Mark Dunn usually has 150 bikes on hand to sell at Scooter’s Pro Cycle in Holt.
He had 12 as of Thursday afternoon.
People have come from across Michigan and from as far as Indiana and Ohio and bought most of his inventory. It was not what Dunn expected after Michigan retailers were allowed to reopen in May.
“We did a whole season in a month or two,” he said. “Sales have increased. We can barely get new bikes and parts from suppliers.”
The coronavirus pandemic shut down most bicycle shops, except for those deemed essential. Some in areas like New York City stayed open so that residents could avoid subways.
But the outbreak also spurred a huge demand for bikes and repairs in Michigan and around the country. By the time local shops reopened, they were inundated with more customers than they could handle.
Many customers couldn’t find bikes for sale in their own areas, which explains why Tim Potter saw people from Bowling Green, Ohio, at the MSU Bikes Service Center, which “doesn’t do any advertising,” he said.
“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse,” said Potter, the East Lansing shop’s sustainable transportation manager. “When we initially reopened, we were short staffed. Our service manager and mechanic got slammed hard. We have been busy with repairs.”
Bike buying during the pandemic
Prospective customers can’t find every sort of bike they’re interested in these days.
“I would like to purchase a new hybrid bicycle, but the high demand for bicycles during the pandemic has made this very difficult,” said Dave Goodman, an East Lansing resident who said he often rides for socializing and to take trips to the grocery store.
Additional bikes will be coming to the MSU Bikes Service Center.
The shop is part of the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center, which handles the sales of bicycles left behind around campus. The Service Center will now be selling the used and abandoned bikes.
“We are selling those that need work for those on a tight budget,” Potter said. “We put information on tags about the repairs we think they may need. I’m excited about that, but it will be a huge challenge.”
The older bikes will help replenish the shop’s inventory as it waits on new bikes to sell.
“A lot of bike shops are seeing quadruple the sales once they open,” Potter said. “We are right in line with what other shops are seeing. We had triple the sales of last year in June.”
Evergreen Cycles & Repair in East Lansing also saw increases in bike sales after reopening. The shop now has fewer than a dozen bikes, far fewer than usual, according to owner Hunter Seyfarth.
“When you’re shut down, it’s not like the bills stop. Rent on commercial spaces is not cheap,” Seyfarth said. “Having an uptick as we opened up was a welcome surprise.”
“I wasn’t sure how many would want to come out, get bikes and get them serviced,” he added. “People are cautious.”
Riding bikes in Lansing
As he deals with a neurological condition brought on by bad medication, riding has become therapeutic for Gary Skriba, a retiree who lives in Portland.
“It’s like mental and physical therapy for everyone I know,” he added. “It’s a safe way for people to engage and maintain social distancing.”
Which is how most local bike shop managers explain the boom in business they are seeing.
Others like Potter wonder if reduced public transportation options during the stay-home order had something to do with it.
Local bus ridership has gone down from 60,000 trips per day at its peak to 6,500 trips per day during the pandemic, according to Lolo Robison, director of marketing & customer experience at CATA.
But CATA doesn’t track what riders might be doing instead.
Michigan’s unusual bike season
When he’s not riding in the Lansing area, Skriba repairs and sells older bikes as a hobby, but he hasn’t been able to do so this year.
“It’s hard to find used bikes,” he said. “Everyone is snatching them up to ride for themselves. I don’t want to pull them out of the supply chain.”
When repair requests “start trickling in,” that signals the start of bike season until business slows before school starts, according to Dunn.
Michigan’s bike season often starts after Valentine’s Day. This year, it began with bike shops simultaneously at a disadvantage with suppliers and an advantage with customers, Dunn said.
“During the shutdown in New York, bikes were deemed essential transportation. Many shops stayed open,” Dunn added. “When we started our season, nothing was left. We missed out.”
Cities with mild climates all year long had increased opportunities to purchase bikes before suppliers began having trouble keeping up with demand from shops, he added.
Not able to get bikes from his usual suppliers, Dunn signed up with three additional bike lines to restock his store.
Seyfarth said he ordered 30 new bikes last month, but his manufacturer could only send one.
“As this point, we are having a tough time getting bikes because manufacturers are sold out as well. It’s frustrating not having new bikes to sell,” he said. “Manufacturers can’t keep up with demand, and parts are also tougher and tougher to get.”
Without the needed parts, bike repairs too have been taking longer than usual for some bike shops.
“I went to get a routine repair in the spring. (The shop) said it would be four weeks. He got it down to three weeks. It’s normally three days,” Skriba said.
Greater Lansing shop owners are asking customers to be patient and to call ahead as they operate during what has become an unusual bike season.
“We are doing the best we can,” Dunn said.
Contact LSJ reporter Kristan Obeng at KObeng@lsj.com or 517-267-1344. Follow her on Twitter @KrissyObeng.
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