“The United States is facing a shortage of bicycles as anxiety over public transportation and a desire to exercise has sent the demand surging.”
—The New York Times
“I have never seen anything remotely approaching this. If you went into a store three weeks ago you could find a bike under $1,000. Right now shelves are bare.”
—Ryan Zagata, president of Brooklyn Bicycle Company
“Any man that can ride a Townie, with a basket, filled with water, snacks and clothing 30 miles, on gravel, multiple times a week has earned his wings (or pedals) to build the ultimate bike….The Santa Cruz.”
—Kathy Russell, Professional photographer & Marathon National Cycling Champion
Content on Turtle Garage tends to center around automobiles, classic cars, and motorcycles. To date, we have never written about bicycles. However, at Turtle Garage, we like to identify, analyze, and discuss transportation trends. If there is one recent transportation trend that deserves attention, it is the burgeoning popularity of cycling. The Covid19 pandemic is driving a Renaissance in bicycling. Today there is a “run on the bank” for bicycles. Bike shops nationwide are sold out, and even prices for low-end bikes are rising markedly. The New York Times recently posted an excellent summary article about the rising popularity of bicycles and the many implications (the article is posted below).
When Covid19 began, and my local club gym closed down, I dusted off my heavy 3-speed “Townie” cruiser bike and started logging miles around my neighborhood. In a gated community in South Florida, cycling is something you can do and still comply with various social distancing regulations. Bicycling provides a great way to exercise, and riding cleanses the mind—especially in this stressful era of shelter in place and social distancing. When I used to log a lot of motorcycle miles, I found the time alone on my big BMW to be gold—riding gave me many peaceful opportunities to think and reflect. In retrospect, several good ideas came to me while riding a motorcycle. Bicycles are no different—but unlike motorcycling, you get the bonus of a workout.
In February, I started riding within the gated community of the Palm Beach Polo Club. My longtime friend Kathy Russell (an expert cycler who was Florida State Champion and Marathon National Champion) suggested I venture out of the Polo Club and take full advantage of the excellent bike riding opportunities nearby. Kathy is very fluent in the South Florida bike scene and knows all the ropes—best rides, best bike stores, and best clothing and gear.
Our first ride was out to the levee that runs south from Wellington to Fort Lauderdale and beyond. I have been coming to Wellington for decades and never knew this place existed. The embankment is an elevated hard-packed dirt road that runs along the everglades. There is hardly anyone ever around, and the nature and wildlife along the high path are diverse and beautiful. Riding along the levee is like taking a time machine back to old Florida before the condos and strip malls—it is the ultimate in social distancing. The dam is like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in my backyard—Blue herons stand tall, hawks soar, snakes slither, armadillos scatter, deer gallop, otters wink, ducklings swim, bunnies hop, gators cruise, and turtles crawl. It’s truly spectacular. We soon fell into a routine and started going for bike rides almost every day at 6:30 am. With each journey, our miles increased, and now we regularly clock 30 miles per trip. We have since adventured all over town, visiting the forbidden levee on the other side of Wellington (no bikes allowed) as well as crossing Southern Boulevard and riding through the dirt roads of Loxahatchee. The only problem? My bike was an old heavy cruiser-type with a few gears and not meant for heavy off-road use. The “Townie” hardly ever left the perfect flat pavement of Palm Beach Polo—until recently.
Kathy is very connected to the South Florida bicycle world. As our rides intensified and my interest in cycling grew, she suggested we go deep and build a bike for me. This buildout coincided with my 50th birthday, so the new bike became an extravagant gift to myself. As a beginner, I had no idea of the complexity of the modern bicycle hobby. It is a lot like fly fishing because it’s very technical, and there are many equipment and gear choices. We started looking at appropriate bike frames and then investigated all the various components one can purchase to build a bike. She suggested that we go with a Santa Cruz frame and then “hang” excellent components. I called my brother in California, who is also an avid cyclist to get his opinion. Unprompted and coincidentally, he too suggested a Santa Cruz frame. With the help of Tim Wisner and Tune Cycles, we were able to procure a Highball Santa Cruz carbon fiber frame and build the ultimate starter bike (it was no small feat to secure such a bike frame during Covid19!). We added Di2 electronic shifting and all Shimano XTR components. The shifters were custom built. The wheels are i9 hubs with ultra-lightweight carbon fiber hoops. The bike is dialed in and is a South Florida levee machine. It tips the scales at barely 20 pounds. Its a two-wheeled Ferrari.
My girlfriend Blythe has also gotten into Covid19 cycling. She recently purchased a high-end bike called a Liv (made by women for women). She bought it on a recent trip to the U.K. and brought it back with her to America. A few nights ago, we all took a late night ride together under the glow of a full moon.
We look forward to many more miles on our new bikes.
Turtle Garage has always been about excessive personal transportation. Now we have added bicycles to our passion—and our collection. We suggest you do the same.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES MAY 18TH 2020
Thinking of Buying a Bike? Get Ready for a Long Wait.
By Christina Goldbaum
Some bicycle shops in Brooklyn are selling twice as many bikes as usual and drawing blocklong lines of customers. A chain of shops in Phoenix is selling three times the number of bikes it typically does. A retailer in Washington, D.C., sold all its entry-level bikes by the end of April and has fielded more preorders than ever in its 50-year history.
