staff from other countries have also not returned to work, for myriad reasons.
You can imagine how far behind the factories are now after an extended period of closure while still not operating at full capacity plus dealing with the increased demand -- the lead times just get pushed further and further out.
Basically: major interruption + reduced capacity = fewer bikes/components + taking longer to reach the market.
When a major brand is faced with a world-wide cycling boom, they'll respond by increasing their bike orders to keep up with projected and current demand, sometimes pushing forecast orders out by two or three years. For a component manufacturer like Shimano, the number-one priority is getting their components onto these bikes. As a result, after-market component sales -- already a small market compared to bicycle sales -- have been pushed way down the ladder. Wondering why it's taking months to get the shifters to finish off your gravel bike build? That's why.
(Don't worry; it's not just you -- we're still waiting on groupsets we ordered late last year.)
The lockdown-born surge in online shopping -- and resulting deliveries -- has meant that cargo and logistics companies are suddenly dealing with a tsunami of goods being loaded, shipped, flown, you name it. Freight costs have gone through the roof. Importers are being hit with congestion charges from ports. (Hello, $1000 per container.) Couple this with reduced staffing and the occasional momentous snafu, and you get delays, delays, and more delays.
(On the plus side, at least we're not in the UK, where Brexit is adding huge import/exports complications on top of everything else COVID-related. Hey, you've got to find a silver lining somewhere.)
In the global scheme of things, the Australian bicycle market is a mere drop in the ocean. We've seen this over the years with smaller boutique bike brands, where the US and Europe get the bulk of the stock and Australia gets the leftovers (which is great if you only need bikes in XXS or XXL). The current situation, however, has confirmed it: mass-market brands will put their best efforts into where they can get the biggest return. And it's not Australia. (yay #capitalism)
For us, it means that some bikes which we ordered back in August 2020 will be available in ... 2022.
But we're not counting on it.
We'd love to say 'yes', but the industry says 'no'. The problem is also going to get worse as the backlogs continue. (Sorry.)
One word: pre-order. (Or is that two words? Eh, whatever.)
You have to place a pre-order so we can get it into the system. When we tell you that a groupset will be available in four months, for example, that means four months from the time of placing that pre-order. If you don't order anything and wander in four months from now, it's going to be another four months (or more) before you can get your hands on something.
In the meantime, we'll keep on servicing your current bike so you can keep rolling, and dreaming of new parts.