The big chains and independent bike shops, which have been allowed to keep their doors open as an essential service while the rest of the main street is closed, admit they were taken by surprise.
“It was the busiest negotiation period I have known in 27 years,” said Andy Rackstraw, owner of Saddle Safari in southern Buckinghamshire.
The Rackstraw team worked three shifts – including overnight – to meet demand for new bicycle construction and maintenance work while providing physical distance to keep staff safe. It has a waiting list of 300 repairs and bicycle sales have tripled in April compared to the same period last year.
“I’ve never experienced it like this,” said Steve Pettitt of Steve’s Cycles in Hull. “My repairs have at least doubled. People have been bringing bikes that have been behind the garage for years. “
He said sales of kits such as helmets and saddles also went well when parents took the kids on the road. “In fact, you see families together,” he said.
A combination of quieter roads, more free time, good weather and, for many, the realization that a bike is their best option for getting to work in the coming months, has caused an increase of more 50% of bicycle sales in April, according to the first indications of a survey carried out by the professional association Bicycle Association. It indicates that seven out of 10 buyers are new or returning cyclists, a complete reversal of recent trends.
Sales of new bikes on eBay tripled in the past month and sales of used machines increased 23% from the same period last year.
In the past month, stocks of Halfords, the UK’s largest bicycle retailer, have climbed almost 80% after the retail group said that bicycle sales were twice normal levels .
Wiggle, the online bike and running retailer that has become a big player in the UK market, said its sales of bikes in the UK have increased by 192% since the lockdown started.
An independent retailer said its wholesale supplier had sold all of its annual inventory in four weeks.
Graham Stapleton, chief executive of Halfords, said the buyers were not the usual “mamils” – middle-aged men in lycra. “We have seen a big increase in the number of women,” he said, “and young people under the age of 35 who buy bikes. “
For years, most of the growth in the market has come from the expensive road bikes that these “mamils” prefer, while sales of commuter and family bikes have been for pedestrians.
But in recent weeks, hybrid bikes suitable for families and commuters costing less than £ 1,000 have been taken out of stores. Sales of hybrid bikes by Halfords have doubled and demand for bikes through the government’s Cycle to Work reduction program has exploded. Sales of electric bikes have also accelerated, with seniors looking for an alternative to public transport or the car.
Stapleton said Halfords still has bikes available and stocks are improving, but due to “unprecedented demand, which has been hard to predict”, the chain has sold around £ 1,000 of adult models , which meant “there will be short term challenge with availability”.
He said Halfords had planned to bring bikes by plane, but it turned out to be too expensive, and the company was importing new stocks from Turkey and Europe that could arrive faster than from its usual sources in the south. is Asian.
Several bicycle retailers have reported that stocks of cheaper adult bikes from key brands, including Trek, Specialized and Raleigh, have been nearly depleted across the country.
Kirsty Woodcock, UK marketing manager at Specialized, said there was no shortage of bikes, just delivery delays due to increased demand, and the company was working additional shifts in his UK warehouse to take out more bikes on the road.
There are also concerns about the supply of certain cycle parts due to the demand to repair older bikes.
“There is most definitely a problem the business is facing right now and it is supply issues,” said Paul Walker, owner of Lincoln-based Hykeham Wholesale bicycle parts and accessories distributor.
Walker said he was struggling to get enough tubes after sales of certain types increased 600% last month, while sales of bicycle helmets more than quintupled and kits Cycle repair had increased 400% as families prepared to hit the road.
“It went completely crazy. I made three months of sales in one month. It was really unexpected. It looks like this month will be similar – or it would be if I still had inventory to sell, “said Walker.
Weldtite, the Lincolnshire-based cycle repair kit maker, employs 30% more people and has set up temporary buildings to boost production as it struggles to keep up with global demand. Biking is being promoted around the world as a means of getting around with less risk of getting a coronavirus.
But bike retailers are not sure if the frenzy of interest will be a blip that could be wiped out as the supply of bikes decreases over the summer and drivers return to their cars.
Hopes for lasting change in the UK gained momentum when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps unveiled a £ 2 billion package “to put biking and walking at the heart of our transportation policy.” transport ”. Transport for London has also released plans for bicycle routes and bridges in the capital to help Londoners avoid public transport.
The government has also announced that it will issue vouchers for hundreds of thousands of cycle repairs to help remove around 7 million unused bikes in the UK. The Bicycle Association hopes the UK will follow France’s lead with £ 50 vouchers per person to be launched next month.
Stapleton said he thought the cycle boom would not subside: “I think it will continue. People need bikes to get to work because there is no other option. “
Work cycle programs
Bike to work programs are a popular way to buy a new bike, helmet and other accessories, as they offer savings of between 25% and 39%, with the cost simply deducted from an employee’s monthly salary .
Most companies, whatever their size, now offer this benefit to staff. Employees who register receive a voucher, which they take to their local bicycle store and use it to purchase the bicycle of their choice, as well as other items such as lights or clothing.
The savings come from the fact that staff do not pay income tax or national insurance on the purchase price. In reality, your employer buys a bicycle for you and you “rent” it out by making monthly payments from your gross salary (before tax) – usually over four years. Base rate taxpayers – earning less than £ 50,000 a year – save a quarter on the cost of the bike and accessories. Higher rate taxpayers save even more.
Anyone who chooses to buy a £ 500 transport bike, lock, helmet and waterproof jacket – spending £ 600 in total, would see their wages cut by around £ 34 a month for four years. This assumes that they earn £ 30,000 a year. In total, they would save £ 150 on a normal purchase. A higher rate taxpayer would save £ 210 on the initial purchase of £ 600.
Originally there was a £ 1,000 limit on bicycle purchases, but this was removed to allow users to buy more expensive models.