A Pandemic Accelerated Divide
The pandemic has accelerated a divide that has been developing for years now in the bike industry. Many of the biggest bike companies are aggressively pursuing factory owned stores and more online sales over independent bike dealer representation. In some cases this will mean a new “Trek Store” may move into your neighborhood. In others, it may mean that Specialized, or someone else, buys your neighborhood bike shop and you start to notice some changes. Finally, you may see some general bike shops disappear or significantly change their brand representations as they attempt to navigate the new landscape. The bottom line is that the bike industry of 2019 is gone – pretty much everything has changed from a distribution perspective.
Conflicts of Interest
The above scenarios create a number of conflicts of interest within the industry. For example, assuming bike demand remains strong, it is hard to imagine Specialized or Trek prioritizing equipment to a dealer they don’t own over one that they do… Associated, if factory based stores are more common in larger population areas, what does it mean for the representation of those brands in lower population areas? Also, some independent dealers feel backed into a corner these days by suppliers. These dealers are forced to sell what they can get – are these offerings likely to be in the best interest of the rider.
How this Affects Fit Werx and Our Riders
What does that mean for Fit Werx, our offerings, and how we relate to our riders? In some ways, little has changed – we remain committed to putting riders first. In other ways it means that we are doubling down on our commitment to offering products from companies that are truly committed to road & gravel cyclists, mountain bikers and triathletes. Whether you are looking for a performance eBike or that next bike to take you to new places or achieve new goals, we are committed to offering you quality products from companies that are committed to riders as much as we are. While we are navigating the same supply environment as everyone else, we remain fiercely independent and committed to doing all we can to help you – as an individual – ride better.
We hope that we can continue to earn your trust and business. The article we published in 2018 about how important your business is to independent companies in the bike industry is more relevant than ever. When it comes to the challenges the “omni-channel” presents to bike shops, the influence of the items outlined in the article have increased significantly during the pandemic. The one thing that is for sure is that when the dust finally settles (years from now) the future of the bike industry will not look like the past.
Where are Things at Right Now
This all being said, we live in the present. So, what is service, bike and equipment supply looking like today as we head into the spring of 2022?
Bike shop service areas have been strained every spring for as long as can be remembered and the past couple years have been of particular challenge. The industry doesn’t have enough skilled technicians to serve significant demand fluctuations – like spring in the Northeast – efficiently.
We feel fortunate to have as solid, qualified and as committed a service staff as we do. This being said, we are not immune from the spring surge of service requests. In addition to increased service requests, we are receiving significantly more new bikes that need to be built than we did in 2021. This is a good thing, but, seeing as most bike builds take seven or more hours, it does further challenge resources. While we will always do what we can for emergency situations for people who have bought bikes from us, plan on making service appointments at least a few weeks in advance heading through spring. If the past is any indicator, lead times should reduce as we get deeper into summer.
Each Fit Werx location is in a different situation, so reach out if you need service and we can tell you where things are at.
Replacement Parts & Components Inventory
While general component availability and outlook remains much longer than we would like it to be – we are in better shape than we were a year ago on some key items. For example, we have a significantly deeper array of tires in-stock than a year ago and 11 speed chains in quantity, which we were completely out of for much of 2021. Cassettes, on the other hand, remain a sticking point in some common sizes.
While we do have a few Zipp and Enve wheels in-stock, some wheels can require a pretty long wait still. Plan ahead. We also offer specialty wheel brands like Rolf and Princeton that are being supportive of riders and multiple fronts and delivering much quicker than most.
Shift lever inventory remains weak with a number of popular options taking over six months to get.
Overall, things feel better than a year ago when it comes to service parts, but are still far from where they used to be and notable sticking points on parts remain.
Specialty Bike Company Supply
For the reasons listed above, we are glad that our business model has always meant that we never over-committed to some of the biggest bike companies. Had we, we would likely be out of business today. Instead, by far the best communication, support and flexibility we have seen has been from specialty bike companies like Parlee, OPEN and Moots. They have handled this challenging time admirably and as equitably as possible – making sure that they maintain geographical distribution in frenzied marketplace.
As an example, instead of insisting on over-inflated orders two seasons in advance (as some big companies did), Parlee actually refused to accept orders beyond a certain size. They realized that bloated orders would damage their ability to fulfill orders with other valuable dealers. This commitment to equity has allowed them to deliver bikes in a shorter time window than their big bike company counterparts. 3-7 month delivery windows remain common with these companies and periodically we get “surprised” by something shipping in a matter of weeks. While this remains well beyond what we’d like to see, it is significantly faster (and more reliable) than some other options.
When it comes to mid-sized specialty companies (companies like Niner and tri bike builder QR, for example) we’ve seen a real mix of situations. Some examples:
While we have sold through our 2022 allocation, we are taking orders for models like Niner’s great new Jet mountain bike for the first of the 2023 models today. We will get a limited number of these, so plan ahead for 2023 today and contact us now to reserve yours.
Tri bike sales were up in ’21 after a dismal ’20 (athletes don’t tend to buy bikes when there aren’t any events…), the category remains softer than some others. While this hasn’t been great for product development from Shimano and SRAM, it has meant shorter lead times on some tri bikes. While the wait on Parlee’s TTiR tri bike has been longer at times, we’ve been seeing most QR models arrive in 1-3 months.
We continue to see the specialty bike manufacturers, in conjunction with specialty retailers, as the companies that drive the bike industry forward the most. Without the ideas and development from these companies, it seems unlikely that innovations from bike geometry that actually works well for most riders, to electronic shifting and tubeless tires would be where they are today.
Big Bike Company Supply
With few exceptions that are often momentary and fleeting, mass production specialty bikes from big name suppliers remain places where planning well in advance or just getting lucky is necessity. While a bike dealer somewhere may have just received a popular unit that they somehow have not sold yet, it will be the exception. For the most part, if you want a particular bike from one a big bike company, you should get one under deposit and be prepared to wait for the next open allocation. In many cases, this will mean a 2023 model year bike in many of the popular models, which will not be very likely to ship this summer.
Big companies remain non-committal on the supply of many models moving forward. With on-going factory shut-downs and shipping delays in Asia, things are not likely to become more predictable on this front soon.
Contact us to find out more about what bikes fit you and what availability looks like.