Nic Van Beurden was ready to move into the next gear with her bicycle wheel startup, Sōr Cycles, when the pandemic hit.
And while development of the company she co-founded with Phil White, founder of Cervélo bikes, continues its innovation, development and testing work, the marketing and sales portion of the business is on hold while the cycling industry desperately plays catch-up to a supply shortage.
“We’ve been ready to go for a while, but because of all of this, we’ve held off,” said Van Beurden, a former professional bike racer and president of the Barrie Cycling Club.
The bicycle industry has been hit by a double-edged sword: a surge in demand and interest and a pandemic-induced manufacturing slowdown which began at the start of the pandemic a year ago.
As a result, the rush to get outdoors is proving slim pickings for anyone who wants to hit the road or trails on a brand new bicycle. There aren’t a lot of bikes left in stores to choose from and what supply does exist is expected to soon disappear.
The supply is so short that Morgan Lemen sees his Bikeland store focusing largely on repairs and used bike sales later in the season when he expects there will be few if any new bikes left to sell.
“This year is more of a challenge because we’re not starting with a store full of bikes,” said the longtime Barrie bike seller.
A Canadian distributor has been able to send “skids of bikes” while others have provided just one or two bikes per week. And what does come in is often sold ahead of time. While there are still some bikes left to sell, including e-bikes, eventually, he expects, this year’s new bike supply will dry up.
Lemen saw the increased interest in bikes and cycling begin at the start of the pandemic a year ago when supplies already proved limited. Since then the stores, warehouses and even the ships bringing in the bikes have cleared out much of the bikes they did have and manufacturers have not been able to fully replenish the stocks.
“The distributors are trying to get more capacity going to build bikes, that takes a little time. So we’re just not going to be able to refill our showrooms for a couple of years,” he said. “People are giving us deposits on things that aren’t here yet.”
Meanwhile online sales have helped to increase Bikeland’s sales area from Barrie and Simcoe County to the wider central and southern Ontario regions and that has continued this year.
Bikeland also has a four-week waiting period for bike repairs, which is a much higher demand for this time of year. Combined with the used bike stock the store has and continues to develop, Lemen sees a coming shift in the shop’s focus.
“We’ll be a real big used bike and repair shop,” he said with a little chuckle.
The increased bike sales from the past year will help the store continue on as will the shift in focus. But Lemen isn’t entirely sure what to expect down the road.
For those looking for bikes, Lemen said the shop will do what it can, but the immediate picture is pointing to more sales of used bike.
All those bikes being purchased are translating to more riding on local roads and trails, said Brendan Matheson, experience development co-ordinator for Tourism Simcoe County.
Referring to data mined from activity app Strava Metro, Matheson said total cycling trips increased by 95 per cent in 2020, compared to 2019 on Simcoe County roads and trails. That includes both commutes and recreational cycling on and off road use.
He points out that Strava accounts for all users that upload a cycling activity to the app, so it’s not a total count of all users riding in the county, including the cities of Barrie and Orillia. But it does provide an informative snapshot and demonstrates the growth in cycling.
“Traffic... has increased substantially. If you’re at a trailhead on a Saturday morning in summer, it’s almost hard to find parking these days,” said Matheson. “It’s pretty exciting that more people are getting out and discovering the area.”
Tourism marketing, he added, is staying focused on the local market, in keeping with public health guidelines.
And it isn’t just bikes that are appearing on trails and roads with increased frequency. There are more walkers and hikers as well, Matheson added.
“All types of recreational activities have increased dramatically in the (Simcoe) County Forest,” he added.
Local groups help maintain local trails and he encouraged those using the trails to connect with the group on guidance and best practices.
Among those who have recently rediscovered the county forests and other walking areas in and around Barrie, is Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP Doug Shipley.
While the pandemic has proven challenging on many levels, ready access to the outdoors has proven invigorating.
“We’ve always — the family, my wife and I especially — enjoyed walking our dog periodically.” he said. “Now we’re becoming quite avid walkers and hikers. We’ve always enjoyed Simcoe County Forests a little bit. We didn’t realize how extensive and how expansive it was - the great trail systems that are out there, and it’s fantastic.
“There’s nothing better than to get out, get some fresh air into your lungs and take a good brisk walk through the woods in the Simcoe County forests," the MP added.
Shipley said the regular walks help mentally and physically. He also contributes them to him shedding a few pounds along the way.
In addition to doing the development work for her bike wheel business, Van Beurden is hoping for a more active season for the Barrie Cycling Club. Because of distancing requirements there were very few organized activities last year. A board meeting next week will help to lay the foundation for what activities the club might hold this year.
Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com