How to Buy a Bike in the Middle of the Nation’s Worst Bicycle Shortage

For the first time in over half a century, the United States is experiencing a bicycle scarcity.

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The last time Americans were so desperate to get their hands on a set of handlebars was in the early 1970s, just after the first significant environmentalist movement began. Commuters in cities that depend heavily on public transit, such as San Francisco and New York, have been rushing to bike shops and big-box retailers amid a pandemic spreading in close quarters and sometimes coming away with nothing – sometimes for months on end.

According to statistics from CitiBike, a privately operated bike-sharing system in New York City, usage almost quadrupled between March and June 2020, as restless apartment residents took advantage of any chance to securely escape their friendly accommodations, even if they couldn’t locate a permanent bike.

This tendency isn’t limited to major cities. According to Alex Strickland, a representative for the Adventure Cycling Association, a Missoula, MT-based non-profit, cooped-up suburban residents and others living in historically car-dependent areas are desperate to get themselves—and in some cases, their children—out of the house and into some fresh air.

“They want to do something thrilling just outside their door,” he adds.

Unfortunately, he says, buying a bike has never been more challenging.

Why is it so difficult to get a bicycle right now?

When China and Taiwan — the two countries that supply nearly all of America’s bicycle brands with parts — shut down almost all of their businesses during the coronavirus outbreak in January and February, production of some of the largest bicycle manufacturers, including Giant Bicycles and Fuji-ta, came to a halt, zapping the supply chain for retailers in the United States during March and April, just as the pandemic was kicking off and motivating people to get out and ride.

According to the US Department of Commerce, demand was up 61 percent in May 2020, significantly surpassing supply.

Although imports are increasing as the nation enters the second half of the summer, shops large and small are still making up for previous delays, with most fresh imports going to individuals on the waiting list.

Strickland adds, “It’s already not a supply chain that can respond very rapidly.” “No one saw this massive increase in demand coming until it was too late.”

Demand has been overwhelming for boutique manufacturers that cater to a more specialized consumer base of skilled and enthusiastic riders. Doug Learmont, an avid cyclist from El Paso, TX, was surprised when a representative from a boutique titanium bike company told him that their inventory system was managed entirely by excel sheets instead of any sort of management software after he inquired about how long his new bike would take to arrive.

“A key problem for these tiny businesses,” says Learmont, “is that they don’t have the technology or manpower to keep their workflow structured.”

Learmont claims he got the bike seven weeks after ordering it. In February, his last bike was sent from California to Texas in only four days.

The problems with the bicycle business don’t end there: Since 2018, tariff exemptions on Chinese imports have made it easier for American firms to get the materials they need to manufacture bicycles. However, they are slated to expire at the end of September, which means a 25% tax on the components necessary to repair and manufacture most bicycles sold in U.S. retailers will be applied shortly.

What to look for and where to look

Right now, your best chance is most likely to purchase used.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a new or flashy bike to be a biker,” Strickland advises.

You’ll probably have better success with individual vendors on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist since most local stores are already overcrowded.

A bike, unlike most automobiles, can operate indefinitely with just minor “updates” such as tune-ups and tire replacement. If you locate a 30-year-old bike on Craigslist that seems to be in good condition, you may be sure that it will survive a long time if properly maintained.

Measure your inseam to get the approximate size you need. There is a matching bike frame size and description size for each length range.

If you can’t check the bike in person for dents and scratches, ask the seller to offer you a brief video “tour” of the bike’s features so you can search for them. You should also research the bike model you’re interested in online. Look at what it’s made for (road biking? mountain biking? ), how much new versions cost, and how much it’ll cost to resell it.

“A few hours of study may save you a lot of money,” says Robin Graven-Milne, co-owner of Haven Cycles in Brooklyn, New York.

When in doubt, contact your local bike store with any concerns you may have about a bike you’re considering buying, even if you’re not planning on purchasing it from them.

“At the end of the day,” Graven-Milne adds, “We simply want people to ride bikes.”

Consider investing in a new set of tires.

Depending on the type of bicycling you plan to undertake, you may want to choose a different pair of tires from the ones that came with your bike.

If you live in a fourth-floor walk-up in the city, you should generally stay with thin, lightweight tires that are simple to drag up and down the stairs. On the other hand, Fatter tires can keep you cushioned and supported after hours of riding if you intend on getting your adventure on. They may cost up to $100 per tire, but if you’re concerned about comfort, the investment may be worthwhile – moreover, they’ll last far longer than thinner tires.

Although a well-maintained antique bike might be a terrific alternative for many riders, tire sizes for motorcycles in the United States were not standardized until the 1990s. The typical length for certain American road bike tires in the 1970s and 1980s was 27 inches, but most modern bikes utilize the standard 26-inch size. The 27-inch variant is available in certain stores, but you may need to seek out a specialty store or purchase them online, depending on where you live.

You purchased a new bicycle. So, what’s next?

For others, a bike is just a fun way to spend a beautiful day cruising around the neighborhood. Bicycling is a way of life for others. In any case, the more individuals who convert to riding today, the more significant the excellent influence on the bike community.

“Will some of these motorcycles wind up at the back of a garage collecting dust?” Sure. “However, this time has such incredible consequences for city planners,” Strickland argues.

Cities such as Seattle have previously converted frequently used roadways into the permanent bike and pedestrian paths. More spreading car-dependent towns, it is hoped, will soon follow suit.

If you’re nervous about hitting the road, consider joining a local bicycle club online or in person. Veteran bikers are a fantastic resource for understanding the laws of the road and how to maintain a bicycle. If you discover someone who lives close, they will most likely join you for a ride.

You should be ready to climb in the saddle if you’re safe (i.e., wearing a helmet!) and have done your study.

“The most important thing is to start where you feel comfortable and find methods to make it pleasant,” Graven-Milne explains.

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