Local Shops Navigate an Unprecedented Bicycling Boom

The pandemic got lots of people back on the road — for better or worse
bicycling schwinn
A classic: Detroit Bikes has started manufacturing the iconic Schwinn Collegiate cruiser. // Photograph courtesy of Schwinn

“It’s as easy as riding a bike.” That is, if you can find one. When local bike shops began gearing up for their usual spring sales, none could have foreseen what was coming down the road: an unprecedented bicycling boom that, combined with pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions, left bikes and bike parts hard to come by this summer.

As quarantine began, bike sales soared. Besides being a fun and dynamic workout, cycling is easy to do at a safe distance from others, making it an ideal quarantine activity. By mid-spring, bike supplies had dried up and shops were left empty-handed. Sales of bikes and bike parts, as well as spending on repairs, almost doubled from March of 2019, according to market research company The NPD Group.

After just “two weeks of nonstop bike sales,” Zachary Pashak, owner of Detroit Bikes, realized he was going to have trouble keeping up with demand. “Online sales were 10 times higher than they were at the same time last year,” he says. “It was almost overwhelming.”

Those not rushing to buy new bikes were busy dusting off their old ones and hurrying to get them road-ready. Rob West, head mechanic for Velofix Detroit, says the repair business has been “off the charts.” Velofix is the only fully mobile bike repair service in metro Detroit, meeting customers at their chosen location. “We never closed down because I don’t have to have contact with people to do my work,” West says. “Because there’s no contact, and we fix bikes on the spot, you don’t have to leave them at a shop for weeks at a time. We’re extremely backed up.”

While repairs may be backed up, for Detroit Bikes, not having as many bikes to sell has brought opportunity. Amid the national shortage, Pashak says Detroit Bikes is “back in full force. … The factory is slammed trying to keep up with the demand. We have all kinds of customers — individual, institutional. We’re building them all and just trying to keep up.”

On top of working furiously to meet demand for their own models, Detroit Bikes staff members have begun production of a classic Schwinn model, the Collegiate cruiser, bringing production for the iconic bicycle brand back to the U.S. for the first time since 1982. Schwinn Collegiates made by Detroit Bikes were expected to be available online through Walmart starting sometime in August.

Despite the depleted stock and long waits for repairs, West says the future of bicycling as a hobby is looking bright. “There’s been some good things about this all, too, because there’s a lot more families out riding,” he says. “I have a lot of different customers than what I had seen before. I’m doing a lot more work for families. If there’s any bright spot in all of this, it’s that.”

For those searching for a bike who are unable to get their hands on one, Pashak recommends the MoGo bike share program in metro Detroit, which offers an efficient and fun way to cruise around the city. Stationed throughout 10 neighborhoods, MoGo hubs offer rentals of standard, electric, and adaptive bikes for just 25 cents a minute.

And if that’s not your speed, Pashak suggests a more DIY solution: “Pull out your old bike, pop on a YouTube video, and get to work.”