“Bikes are the new toilet paper,” said Bill Meadows, who owns Ptown Bikes. That’s the big joke in his business.
The national surge in interest in biking has definitely found its way to the Outer Cape. Local bike shop owners say they’re having a hard time keeping up with the demand, making it hard to profit from the sudden popularity of what they have to offer.
People want bikes and related gear, they want to buy, they’re willing to rent, and they’re bringing in their old bikes for repairs. What that means, said Peter Noble-Cass, is “Everybody’s getting their asses kicked right now.”
Noble-Cass and his wife, Rebecca Brodwick Noble, own Idle Times Bike Shop, with locations in Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet. He said products started flying off the shelves early in March. Repair requests flooded in, too, as people started looking to get outdoors.
“Suddenly we got clobbered with, in March, an August level of demand,” he said. “And instead of 17 people working, we’ve got five people working.”
Meanwhile, supply is not steady. Peter Noble-Cass said that new bikes and equipment, which are made in countries like Indonesia, Taiwan, and China, are back-ordered until the fall or winter.
At this point, his shop is totally out of adult-sized bikes, and rental equipment is at capacity. Only a dozen kids’ bikes remain.
“We’re basically buying futures on this stuff,” he said.
The Little Capistrano Bike Shops in Eastham and Wellfleet are facing a similar situation. They have no more new bikes for sale.
“We can’t get any more new orders until August,” said Melissa Ayala, who runs the shop with her two sons, Josh and Alex, and their grandmother, Kathy LaBrecque.
“When we opened, everyone had a stimulus check,” Josh Ayala said. They were sold out of bikes by Memorial Day weekend. At that point, Josh, who handles repairs, noticed that people were getting bikes out of their basements for the first time in a long time. Calls for repairs went up.
Owners of both businesses say they are trying to keep up with the influx of service requests and get the repairs done within a week. But that doesn’t help visitors who are here only for a short stay.
The Idle Times shops are closed inside but online and phone service is available. Curbside drop-off and pickup are also available at the shop. Noble-Cass said he’s waiting for a viable treatment for coronavirus before he’ll let people inside his store again.
The Little Capistrano Shop has its doors open, but customers can remain outside to do business or drop off and pick up bikes.
With bikes in short supply, style no longer matters to most customers, Noble-Cass said. “We had dead wood we couldn’t sell for two years,” he said. “I sold some of the most ugly awful stuff.”
Bill Meadows, whose shop is in Provincetown, agreed that style has gone by the wayside because there just isn’t sufficient supply. Though at the high end, things are a little different.
“If you want to buy a $2,000 bike, you might have more luck,” he said.
Meadows did have a stroke of good luck with his supply this year. His business is mostly rentals, since a lot of people visiting Provincetown are more inclined to bike around town than drive. In February, he said, he ordered a lot of bikes to use as rentals. When the coronavirus hit, he stopped building them because he didn’t think he’d need them. But as the situation evolved, he started selling them to people who came in looking to buy. That’s why you’ll see a lot of bikes around town that are all the same model and the same color.
Lately, Ptown Bikes has been shipping bikes to New York City, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. — cities where people are trying to avoid public transportation systems.
Mostly, being in the bike business means being in a waiting game for now. And worrying about what the climate will be like when new bikes and gear do finally arrive.
“All those people who think we’re getting rich — that ain’t it,” Noble-Cass said. “It’s not growth. It’s a huge spike in demand with no way to profit off it.”