Mountain biking gains popularity during Covid-19 lockdown


Courtesy photo

Bikes are ready for their future owners at Tahoe Sports Hub.

Brayden Stephenson, Editor

Walk into any bike shop these days, and it’s like a Target on Black Friday. The mechanics scatter to service the next bike in line while begrudgingly notifying the customer that it will probably be at least a few weeks until it’s ready. With everyone forced to shelter in place because of Covid-19, antsy outdoors enthusiasts are driving a surge in demand for outdoor equipment, including mountain bikes.

It seems as if everyone decided that this was the year to become a cyclist and the numbers agree. Based on a poll done by the New York Times, bike sales are up 121 percent. Deemed as an essential business early on in the Coronavirus shut down, bike shops never really closed their doors and revenue only grew. In many cases new employees had to be hired in order to meet the high demands. Bikes were ordered, built, and sold out before they even went on the floor.

“It’s almost like any bike under three grand never even existed,” John Lauer, bike buyer at Tahoe Sports Hub, said. “It’s been a roller coaster of a year. Most parts are on back order and we’re already having trouble getting inventory for next season. It’s also been difficult keeping up with the number of bikes we have to service. People will come all the way from the Bay Area just to get their bike worked on. A lot of times we’re having too much business which means we have to turn some customers down.”

With all the time in quarantine, people sought out new hobbies, as gyms closed and vacations were cancelled. Cycling has been a way for some to exercise and put their unused travel savings to use.

“The surge of bike purchases is a result of people hitting the ‘panic button,’ trying to find a way to escape boredom at home and taking advantage of a new hobby,” Lauer said.

However, bike shops aren’t the only place seeing these unprecedented crowds. With the rush of new and refurbished trailheads have seen big crowds.

“Trail crowds have been insane,” Curtis Obberman, owner of Reno-based Black Rock Bicycles, said. “Obviously people are going to want to get out on their new bikes or the bike that’s been sitting in the garage for the last few years. It’s a safe activity to enjoy while also social distancing, not to mention the trails have been seeing a lot of growth. It’s a good but busy time to go ride for sure.”

For consumers that may have gotten to their local shop too late, there are other options. Some bike brands offer a “direct to consumer” sales model. This allows the customer to purchase their bike of choice online straight from the company’s website. Companies like Canyon, Transition, and Evil offer this service. While retail stores only order a predetermined amount of inventory per season, online dealers determine how much they want to stock and when they want to stock it.

“At Transition, we practice an omni-channel sales model which means we sell directly to customers through our web store but we also work with local shops to get our bikes on the trail,” Chris Mandell, inventory manager at Transition Bikes said. “I think it’s proved to be an effective platform during this season, we’ve been able to get bikes on the trails faster than some bike shops. I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies start to offer a service like ours but we’ll always need brick-and-mortar bike shops to survive.”

No matter the platform, bike buying and selling has been a chaotic endeavor. Even on used bike platforms like Craigslist, bikes sell seconds after they’re posted and often for a lot more than the asking price. All of this has cyclists and bike shops wondering, is this the future of mountain biking or just a trend that won’t be sustained?

“I wish I had the magic crystal ball that would tell me exactly what next season would look like,” Mandell said. “Currently we are ordering a much larger inventory for next season but who knows if all of that will sell out. Bikes are slow to produce and quick to sell, it’s not easy to maintain or predict but I think things will feel a little more normal next year.”