a bicycle is parked next to a motorcycle: Braeden Cox, a service technician at Ski Hut, rolled out a finished bike to return to a customer on Thursday. As with other retailers in the outdoors, Minnesota bike sellers went from wondering if they’d make another sale during the pandemic to having consumers clear out their inventory.


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Braeden Cox, a service technician at Ski Hut, rolled out a finished bike to return to a customer on Thursday. As with other retailers in the outdoors, Minnesota bike sellers went from wondering if they’d make another sale during the pandemic to having consumers clear out their inventory.

A new normal in already bike-centric Minnesota is a landscape teeming with riders who either bought new wheels in the last five months or, in some cases, still are waiting for those purchases to arrive.

This, too, the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought — and it’s almost too much of a good thing, according to some of the state’s bike sellers and suppliers.

While the public was flooding the outdoors to find refuge in early spring, many Minnesotans stopped at bike shops, too, contributing to a stratospheric number of purchases throughout the U.S. The state’s robust bike industry, from hundreds of shops to major distributors and suppliers, was hit with unprecedented demand combined with major supply chain disruptions that still are rippling out — and will for months to come.

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In April, U.S. sales of bikes, parts and accessories nearly doubled to $1 billion compared to the same month in 2019, NPD Group, a market researcher, reported.

As inventory dwindled through the spring, people turned to higher-end, more expensive rollers. In June, sales of gravel bikes were 144{d93457022679712214ff8a8035fa266341f9634f2c93d5e609b1bbb089e8c446} above year-ago levels. And sales of electric-assist bikes, which were already immensely popular, nearly tripled.

Dave Neustel, manager at Ski Hut in Duluth, said the entry-level mountain bikes in the $500-$900 range are a “meat-and-potatoes” seller in a city known for its Duluth Traverse trail system. They went fast. So, too, have comfort bikes built for leisurely recreational riding and hybrid bikes that are a cross of mountain and road bikes. Both traditionally are bestsellers in the Midwest.

“Those [mountain] bikes were sold out almost instantly, so we were scrambling just like everybody else,” Neustel said. The demand forced Ski Hut to look outside its core brands like Trek and Specialized to accommodate customers. It began selling Fuji bikes.

Routine transactions changed, too, he said. Normally maybe a matter of days, special bike orders made in April are just starting to arrive for customers. “There is so much disarray in what’s happening that the vendors can’t even tell us when we are going to get our bikes,” Neustel said.

That can be traced to makers of everything from aluminum bike tubes to carbon fiber components crippled by the virus, too, as demand suddenly hit unprecedented levels. “It’s not just trying to assemble the bike,” Neustel said, “it’s all the little pieces that need to come together. It’s all slowed down. It’s tough.”

Even repairing a bike has its uncertainty. Some jobs are stretching to four to five weeks because of the dearth of basics such as tires, derailleurs and more. The backlog of work forced Ski Hut to create a call list because it ran out of storage room for bikes. The list at times had more than 250 customers waiting to get work done.

Matt Hawkins, owner of Rochester Cycling, said instead of being choosy about models, he ordered anything he could get, putting in hundreds of back orders for bikes in April and May as customer requests ramped up. The move helped as summer unfolded. The shop hits its annual sales volume mark on July 15.

It wasn’t just local traffic and that from the metro. The wave hit from customers outside the state, too. Inquiries came online from Milwaukee, Chicago and all over Iowa.

“We just happened to have bikes that nobody else had,” Hawkins said. “That was the big eye-opener for us. People were spending a lot of time searching out bikes, specifically models that they wanted, and just getting them anywhere they could get them.”

Caught in the whirlwind, too, is a major distributor between brands and bike shops around Minnesota and the U.S.

Quality Bike Products (QBP), headquartered in Bloomington and a leading distributor of parts and accessories, laid off 12{d93457022679712214ff8a8035fa266341f9634f2c93d5e609b1bbb089e8c446} of its workforce (80 or so employees) in April. Then QBP, which also manages its own popular cycling brands such as Salsa and Surly, found itself pivoting to react to “week-over-week record sales,” said marketing communications manager John Sandburg in an e-mail.

One move to accommodate demand involved using airfreight rather than cargo ships to speed up shipping from QBP’s suppliers.

“That inventory challenge will persist for many months, as the entire bicycle industry supply chain works to fulfill a continuing demand that exceeded any and all forecasts,” Sandburg said.

Ben Doom, a co-owner at Revolution Cycle & Ski in St. Cloud, said demand is still hot enough that he’d take mountain and hybrid bikes if he could acquire them. That’s not normal for his shop in early September, but he is uncertain about his projected needs given the sudden surge in cycling interest or even his ability to reorder bikes, parts and accessories.

“I base everything off history … there is no history for this,” Doom said.

Still, the bike shop reaped rewards where it could. During pandemic-shortened business hours in April, Revolution sold 30 bikes between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a Wednesday — unheard of — and posted its best sales month in May.

Keeping on

Clearly, the rubber met the road on some of Minnesota’s state trails.

Cyclists on their new wheels found their way to trails, which early in the pandemic were experiencing traffic normally reserved for midsummer. A report from the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota in late April found cycling and pedestrian traffic on 10 trails around Minnesota had increased anywhere from 93{d93457022679712214ff8a8035fa266341f9634f2c93d5e609b1bbb089e8c446} to 146{d93457022679712214ff8a8035fa266341f9634f2c93d5e609b1bbb089e8c446}, depending on the week, since Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order went into effect in late March.

Dorian Grilley was pulled in by the governor and the Department of Transporation to discuss how the stay-at-home executive order should address biking and walking — two activities he intimately supports as executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, and knew would be vital to public health as people flooded outdoors.

Bike shops were kept open as essential businesses. A MnDOT analysis shows the bike industry in Minnesota (retailers, parts suppliers, wholesalers and related businesses) employs 5,000 people.

“The industry was really, really important,” Grilley said. “I truly believe that this [pandemic] has accelerated a trend, and more people will keep biking and walking even after the stay-at-home order is completely lifted.”

Back at Rochester Cycling, Hawkins said he has hundreds of bikes ordered from May that might not get fulfilled until as late as January 2021. Nothing has been traditional about this year, and that has meant guessing about how to stock his store so that bikes are available when customers come calling.

“The good old days of walking into a bike shop and special ordering a bike to be delivered a week later are gone for now,” he said.

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