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Pandemic leaves bike shops struggling in shortages

George Gatto’s bicycle shop flourished in summer 2020, as the first pandemic lockdowns eased and bike sales nationwide boomed. This summer, however, is a different story. The demand is still there, but manufacturing warehouses globally are empty, and places such as Gatto Cycle Shop in Tarentum are left scrambling.

When the coronavirus restrictions hit in March 2020, Gatto closed his doors. He couldn’t sell anything for months. He even debated selling off his inventory to others in his dealer performance group. But they told him to save his stock and buy as much as he could. Reluctantly, he listened to their advice. The inventory turned out to be vital to the shop’s endurance that year.

Once stores reopened in the early summer, people flocked to Gatto’s, snapping up the two-wheeled ways to spend the summer in motion, outdoors. Gatto was elated — until he realized supplies were not unlimited.

The combination of manufacturing shutdowns during the pandemic and the tremendous demand of customers has created a shortage of bikes and service parts. Bike shops have been left with longer waits on supplier shipments and less inventory to sell.

The delays could last a few years.

Shop owners expect the market and inventory to return close to normal by next summer. But some smaller shops are worried they won’t make it that long.

“A lot of us are gonna struggle through the winter. I expect some to close up shop altogether,” said Samuel Echard of Greensburg Bike Shop in Youngwood.

Bike shop owners throughout the region have felt the effects of this shortage. They say while it was beneficial at first, it’s getting harder to perform their normal functions.

Most owners were thrilled last summer when they began to sell out of stock. Some say bike sales were up 50% during the height of the lockdown.

While the demand for bikes and parts rose, so did their prices. Material costs for aluminum, steel and rubber have gone up by 10% to 50% in 2020 and are expected to climb by another 10% to 25% this year.

Ashley Reefer, owner of Flat Tire Co. in Greensburg, said that “from a sales perspective, this is the first time the demand’s ever been this high, which is very good.” That high demand exceeded the supply, which was under substantial strain from shipping and manufacturing complications.

Steve Kurpiewski and Evan Robinson run Steady State Cycles in O’Hara. Kurpiewski, like many other local shop owners, is concerned and frustrated because he can’t get the parts needed to finish a repair on a customer’s bicycle for several months. Some orders are already stretching into 2022 for arrival.

“It’s the longest wait for parts I’ve seen in the last 15 years. It takes longer to do what used to be easy. No one wants to hear it’ll take six months to do a normal fix,” Kurpiewski said. “It’s that crazy. It’s never been like this.”

Many suppliers have had complications and even closures because of the pandemic, including full shutdowns for a Malaysian plant manufacturing Shimano Cycling parts, prolonging the already lengthy waits for materials. Gatto says the system is too complex to go back to normal anytime soon.

“The manufacturers are doing the best they can. But when you’re in a global manufacturing economy, there’s items made all over the world. There are parts of Europe that are still shut down because of covid. Malaysia, India, Pakistan or other Asian countries don’t have the vaccine like we do. If you need a part for a vehicle that comes out of those countries, you can’t get that part. This is what we’re dealing with, but we’re doing everything we can to satisfy people’s needs,” Gatto said.

With parts of the world still closed, many international manufacturers are still struggling to resume operations. Bike shops and their suppliers are left scrambling to satisfy customers. Gatto explained that it’s not just bicycle parts he needs — it’s everything the dealer carries.

“The supply chain is a mess in everything that we carry. I have friends in other industries telling me it’s the same thing. We have people calling, emailing, texting, and we have to explain, ‘No, I can’t get you this vehicle; no, I can’t get you this helmet; no, I can’t get you this tire; no, I can’t get you this battery.’ People get really upset. We can’t get any products,” he said.

Because of the rise in shipping and manufacturing costs and the multiple manufacturing delays, the much-needed materials are being shipped less frequently.

“Luckily, we have priority for the allocated resources from our suppliers,” Reefer said, explaining that due to their size and success, her suppliers would be sending the shop the quickest available stock, prioritizing them over smaller and less efficient stores. “But smaller shops can’t get the same resources that we can.”

Reefer also explained that inventory isn’t the only concern for the bike shop owners. She understands the frustration of customers.

“It’s challenging to try and help people when there is a shortage,” she said. “There are some parts you just can’t find. Most times we make something work, but it’s quite a challenge.”

Zachary Gibson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Zachary by email at zgibson@triblive.com or via Twitter.

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