Pete Lilly of Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop poses in front of his store in Toronto on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Pete Lilly of Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop poses in front of his store in Toronto on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

Hundred of bikes once hung from the vertical racks at Sweet Pete’s. More bikes stood side-by-side on the floor.

Now, there are a lot of empty hooks and plenty of floor space.

It might seem as if business is booming at the store amid COVID-19. After all, more and more Canadians are looking to pedal power over public transit during the global pandemic, and parents are buying bikes for their cooped-up kids.

But owner Pete Lilly, who has three Sweet Pete’s shops in Toronto, is concerned about the company’s future. Because while bikes are leaving the store, few are coming in.

“It looks and feels like we’re going out of business,” Lilly said. “The cupboards are bare.”

Lilly’s store in west Toronto has stocked as many as 700 bikes at a time. Now, he has about 300. He’s closed his other two Toronto stores both due to staffing issues and a lack of merchandise largely caused by the global manufacturing lockdown.

“All the factories are back online now, but the lead times are so long that whatever we have right now is as much as we’re going to have until July,” said Lilly, who has owned Sweet Pete’s since 1997. ”So it’s a little bit grim when you look up and down the row, and you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m used to seeing this stuffed with bikes and having a basement full of backup, and being able to call a supplier and have something here tomorrow, or two or three days if it’s coming from Vancouver.’

“Now, you go on all these business-to-business websites, and all you see are zeros. They’re out of bikes, and we’re getting close to being out of bikes.”

READ MORE: B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

As experienced riders drag their old wheels out of storage to the shops for repair, and novice cyclists desperately search for a new bike with the perfect fit, some bike shop owners say customers may have to be patient as stock issues get sorted.

Will Arnold has owned Experience Cycling in Duncan, B.C., 60 kilometres north of Victoria, since 1995. He said he’s never been so busy.

“When COVID first hit, for two weeks we were very quiet. And then it just came unglued,” Arnold said.

His store averages about $177,000 in April. Last month? Sales topped $287,000.

“This is the best I’ve ever seen our cash flow and I hope it continues,” Arnold said. ”The bike business, don’t get me wrong, it’s profitable but the margins are slipping every year.”

But bikes, he said, are scarce. He’s down about 300 bikes from the usual 800 he normally carries, and he’s had to turn some customers away, including a long-term patron who he referred to a store in Victoria.

“All the hardtail, entry-level bikes and kid bikes are sold out,” Arnold said. ”We have some kids’ bikes coming next month, but our hardtails that we rely on are not being shipped into Canada until August.”

Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe joined the bike brigade a couple of weeks into Calgary’s lockdown. The Tokyo Games were postponed to 2021 shortly after Wiebe locked up her Olympic berth, and with no events to train for, or access to training facilities, Wiebe bought a white Liv Avail SL performance bike off Kijiji.

“Biking outdoors on a road bike has always been something that was a little bit scary for me,” said Wiebe, who does a lot of indoor training on a stationary bike. “But I thought, you know what? I’m not wrestling right now.

“And there’s a lot of fun aspects of road cycling, like the adrenaline of hitting a bump and thinking you’re going to die,” she laughed. “I’m all in… this summer is dedicated to just building my aerobic base and having fun on the bike.”

READ MORE: Cycling advocates say a different mindset is needed for people taking it up

The 30-year-old Wiebe, who’s been logging about 100 kilometres a week, stood in a long lineup outside a Calgary bike shop recently. The mom in front of her told sales staff she was interested in bikes for her two kids. The sales person brought out two bikes. Sold.

Shop owners say kids’ bikes, and entry-level commuter and mountain bikes are among the hottest sellers.

And with much of the manufacturing done in Asia, where COVID-19 brought the business to its knees, the distribution channel is churning in slow motion. Delivery, whether it’s by ground, sea or air, has slowed to a virtual halt.

How long would it take a bike coming off the assembly line today to arrive in a store in Canada?

“It could be as long as six months,” Lilly said.

Ben Cowie, who owns London Bicycle Cafe, said even getting bikes from companies outside Asia is difficult.

But he has a company mantra for this unique coronavirus sales season: “Bikes aren’t cancelled.”

While he’s had to shut down the cafe side of his store, he’s optimistic about his bicycle business, despite the void of stock.

“We’re a little smaller, and through a fluke and happy accident we did a lot of our ordering early this season. So we’re actually in pretty good shape in terms of inventory,” he said. “I know I can’t reorder stuff, so basically, what I have is what I have. If I can’t get your size, it’s not here.”

All three shops are also swamped doing bike repairs. Arnold said he’s seen customers bring in bikes they’ve long neglected, including a man last week who hadn’t ridden his bike in 10 years.

Cowie’s London, Ont., shop pivoted by developing a mobile bike station that allows his staff to fix bikes in customers’ own driveways, “so we’re not sharing tools, we’re not working in the same space, people aren’t coming and going in and out of the shop… really trying to use this as an opportunity to do things better.”

With demand at an all-time high, and incoming stock almost non-existent, owners also say some customers’ tempers are flaring, making their jobs all the more difficult even though they’re working harder than ever.

Arnold said a man in his store “tore a strip off” him last week. “I said ‘Sir, I’m sorry, but I’m human and we’re trying.’ We’re so behind and the phone’s ringing off the hook. You’re saying to them, ‘Look, we’re trying to get to your bike, but it’s just a no.’ So that’s hard when they hear that.”

His staff, Arnold said, is working late and skipping lunch breaks.

Lilly said he hasn’t taken a day off since it started.

“We’re pleading with people,” Lilly said, “to be patient with us during a pandemic because we’re doing our best.”

Lori Ewing , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BikingCoronavirusCycling

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tanvi Pandhi, a Grade 12 student at Fleetwood Park Secondary, took part in the Surrey school district’s survey of students in grades 10 to 12, with a focus on health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey students voice concerns about mask wearing, distancing in schools

Surrey school district has been surveying students in grades 10 to 12

Cambridge Elementary School music teacher Darlene Lourenco is “on the mend” after contracting COVID-19. She had a two-week stay at Surrey Memorial Hospital, including in the ICU. (Photo: submitted)
Surrey music teacher at home after two-week hospital stay battling COVID-19

Meantime, Surrey Teachers’ Association sends letter with safety demands to board of education

Fraser Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Newton Elementary School in Surrey, according to an information bulletin Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (Image: Google Street View)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at second Surrey elementary school

Newton Elementary closed for two weeks, set to reopen Dec. 14

Keir Macdonald, CEO of Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery Education Society, with the “first of its kind” Adult Residential Substance Use and Supportive Recovery Facility Homelessness Count. It was done around the time of the Metro Vancouver Homeless Count (March 3 to 4, 2020) to complement the count. (Photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey homeless, recovery counts show need for long-term solutions

This was the first time recovery, substance use facilities were included in the count

Joy Johnson, seen here during an installation ceremony on Oct. 22, is Simon Fraser University’s 10th president and vice-chancellor. (Submitted photo)
SFU’s Surrey campus tackling COVID-19-related research

‘We can learn now,’ SFU president Joy Johnson said, ‘so should something like this happen again we’ll be prepared. We have to learn from this current pandemic’

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read