Bike shops expect another year of high prices, low inventory

Bicyclists pedal up toward Sable Pass on the Denali Park Road on a Saturday in May, 2020. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

With warmer temperatures and abundant daylight, many Alaskans are looking to hit the road on new bicycles to celebrate. But there might not be a wide selection to choose from.

In Fairbanks, Beaver Sports owner Greg Whisenhant says he wasn’t prepared for what he calls the tidal wave of demand from customers a year ago. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a new bike. But as bikes rolled out of the shop, replacing them wasn’t easy.

“All the other bike shops in the Lower 48, who had their spring hit them a little earlier, had already ordered everything that was left in the warehouses,” he said.

Whisenhant wasn’t alone. Stephen Frothingham, editor of Bicycle Retailer Industry News, says most U.S. retailers were caught off-guard by the spike in demand. In hindsight, it made sense. Biking is a way to get outdoor exercise and remain socially distant.

But 2019 tariffs imposed by Trump on China, a major manufacturer, had already soured supply lines, and China’s effort to battle COVID-19 sometimes shuttered factories for weeks.

Fast forward to this spring, with its shipping delays and continued high demand, and Frothingham sees a repeat of last year coming.

“It seems a lot of the bikes are going to a handful of the largest brands, and then the brands are selling them to a handful of the largest retailers,” he said.

Besides the scarcity of bikes, Frothingham says expect higher prices.

“It’s supply and demand, but it’s also hugely increased shipping costs — higher costs coming out of Asia, even exchange rates are unfavorable, commodity costs like aluminum, steel have gone up — so there’s a lot of factors contributing to it,” he said.

Frothingham adds that these issues also affect bike parts, with major manufacturers and retailers scooping up the majority of components.

At Beavers Sports, Greg Whisenhant says they’re doing their best to meet another tidal wave of biking enthusiasts, but stocks are low. He anticipates delays in supplies, so he’s looking forward.

“We’re trying to look way ahead down the road,” he said. “We already have bicycles ordered for the year 2022.”

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