Hot wheels: Bikes popular with cooped-up COVID crowd

Samantha Raudins
sraudins@dispatch.com
Dandy Bikes owner Gary Stivers said the Old North Columbus store has less than half its usual number of new bikes on the floor, can barely keep refurbished bikes in stock and has a mountain of repairs to do. Here, Stivers puts away a new bike after customer Miyah Greenwood took it for a test ride.

Bikes are selling faster than Dandy Bikes can build them, owner Gary Stivers said.

"We had one boy sit here 45 minutes waiting on us to finish one, and then when we got it done, he said, 'I'll take it,' " Stivers said.

"Had a guy yesterday, walked in, he said, 'You got a mountain bike?' and I was having to finish up a big 29-inch mountain bike we got from the Goodwill, and he looked at it, said 'I'll take it.' Never rode, (did) anything else, just paid for it and took it."

The shop at 2489 N. High St. in the Old North Columbus neighborhood had about 10 bikes for sale as of July 16, some new, some refurbished; it usually keeps nearly twice that number on the floor.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, bike shops nationwide are struggling to stock new bikes shipped from abroad, and U.S. bicycle sales are experiencing their biggest spike since the oil crisis of the 1970s, experts say.

Stivers said five new 2020-model bikes that arrived last week took two months to reach his shop.

A big demand for repair work also has arisen, he said, with people digging out bikes that haven't been ridden in years or finding ones in thrift shops. He has about 20 bikes in the shop for repairs.

These days, people seem desperate for repairs, no matter the cost: Stivers said one person paid $317 to have everything on a bike replaced.

"It was an all-American-made Raleigh, and I told him when he said it, I said, 'Well, I want a deposit,' because a lot of people do that, and I never see them again," Stivers said. "He gave me $200. He says, 'I want my bike fixed.' "

The roll: bicycle company, which operates four stores in the Columbus area and manufactures its own brand of custom bikes, initially planned to cut its staff and other operating costs when the pandemic struck.

Now the company is adding jobs as it tries to keep up with demand, with the number of imported bikes down by 30% this year because of the pandemic, said Ryan Hughes, its chief operating officer.

"As it started to play out over the end of March, it became pretty clear that bikes were becoming the new toilet paper," Hughes said.

The company eventually decided to keep the bikes it made and stock its shops with them rather than distribute them to its 80 nationwide retailers, because the shops were running out of competing brands, Hughes said.

He said bikes costing less than $1,000 are scarce, and lower-priced, entry-level models are the hottest sellers. The next 30 children's bikes that make it to the floor will be gone in a week, he said.

For example, Hughes was at a roll: store in Bexley when a customer brought in a children's bike to "upcycle," or break down for reuse, and another customer asked to buy the bike.

"They were just champing at the bit to buy that bike," Hughes said, "and that part actually got a little bit constrained because there are people who are looking to come back and trade their bikes, but there's nothing to trade their bikes in for."

Hughes said the spike in demand has been almost too good.

"Just in the past week or so have we started to see our overall sales numbers decline ... directly attributed to, we have nothing to sell," he said.

sraudins@dispatch.com

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