Will The Delta Variant Cause Another Bicycle Shortage In 2021?

Along with making sourdough breads, gardening, painting, and crocheting or knitting, getting out and about on a bicycle became a popular pastime during the early days of the pandemic because, as Andrea Hewitt told The Washington Post, "It felt like there was nothing we could do but walk outside, but then we got the bikes and I felt free. It was like some sense of normalcy had returned to our lives."

And clearly Hewitt wasn't the only one that felt that way, because it wasn't long before bicycles started flying off store shelves, with market research company NPD reporting a 121% increase in bicycles for adults, and a corresponding 59% jump in sales for children's two-wheelers in 2020. 

While the boom has introduced, or reintroduced, the iconic two-wheelers to a crowd of leisure cyclists, it has also put a spanner in the plans of other cyclists everywhere, who source their vehicles and spare parts from the same global bicycle supply chain. And, thanks to heavy demand, stores saw pandemic-driven backorders that stretched for months (via Bicycling). But what does this mean for the 2021 market?

Shop owners are still working to fulfill orders from 2020

Those backorders have yet to be resolved, and they are likely to make things even more complicated now that the country is in the grip of the Delta variant. As it is, the crunch is happening at several points — at the factories where the bike parts are being made themselves, and by shipping delays which prevent individual parts from getting to where they need to be. And, if it makes anyone feel better, the bike crunch isn't just being felt in the United States; it's everywhere (via CBC).

Across the border and in Canada, cyclists are facing wait times of up to 18 months for both bike parts or for bicycles themselves. Bike shop owner Ty Cutforth has admitted that, "Unfortunately, we're still struggling to kind of capture any available inventory, and I would imagine it's the same for any bike shop. I'd say we got another year of waiting and being patient for everything," he told Calgary Eyeopener.

Bike industry consultant Jay Townley of Human Powered Solutions explains that because most of the bikes that are being used in America are actually pulled together with parts that are made in Asia, seemingly insignificant setbacks at the manufacturing or transportation sections of the chain will reverberate and have an impact on the other side of the world. The shortage, which began in 2020, is just another part of what he's called a "supply-chain nightmare" and that, "The side effects and collateral damage continues to this day" (via MarketWatch).

The bike shortage will take time to resolve itself

Without supply chain problems, bike shop owners say it might take two to three weeks for a pile of bicycle parts to become a custom-made two-wheeler. "If you take your average, full-suspension mountain bike, every component on there, it takes about 30 to 45 different manufacturing plants to make you one bike," Tyson Podruzny told CBC, with any of these parts being made in different parts of the world both to keep prices down and to ensure production quantities are satisfied. But what we are seeing today is what happens when the supply chain is thrown out of sync. "Basically, the shipping can't keep up with getting product here, as well as manufacturing overseas cannot keep up with the demand to get back to normal," he said.

Industry players are advising bicycle fans not to hold their breath when it comes to waiting for the problem to resolve itself, particularly since, as National Bicycle Dealers Association president Heather Mason told MarketWatch, "The demand has exceeded the supply of bicycles on a global level."

Cutforth agrees. "We're forecasting ... growth to continue for the next two years here until the bubble pops and the demand and supply equals out. But, yeah, it's going to be pretty, pretty wild for at least the next two years here." In the meantime, bicycle store owners say your best bet could be a second-hand bike. But with parts shortages, just make sure the pre-owned vehicle you purchase is how you want it to be, because fixing it could be a problem.