Where’s the Pandemic-Fueled Bicycle Boom Headed? Industry Insiders Weigh In

"It's a trend that makes sense. There's no reason for us to slow down," Retrospec CEO told Observer.

People wearing protective masks walk their bicycles at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park during the coronavirus pandemic on May 17, 2020 in New York City. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

In March 2020, shortly after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic and states ordered lockdowns, nationwide sales of bicycles suddenly doubled from the same period a year earlier, according to the market research company NPD Group. With almost the entire population shut out of office buildings, schools and shops, a lot of people picked up biking as a hobby or a new mode of transportation to get from point A to point B.

By May 2020, bicycle shops across the country were struggling to keep shelves filled amid surging demand. “Some bicycle shops in Brooklyn are selling twice as many bikes as usual…Shops in Phoenix is selling three times the number of bikes it typically does. A retailer in Washington, D.C., sold all its entry-level bikes by the end of April and has fielded more preorders than ever in its 50-year history,” The New York Times reported at the time.

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Booming business made many bike sellers nervous, as the pandemic’s unfortunate timing weighed on the global bike supply chain. A fun fact about the industry: over 90 percent of bikes sold globally are made in China, where COVID-19 first emerged. Massive factory shutdowns in February and March of 2020 disrupted the supply to U.S. sellers in the following months.

“Even though there was this early spike in sales, we really left a lot of sales on the table for the fact that we couldn’t get bikes and other products fast enough,” Ely Khakshouri, cofounder and CEO of Retrospec, a major seller of leisure bikes in North America, told Observer. Bike sales at Retrospec jumped 150 percent year-over-year in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said.

Fast forward to May 2020: the Chinese manufacturing glitch is long gone, and cycling is still trending in cities and the countryside alike. Its popularity is going to last through this summer—when many states finally get to fully reopen—and beyond, industry insiders say.

During the week of May 9 to May 15, the Citi Bike in New York City saw its highest weekly ridership ever, with 631,314 rides. On May 15, a Saturday, the bike rental service sold 118,590 rides, an all-time high for any single day.

Nationwide, bike sellers have seen strong sales in 2021 so far. “There have been positive financial reports across the board in the first three months of 2021,” says a new report by PinkBike, a news and e-commerce site for the cycling community. “The bike boom seems to be continuing its momentum from the end of 2020 and, despite widespread reports of product shortages, brands are reporting year-on-year growth with some even posting record quarters.” 

“The younger generation—and even the older generation—are more and more interested in active lifestyles,” Khakshouri said. “The trend was well underway before COVID-19, and the pandemic has accelerated that trend, the same way it has accelerated e-commerce and food delivery.

“The bicycle world never slows down to zero, even in cold places,” he added. “It’s a trend that makes sense; it’s sustainable, healthy and great for mental health. There’s no reason for us to slow down.”

The global bike market is expected to continue to grow “at a formidable rate” into 2025, according to a forecast of the global single-speed bike market published by the Inside Market Reports this week.

Where’s the Pandemic-Fueled Bicycle Boom Headed? Industry Insiders Weigh In