Pandemic causes boom and shortage of bikes worldwide

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Fitness addicts stranded in gyms, commuters worried about public transit, and families going crazy inside their homes during the coronavirus pandemic have created an invisible bicycle sales boom ever since. decades.

In the United States, the bicycle aisles of department stores such as Walmart and Target have been cleaned, and independent stores are doing good business and selling affordable “family” bikes.

Bicycle sales in the past two months have seen their largest increase in the United States since the oil crisis of the 1970s, said Jay Townley, who analyzes trends in the bicycle industry at Human Powered Solutions.

“Frankly, people panicked, and they buy bikes like toilet paper,” said Townley, referring to the rush to buy essential items like toilet paper and the hand sanitizer that stores have seen at the start of the pandemic.

The trend is mirrored around the world, as cities better known for their car-crowded streets, like Manila and Rome, are installing cycle lanes to meet the growing interest in cycling, while public transport remains limited. In London, city officials plan to go further by banning cars from certain central arteries.

Bike shop owners in the Philippine capital say demand is stronger than at Christmas. Financial incentives drive sales in Italy, where government stimulus package after foreclosure last month included a 500 euro ($ 575) rebate in “bonus bici” of up to 60% of the cost of a bicycle .

But that’s if you can get your hands on one. The craze has resulted in shortages that will take weeks, if not months, to resolve, particularly in the United States, which depends on China for about 90% of its bikes, said Townley. Production has been largely halted there due to the coronavirus and is only resuming.

The bicycle rush started in mid-March, as countries closed their borders, businesses closed, and home support orders were imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus which infected millions and killed more 450,000 people. .

Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April, while overall sales of bikes in the United States, including children’s and electric bikes, doubled from the previous year, according to the firm. NPD Group market research, which tracks retail bike sales.

This is far from what was planned in the United States. The $ 6 billion industry had forecast lower sales based on lower volume in 2019, where punitive tariffs on bikes produced in China reached 25%.

There are several reasons for the pandemic bicycle boom.

Many workers around the world were looking for an alternative to buses and subways. People unable to go to the gym have looked for another way to exercise. And closed families have struggled to find a way to keep the kids active during the stay-at-home orders.

“The children are looking for something to do. They’ve probably reached the end of the Internet by now, so you have to go out and do something about it, “said Dave Palese at Gorham Bike and Ski, a Maine store where there are slim choices for leisure-oriented bikes. family. .

Bar Harbor restaurateur Brian Smith bought a new bike for one of his daughters, a competitive swimmer, who was unable to enter the pool. Recently, he was returning to his local bike store to outfit his youngest daughter, who had just learned to ride.

Her three daughters use their bikes every day and the whole family goes for walks twice a week. Exercising and enjoying the fresh air is a bonus.

” It’s funny. Maybe that’s the end result. It’s really fun to ride a bike, “said Smith as he and his 7-year-old daughter Ellery cycled to the bike shop.

The pandemic is also causing a boom in electric bikes, called electric bikes, which have been part of the global market niche so far. Most electric bikes require a cyclist to pedal, but electric motors provide an extra boost.

VanMoof, a Dutch manufacturer of electric bikes, has seen “unlimited demand” since the start of the pandemic, which results in a 10-week order book for its suburban electric bikes, compared to a typical one-day delivery time said co-founder Taco Carlier.

The company’s sales jumped 138% in the United States and increased 184% in Great Britain during the period from February to April compared to last year, with significant gains in other countries Europeans. The company is working to accelerate production as quickly as possible, but it will take two to three months to meet demand, said Carlier.

“We had some problems with our supply chain in January and February when the crisis first hit in Asia,” said Carlier. But “the problem is now linked to demand, not supply.”

Sales of Cowboy, a Belgian manufacturer of electric bikes, tripled in the period January to April compared to last year. In particular, they peaked in Britain and France at around the same time in May as these countries began to relax the lockout restrictions, said Benoit Simeray, director of marketing.

“It is now becoming very apparent to most of us living in and around cities that we do not want to return to public transportation,” said Simeray. But people may still need to buy groceries or go to the office a day or two a week, so “then they really, really start to think about electric bikes as the only solution they have. “

In Maine, Kate Worcester, a medical assistant, bought electric bikes for her and her 12-year-old son so they could have fun at a time when she couldn’t travel far from the hospital where she worked.

Each night, she and her son travel 20 or 30 miles (30 or 50 kilometers) in Acadia National Park.

“It was by far the best pleasure I had with him,” she said. “It was the biggest silver lining of this terrible pandemic – being able to leave work while doing an activity, chatting and having fun. “

Joe Minutolo, co-owner of Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop, said he hoped the sales surge would translate into long-term change.

“People have the opportunity to rethink things,” he said. “Maybe we will all learn something from this, and something really good will happen.” “

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Chan reported London. Joeal Calupitan in Manila and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.

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