Video: Bike boom rides second wave as supply chain remains tangled up

Vancouver's cycling demographics shift due to increase of new bike owners

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By Norman Galimski

The second wave of the pandemic bike boom is well underway and the domino effects from last year are stressing the supply chain for bike shops. The changes in who is cycling in Vancouver are becoming visible.

In early 2020, bike shops had full inventories of new bicycles, plus any left over from the year before, to meet the sudden spike in demand, said Erich Jurgens, owner of The Bike Doctor. But still, many bike shops were sold out by the summer.

“It was a rush unlike anything, I think, the industry has ever seen,” Jurgens said.

However, Jurgens said the bike shortage in the second wave of the bike boom is a symptom of supply and not only increased demand.

Some store owners have said there is no way to even estimate the extent of demand because they can’t get enough new bicycles into the shops to know.

A man rides in the bike lane across the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo: Norman Galimski)

Worse than last year

This year, bike shops still aren’t fully restocked and continue to struggle to get new bicycles and parts in.

Amrik Boghar, an employee at Denman Bike Shop, said their store still has around the normal demand, if not more, for bikes, but said that there are about 50 per cent fewer bikes available. This is because suppliers are only working at about 45 per cent of what they normally would pre-pandemic, he said.

One of the biggest changes in the supply chain now is how suppliers are delivering new bicycles to retailers. The economy of scale weighs more than ever on smaller retailers.

“Whoever sells more gets more bikes, and whoever doesn’t sell more doesn’t get it,” Boghar said.

Before, suppliers used to sell their bicycles and parts on a first-come first-serve basis, said Boghar. But now they are supplying to shops that buy the most quantity of bicycles first, which makes it even more difficult for those who can’t buy in large quantities to operate.

The Bike Doctor now gets sporadic deliveries of 20 bikes at a time instead of getting a one time delivery of 500 bikes.

“This year is different because supply is going just as quickly, if not a little quicker, but [bicycles are] not available in one big drop,” Jurgens said. Instead, he said, their supply comes in “fits and starts.”

Changing demographics

The spike in new bike owners over the past year has visibly changed the demographics of cyclists in Vancouver, said Jeff Leigh, the HUB Cycling chair for Vancouver and UBC.

“We have seen a huge number of families with kids on the bikeways – and in routes that we wouldn’t have seen them on before,” Leigh said.

A man rides tandem with a child along the Seawall in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo: Norman Galimski)

 

Vancouver’s cycling lanes and routes are much better than in other cities because the city perceives cycling as important, said Rebecca Mayers, a UBC PhD student whose main field of research is city cycling.

Cycling advocates have a strong voice in the city through groups such as HUB Cycling, among others, that have all affected the building and improvement of cycling infrastructure in Vancouver, Mayers said.

One of the most influential and important factors for Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure, both Leigh and Mayers said, has been the 2017 Complete Streets Framework. This policy gave the city engineer the authority to design and plan city streets independent of council, skipping the often-lengthy city council process.

Mayers said Vancouver cycling benefits from abundant cycling data that the city and third parties, like UBC researchers, collect. This abundance of data helps make the city implement data-based decisions for cycling infrastructure that give confidence in its implementation to the city and its engineers, she said.

Leigh said he believes the majority of new cyclists from the pandemic bike boom are here to stay and will continue to push Vancouver in a more cycling-positive direction.

Watch the video  below to hear from experts on the changes in Vancouver cycling one year into the bike boom:

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