How to buy a bike online now

The United States faces its first bicycle shortage in almost half a century.

The last time Americans had such a frenzy to get their hands on a pair of handlebars was in the early 1970s, on the heels of the first major environmental movement. Now, in the midst of a closely spreading pandemic, commuters from cities that rely heavily on public transportation like San Francisco and New York are flocking to bike shops and big box stores, and often walk out with nothing – sometimes for months in a row.

According to data from CitiBike, the private bicycle-sharing system serving New York City, ridership nearly doubled between March and June 2020 as crazed apartment dwellers jumped at any opportunity to safely leave. security their cramped quarters, even if they can. can’t find their own permanent bike.

This trend has not been isolated in large cities. Locked-in suburban residents and others living in historically car-dependent areas are desperate to get out of the house, and in some cases their children, to the fresh air, says Adventure Cycling representative Alex Strickland Association, a non-profit organization based in Missoula, MT.

“They’re looking for something exciting that they can do from their front door,” he says.

Unfortunately, he adds, buying a bike has never been so difficult.

Why is it so hard to buy a bike right now?

When China and Taiwan – the two countries that supply parts to nearly all U.S. bicycle brands – shut down nearly all of their businesses during the coronavirus outbreak in January and February, the output of some of the biggest companies in bicycle manufacturing, including Giant Bicycles and Fuji-ta, has arrived. to a screeching halt, which in turn zapped the supply chain of U.S. retailers during the months of March and April, just as the pandemic was starting and motivating people to find new modes of transportation.

According to the US Department of Commerce, demand in May 2020 increased 61%, far exceeding supply.

Although imports are picking up as the country prepares to enter the second half of summer, retailers large and small are still making up for these earlier delays, with most new imports going directly to those on the list. waiting.

“It’s already not a supply chain that can react very quickly,” says Strickland. “No one has seen this huge spike in demand come before it is already too late.”

For boutique manufacturers who serve a more specialized clientele of experienced and avid bikers, the demand has become particularly overwhelming. Doug Learmont, an avid cyclist from El Paso, TX, said he was surprised when, after asking how long his new bike would take to get to him, a representative from a titanium bike shop company told him that their system inventory was managed entirely by Excel instead of any management software.

“I think a big concern for these small manufacturers is that they don’t have the technology or the manpower to keep their workflow organized,” says Learmont.

Learmont says he finally received the bike 7 weeks after purchasing it. His previous bike, purchased in February, took just four days to ship from California to Texas.

The woes of the bicycle industry do not end there: Exemptions from tariffs on Chinese imports have made it easy for American companies to purchase the materials needed to make bicycles since 2018. soon imposed on parts used in the repair and manufacture of most bicycles sold in American stores.

Where to look and what to look for

It’s not completely impossible to find a good bike these days, but it does require some creative maneuvering.

Your best bet right now, quite possibly, is to buy used.

“Don’t get carried away by the idea that you need a new or sophisticated bike to become a cyclist,” says Strickland.

Most local stores are already inundated with customers, so you’ll probably have better luck with individual sellers on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.

Unlike most cars, a bicycle can run indefinitely with very few “updates” other than the occasional tune-up and tire replacement. If you find a 30 year old bike on Craigslist that looks great, you can rest easy knowing that it will likely last a long time as long as it’s been serviced.

To determine the approximate size you need, measure your inseam. For each length range, there is a corresponding bike frame size and descriptive size.

If you can’t see the bike in person to inspect it for wear, ask the salesperson to send you a short “tour” video of the bike’s features so you can look for dents and scratches. You should also find out about the bike model you are interested in online. Find out why it’s designed (road bike? MTB?), How much new models are selling for, and its resale value.

“Spending a few hours researching can save you a ton of money,” says Robin Graven-Milne, co-owner of Haven Cycles in Brooklyn, NY..

If in doubt, contact your local bike store with any concerns you may have about a bike you want to buy, even if you don’t buy it from them.

“At the end of the day, we just want people to cycle,” says Graven-Milne.

Consider getting new tires

Depending on the type of bike you are looking to do, you may want to go for a different tire set than what your bike comes with.

If you’re a city dweller living in a no-elevator apartment on the fourth floor, it’s probably worth sticking with thin, light tires that are easy to lug around the stairs. But if you’re planning on going on an adventure, bigger tires can keep you cushioned and supported after hours of driving. They can cost you around $ 100 per tire, but the investment may be worth it if you’re worried about comfort – plus, they’ll outlast thinner tires.

It’s worth knowing that a well-maintained vintage bike can be a great option for many riders, but tire sizes for bicycles in the United States were not standardized until the 1990s. During the 1970s and 1980, the standard size of some American road bike tires was 27 inches, while most bikes today use the standard 26-inch version. Some stores carry the 27-inch model, but you may need to find a specialty store or order them online, depending on where you are.

You bought a new bike. Now what?

For some, the bicycle is just a vehicle for walking around the neighborhood on sunny afternoons. For others, cycling is a way of life. Either way, the more people are cycling right now, the more it will have a positive impact on the cycling community as a whole.

“Will some of these bikes end up collecting dust in the back of a garage?” Sure. But this moment has such amazing implications for planners, ”says Strickland.

Cities like Seattle have already turned busy streets into permanent lanes for cyclists and pedestrians. The hope is that sprawling cities more dependent on the car will eventually follow suit.

But even with changes that make choosing a bike over a car a more reasonable option, the idea of ​​using it as your primary mode of transportation can be daunting. Consider joining a local cycling group online or in person if you’re worried about hitting the road. Veteran cyclists are an incredible resource for learning the rules of the road and the ins and outs of bike maintenance. If you find someone who lives nearby, they’ll probably be happy to take you for a ride.

If you’re safe (i.e. wearing a helmet!) And you’ve done your research, you should be ready to jump in the saddle.

“The most important thing is to start where you feel comfortable and just find ways to make it fun,” says Graven-Milne.

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