FARGO — Earlier this year, Tom Smith, owner of Great Northern Bicycle Co. in Fargo, didn’t expect “to be squeezed by both sides” this summer, but the staff at the shop did plan for some shortages.
“Our model is seasonally based, so we always plan to bring a large number of bikes during the winter months and get them ready to sell throughout the year based on customer needs," Smith said, adding they were fortunate to enter the summer season with a relatively large amount of inventory despite the challenges they experienced in January.
“Most of the bikes and bicycles come out of the central Chinese industrial district,” he said. “Because of the virus, a lot of the manufacturers were stopping or cutting back production, so at that time we received some notice by February that some of our orders would be slow — and then later on they were canceled.”
Still, when the demand for bicycles drastically increased once the coronavirus caused many events to be canceled, Smith said Great Northern Bicycle Co. was able to weather the supply chain disruptions due to its multiple relationships with different manufacturers.
“But it’s difficult whenever there is a fluctuation in the supply chain because manufacturers have to maintain a certain amount of inventory,” he said.
Smith explained they could be sitting on bikes that are 90% done but missing a handlebar, which is out of another factory.
Customers, he said, are willing to spend a little more than normal, but Smith says prices haven't drastically increased at his shop. He recommends doing the research and considering whether a hybrid, mountain or specialty bike would be best before making a purchase.
During the spring, Smith said he received very few bicycles, so they started to formulate other ways to serve the local biking community while keeping their employees safe.
First, Smith dealt with the overarching challenge of the pandemic: his responsibility to his employees and customers.
“We are trying to make sure that the hours and practices we were choosing were what worked best to keep people employed and help people to find bikes,” he said. “I think nobody knows how to do it exactly right.”
Then, the staff at Great Northern Bicycle Co. started a wait list for those who were looking for a certain kind of bike or didn’t want to spend more than a certain amount on it.
The list, which has more than 100 names now, helps staff at Great Northern match customers with bikes as they start to trickle in. Customers add their names to the list with a small refundable deposit to “save” their bike as it gets shipped.
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible so we can help people to find their bike,” Smith said. While he is optimistic both regional bike shops will be able to receive the bikes to meet demand, he advises people to be prepared to wait a month if they order a bike or sign up on Great Northern’s waiting lists.
“The supply side now is up and running, but we still have a lot of closures domestically, which will affect the ability to meet demand,” Smith said.
Smith estimates by Labor Day people could expect the bike supply to be almost back to normal, barring any national changes, but he expects the increased demand for bikes is here to stay.
Back to basics
As the coronavirus pandemic changed how people planned summer activities due to social distancing, many returned to basic forms of transportation and recreation.
Smith said he noticed the increased interest in biking and “the more simple things."
“People are finally realizing biking is an excellent thing to do for exercise as well as the mental health benefits,” he said. “Clearly people wanted to behave appropriately and practice social distancing, and biking is a great way to do it.”
During the last three months, Smith said he’s experienced more families coming into the store to find bikes for group rides.
“How often do you see a middle schooler go out on a bike with their mom?” Smith said. “But it’s happening.”
Smith highlights that bikes can be used for recreation or for a daily commute. Still, others are motivated to bike to minimize their coronavirus exposure.
Check your cycle
If you're new — or returning — to biking, basic maintenance can be challenging. Here are three things to check first before heading out for a ride.
Check to see if your brakes are clean, working and properly positioned. Also, know the type of brakes on the bike (rim brakes, disc brakes and drum brakes are the three main types).
Mechanics from a local bike shop like Great Northern Bicycle Co. or Nickel’s Bike Shop can always answer questions.
Area cyclists advise a quick check of tires each day. (Most have a story of when they didn't and paid the price of a long walk, dragging their bike home.)
Ask to be shown how to fix a flat before leaving the store to ensure you won't have to drag a bike.
3. Chains and derailleurs
Make sure the chains on your bike are properly oiled.
The derailleurs are gears on a bike consisting of a chain, multiple sprockets of different sizes and a mechanism to move the chain from one sprocket to another.
Chains and derailleurs on new bikes will likely last a while, but new riders should search the web for tutorials if confused about how to check chains or derailleurs.
Staff at area bike shops should be able to help any new bike enthusiasts with maintenance.