When he first began hearing about COVID-19 in early 2020, Pat White had no idea it would have such a large impact on his Grand Forks business, The Ski and Bike Shop.
“For us, everything started to kick in the last week of March,” White said. “Up until a week ago, I hadn’t taken the day off.”
Almost 400 miles away in Medora, N.D., Jennifer Morlock has experienced a similar shift for her shop, Dakota Cyclery. While business has been busy the past few weeks with repairs, accessories and guided tours, bicycle inventory has gone down, she said.
“We have three or four vendors to pick from that allow us to buy a few at a time,” Morlock said. “We definitely are not in a good place because those vendors do not have bikes available.”
White and Morlock are two of the many bike shop owners in North Dakota who are being impacted by COVID-19. Across the state, North Dakota bike shops are adjusting due to the current shortage of bicycles in the United States.
According to research conducted by the NPD Group, a market analysis company, children’s and adult bicycle sales have doubled from last year. Independent bike shops have seen an increase in sales and a decrease in supply in early 2020 as demand for bicycles increases.
To Morlock, it makes sense that the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have pushed people to get on their bikes more than they normally would.
"There are some wonderful things that have happened for the environment and for people wanting to get outside and exercise," Morlock said. “It's interesting. It's changed a lot of people's perspectives to rethink their lives and priorities.”
As The Ski and Bike Shop has continued to see an increase in bike purchases and repairs, White said the buzz of business is a mix of exciting and overwhelming, as it is hard to know when a restock will be possible.
The Ski and Bike Shop is almost entirely out of available models for bikes and is starting to see a decrease in available parts for repairs as well. In his shop and in many others, the standard price for an available bicycle falls in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.
“Slowly there’s been an increase in how much money people are willing to spend to get a bike,” White said. “The exciting part is that we have hardly anything left on the floor, but the sad part is that we can't get anything to restock.”
The shortage of available bikes has limited the browsing process for customers. Drayton resident Lesa Van Camp experienced this firsthand when purchasing a bike from The Ski and Bike Shop.
"I noticed the one brand I was looking at all of a sudden disappeared off their website," Van Camp said. "Then I contacted them and I said I'd been looking at this certain brand of bike and I noticed they didn't have it on their website anymore and did they still have it in stock? And they said no."
While Van Camp was able to purchase a bike from the shop after all, she was surprised to see the effects of the shortage for herself when she drove to Grand Forks to visit the shop and was told there was only one available bike in the size she wanted.
"It looked like the end of the season,” Van Camp said. “They had very few bikes left. I was like, they weren't kidding."
While online resources such as Facebook Buy and Sell remain available for customers looking for used bikes, Aaron Romaine, an owner of Great Northern Bicycle Co. in Fargo, said his shop recently suspended online transactions due to increased sales volume and scarcity of product.
“We are experiencing record sales right now,” Romaine said. “It’s been a challenge. I would say after about a month of the initial shock of COVID is when we saw a large increase in sales."
The challenge for Romaine and for bike shops across the state is balancing the increase in sales with the limiting of store hours as well as the number of employees who may be in the store due to COVID-19. Despite the challenge, Romaine said an enjoyable part of the surge of demand for bikes is getting to see more North Dakotans excited about cycling.
"Some of the excitement is seeing new people experience bikes that have never really given cycling the first thought," Romaine said. “There’s a lot going on, but it is very exciting.”
Rory Schell of Val’s Cyclery in Minot said his employees have been logging 20% more hours each week. The shop typically averages 40 or 50 repairs each week once the cycling season begins and Schell said everything is taking especially long in the shop due to current circumstances.
For customers hoping to purchase a bike now, Schell suggested patience. “We’re sitting there trying to get bikes to people the best (we) can,” he said.
Ultimately, Romaine said more people on bikes will bring more attention to proper etiquette among automobile drivers. “The more people that are out on bikes, the more awareness there is in terms of the importance of cycling,” Romaine said.
White said it will be interesting to see if the rise in popularity for cycling continues, especially for people who see it as a way to remain health-conscious as the country eases out of the pandemic. “I don’t want that to disappear,” he said.