WORK HORSE BICYCLES IN MONTEREY CLOSED FOR ONLY ABOUT THREE HOURS when shelter-in-place orders were first issued on March 17, 2020. Then owner Frank Pinto took a look at what was designated as an “essential business” – bike shops and other transportation providers included – and he went back to work. And while a lot of the world has been slowed down since, the bike business has never been busier.
“The bike boom has been exponential,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’ve never seen numbers for growth like this in my life.
“Shelter-in-place really changed the way people live their lives. People were at home more, going stir-crazy. With gyms and pools being closed, bikes were easiest. It just really gained momentum.”
That translates to soaring demand, at a time when global supply chain hiccups have led to extreme backups. A new bike might be mostly built, ready for sale – but the plastic for a saddle manufacturer is on back order, or a hold-up on rubber means the tire maker is behind. By September of 2020, Work Horse – one of 13 bike shops on the Monterey Peninsula – was sold out. Most of the 14 brands they usually carry are telling them there’s zero supply for the rest of this year, and they should tell customers to wait for 2022.
It’s not just Work Horse where this phenomenon is happening, but at bike sellers all over. In a quarterly report released on April 27, Japanese bike component manufacturer Shimano reported net sales for bike parts in the first quarter rose by 76.3 percent over the previous year (just before the pandemic). “In overseas markets including that of Europe and North America, retail sales of bicycles and bicycle-related products remained robust and the inability of supply to keep up with demand continued,” according to the report. “As a result, trends of shortages in market inventories persisted in each country.”
At Work Horse, Pinto equates his current stock situation to shopping for groceries and looking for a banana. “It’s like you start asking, ‘When are you getting bananas?’ and most of the time its, ‘I don’t know, and when we do I don’t know if they’ll be yellow or green.’”
The same thing holds true at Valley Bikes in Salinas, where orders placed in June of last year are just starting to come in now. Early on, they moved a lot of high-end suspension bikes – bikes that sell for $2,700 and up – to people who were new to the sport.
Another trend has been people pulling old bikes out of their garages or wherever they can find them and bringing them in for tune-ups. But try to book a tune-up at Work Horse now, and the soonest they can book an appointment is three weeks out. (At Valley Bikes, the wait time for maintenance is down to about a week-and-a-half from a pandemic peak of six weeks, as people got older bikes into working order.)
The good news, as Pinto sees it, is twofold: One, his business has grown. Pre-pandemic, he had four full-time employees and three part-time; now he has 10 full-time. (Valley Bikes has added one full-time position, for a total of three full-timers and one part-time staffer.)
And then there’s the popularity of biking, which Pinto expects will stick around: “Hopefully we will become a more fitness-oriented society, with people riding more instead of sitting at home watching TV.”