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A vicious cycle: Bike sales soar, causing shortages and "panic buying"

Rise of bike riders during pandemic

Cycling appears to have become the outdoors activity of choice for many Americans amid nationwide shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic, as evidenced by the surge in bike sales in recent months. Indeed, bicycle makers report spikes in sales so dramatic as people look for ways to get outside and to safely commute that they are struggling to keep up with demand and are now grappling with inventory shortages.

Basic adult bicycles, known in the industry as "leisure" bicycles, have seen double- and triple-digit sales increases, according to research from NPD Group. Sales of adult leisure bikes were up 121% in March, according to its data.

"Consumers are looking for outdoor- and kid-friendly activities to better tolerate the challenges associated with stay-at-home orders, and cycling fits the bill well," NPD sports industry analyst Dirk Sorenson said.

Bevin Carroll, a partner in Bicycle Sport, a bike shop in Vero Beach, Florida, said customers started flocking to the spot about eight weeks ago and scooped up much of its inventory.

"We saw panic buying on bikes in the lower price range, around $400," he told CBS News. "People were just coming in and were going to buy anything we had on the floor at that entry price level."

What inventory remains is "really picked over" and mostly in the higher-end range, Carroll added.

"A lot of new friends"

Dave Weiner, who founded Priority Bicycles, which makes low-maintenance bikes that can be ordered online, said he's worked at the company's New York City showroom until 1 a.m. every morning this week fulfilling customers' orders. The online sales setup of his business has proved to be a model that works well in the coronavirus era.

"Demand has been tremendous, not only because more people are looking for a good social distancing activity and alternative modes of transportation, but also because people don't want to go into stores and we sell bikes online," Weiner said.

The company's commuter-stye bicycle is usually the hot seller, priced from $500 to $1,100 fully loaded, but right now, its range of recreational bikes, including beach cruisers, are hardest to come by. "We've definitely made a lot of new friends in terms of people who weren't riding before and are now," he said.

Schwinn sales are "up and up and up"

Mehdi Farsi, co-founder of Tempe, Arizona-based State Bicycle Co., said it's a great time to specialize in affordable, single-speed bicycles that are ideal for commuting cities without many hills or just casually exploring different bike routes.

"Especially with our price point and our primary distribution channel being online, we have seen a big spike in sales," he said.

All of the company's bikes, which start at $300, are on pre-order as they make their way to the United States from China and Taiwan, after sales surged about 200%.

"Our inventory has hit the water and is on its way to us. People who order a bike right now will have it shipped in three weeks," he said.

Sales would have increased even more, by up to 700%, Farsi estimates, if the company had a larger supply.

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Schwinn, owned by Madison, Wisconsin-based Pacific Cycle, said it also saw a surge in demand beginning in March, when lockdowns started taking place across the U.S.

"We were prepared for the seasonality of the business and were able to keep up with demand for a while but after sales went up and up and up and we ran into inventory issues," said company spokesperson Ryan Birkicht.

There's currently about a six-week lag in the company's production schedule. "We are waiting for that bump in the supply chain to remedy itself," Birkicht said.

Nothing left to sell

Thank home-schooling, the closure of big office buildings and shuttered gyms for the sudden surge, NPD Group senior sports industry advisor Matt Powell said. "It's a good recess activity and people are looking for exercise they can do and still social distance and that falls right into the bike business for sure."

Still, there's a downside to the crush of new orders.

"We are selling out of everything we have, which sounds amazing, but is not as good as it sounds because then you don't really have anything to sell," Weiner of Priority Bicycles said.

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