The COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to the majority of outdoor gear manufacturers. However, the bike industry has been set up to thrive, as more and more people are looking for activities outside of their homes. Bikes sales have been so successful, in fact, that retailers struggled to keep inventory in stock to meet the consumer demand.
Both e-Commerce and brick-and-mortar sales have skyrocketed since March. On the e-commerce side, the percentage of bike sales over the web soared, peaking at 5,328% year-over-year on May 16. Those numbers have come down since then but still hover at 1,353% of last year’s sales on July 7, according to the independent bicycle (IBD) retailers and suppliers e-commerce index. Aftermarket sales have also risen, as many people look for cheaper options than they’ll find online or at retail stores. On May 16, aftermarket sales were up 1,128% versus 2019. On the retail front, foot traffic declined in the early part of the pandemic, however, transactions and dollar sales were generally up, peaking just prior to the July Fourth holiday, with transactions up 141% and dollar sales up 155% on July 2.
As far as the types of bicycles being gobbled up by consumers, commuter and fitness bike sales jumped 66% year over year in March, at the start of the pandemic, while leisure bikes rose 121%, children’s bikes increased 59%, and electric bikes—perhaps the most accessible entry into biking for those with means—went up 85%, all according to the N.P.D. Group, a market research firm.
With the demand for bikes rising, due in large part to apprehension regarding public transportation and the need to get outside for fresh air and exercise, inventory has plummeted. By the end of April, stores and distributors had sold out of consumer bikes priced below $1000, the product segment most in demand by those just looking for a serviceable mode of transportation.
“We’ve never seen a surge like this across a range of products,” Executive Vice President of Specialized, Robert Margevicius, told The New York Times. “Everybody is scrambling to get more.”
Bikes geared toward more serious and experienced riders are more readily available than the budget options most sought-after during the pandemic. Consumers seeking bikes in the $2,500 to $3,500 range still have the pick of the litter, while the market for premium bikes coming in above the $5,000 price tag is generally consistent and stable, with plenty of inventory available.
The purchasing frenzy of bikes could be a harbinger of what’s to come for the bike industry. As cities across the country strategize about how to open up their economies in a safe manner, adhering to social distancing mandated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have begun to close roads to cars. This gives pedestrians—walkers, bikers, restaurant-goers—more breathing room from one another while still allowing them the ability to get out of the house and do something. This non-motor-vehicle model is already common in European cities and could become the norm as America looks to navigate the post-pandemic world.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, for example, the city implemented closures of the Lake Harriet Parkway and Lake Nokomis Parkway to maintain social distancing by pedestrians. Vehicular traffic in New York City all but ceased. As of June 5, Oakland, California, had implemented over 20 miles of what it calls, “slow streets,” throughways for pedestrians only, throughout the city.
An America that’s already seen an electric surge in demand for bicycles, coupled with a country dependent more on social distancing efforts and less on car traffic, could certainly equal sustained prosperity for the bike industry.