In March, nationwide sales of bicycles, equipment and repair services nearly doubled compared with the same period last year, according to the N.P.D. Group, a market research company. Sales of commuter and fitness bikes in the same month increased 66 percent, leisure bikes jumped 121 percent, children’s bikes went up 59 percent and electric bikes rose 85 percent.
By the end of April, many stores and distributors had sold out of low-end consumer bikes. Now, the United States is facing a severe bicycle shortage as global supply chains, disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, scramble to meet the surge in demand.
“I have never seen anything remotely approaching this,” said Ryan Zagata, president of Brooklyn Bicycle Company, where sales have soared by more than 600 percent this year compared with the same period in 2019. “If you went into a store three weeks ago you could find a bike under $1,000. Right now shelves are bare.”
The spike in sales comes on the heels of stay-at-home orders that have temporarily curtailed daily life, but that may permanently transform the role of bicycles into something more essential, including a safer alternative to public transit as the nation slowly begins to reopen.
Some American cities are already planning for a lasting shift after the pandemic — a significant departure in a society that has favored cars over bikes for decades, even as European cities embraced cycling as a transportation mode as integral as New York City’s subway.
“We are absolutely confident we are going to see more bike commuting in the months ahead,” said Polly Trottenberg, New York City’s transportation commissioner.
In April, New York announced that it would temporarily open 100 miles of roads to pedestrians and cyclists — a move that may lead to permanent closures, officials say. Oakland plans to shut down about 10 percent of its streets to cars during the pandemic, while Seattle said it would permanently close 20 miles of roads.
More recently, road biking became a popular hobby in warm-weather cities on the West Coast, while on the other side of the country, hipsters adopted bikes as part of their against-the-grain brand of cool.
Still, relatively few Americans have used bikes as a serious alternative to cars and public transit. Today fewer than 1 percent of New Yorkers commute by bike. In Portland, which has the highest percentage of cycling commuters of any American city, only 6.3 percent of commuters ride bikes. By comparison, in Copenhagen nearly half of all trips to work and school take place on bicycles.
“The U.S. has been built around cars,” said Sarah M. Kaufman, associate director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. “The European model has tended to be more forward looking in terms of sustainability and safety, which leads them to favor bikes.”
But since the pandemic upended daily life in the United States, cycling has taken on a crucial, sanity-saving role: bikes are a way to exercise while gyms stay closed and an inexpensive means of getting around cities where more than 90 percent of riders have abandoned public transportation.
Going for a bike ride has replaced grabbing a drink on first dates and has been used to coax children outside while parents are on conference calls at home.
“I haven’t been on a bike since college,” he said. “I want the ability to get out of the whatever-block radius I’m stuck in.”
Jadciry Altamirano, 21, had taken her place at the front of the line before the store opened.
Ms. Altamirano, who was buying a bike for her mother, wanted to make sure she had the first pick of increasingly slim options: the week before, her brother visited five bike stores in a single day searching for a bike for himself in his price range, before settling for one that cost $900.
“We were left with higher-cost options,” Ms. Altamirano said of the $750 bike she ended up buying for her mother on Friday.
Ms. Altamirano, who works at a gym, and her mother, who works as a housekeeper, both plan to commute by bike rather than take the subway when they return to work.
At first, most customers were buying bikes under $1,000, industry leaders and shop owners say. By the end of April, many stores had sold out of those bikes.
“We’ve never seen a surge like this across a range of products,” said Robert Margevicius, executive vice president of Specialized, one of the largest bicycle companies in the United States. “Everybody is scrambling to get more.”
But the demand could not have come at a worse time.
Most American importers have kept limited inventory since 2018, when President Trump ordered new tariffs on goods produced in China, where some parts used on nearly all bikes sold in the United States are made.
Taioku Manufacturing Co., a bicycle manufacturer in China and Taiwan, has received double the orders from importers for the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to Kevin Tsu, a general manager. Still, the manufacturer can produce only 20,000 bikes a month — the same maximum production as usual.
“In China, there is still a serious shortage of labor and component parts,” he said, adding that as a result, bicycle manufacturers are two or three months behind in deliveries.
Most American importers expect the first shipments of new bicycles to arrive by mid-June, though many retailers have already sold most of the inventory they expect to receive then through early orders from customers.
Some aspiring cyclists may have to wait until July or August for the next shipments of low-end consumer bikes to arrive, retailers say.
“There is no way to keep inventory for sub-$1,000 bikes,” said Lee Katz, co-owner of Turin Bikes in Chicago. “We’ve got a few right now, but it’s a matter of scrambling for them. We really don’t expect to see much in the way of inventory like that until July.”
At Big Wheel Bikes in Washington, D.C., the list of customers making preorders is the longest it has ever been in the company’s history. At Global Bikes in Phoenix, calls from customers looking for bikes have flooded in so incessantly that the owner, Brandee Lepak, said she can often still hear ringing when she gets home for the night.
But as some customers wait weeks for new shipments to arrive or scour secondhand sales online, many people who have managed to get bikes have found respite from the public health emergency on two wheels.
Jeremy Payne, who lives in Phoenix, purchased four bikes in the last month: one for him, one for his wife and one for each of his two children. He starts most of his days with a long bike ride and his wife has taken to riding to the grocery store rather than driving their car.
Even his 75-year-old mother, for whom he bought an electric bike in November, has become an avid cyclist in her neighborhood in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“She hadn’t been riding that much, but because of the pandemic she’s been cooped up in her house and wanted to get out,” he said. “Now she bikes around the same loop and her neighbors wave at her when she passes them. For her in her community it’s like the Tour de France.”