Unexpected popularity hits Kamloops cycling shops during pandemic

Biking boom empties stores

While some parts of the economy are cratering, some are experiencing an unexpected boom during the pandemic.

One is cycling. Local bike businesses are reporting massive growth compared to last year, at a time when many other retailers are in the red.

"We've had a lot of explosive growth," says David Lee, who owns CycleLogic with locations in downtown Kamloops, Quesnel, Williams Lake and Prince George.

"Word got out biking was the new toilet paper," says Jessica Blanken, owner of District Bicycle Company. "There's nothing left."

Mayor Ken Christian says word of the boom in biking was brought up at city hall earlier this month.

Blanken notes that District, which has been around for five years, recorded its best day ever on one Saturday this spring, adding that she had a conversation with people at Spoke Bike and Ski (formerly Spoke N' Motion) who said that same day was their best day ever as well.

Mike Reid, the manager at Spoke Bike and Ski, says their entire inventory of bikes ranging from $500 to $3,500 has been bought up.

"We're getting close to doubling our business," he tells Castanet, estimating they're at above 150 per cent of where they were last year and things are still busy. "The only thing we missed out on was getting more bikes in so we could sell them."

Blanken says sales at District are similar.

Lee calls the situation "not normal."

The three locals all agree the reason is related to the pandemic, which has impacted things in a few different ways. One is international vacations which cost thousands of dollars, have mostly been cancelled, leaving some people with unexpected cash on hand.

"I'd say anyone who had a trip to Mexico planned got their refund and are staying in town," says Reid.

Lee agrees, and adds that social distancing is causing people to choose different activities.

"I think it's simply people are bored; you can't play soccer, play lacrosse," he says.

That's lead to a rediscovery of cycling, which all three note has been growing in general for a number of years. Blanken says this year is above average, though, estimating 80 per cent of the people coming in to her store are 'new' riders.

She also agrees that vacation money is likely being spent on bikes, adding that they've essentially sold out of bikes under $6,000. From what she understands, the trend is worldwide, and now supply chains and distribution issues are hitting retailers.

"The industry is running out of product," she says. "Not just bikes, even the most basic parts."

They even had issues restocking water bottles at one point.

Lee and Reid echo that sentiment.

"The only thing we missed out on was getting more bikes in so we could sell them," says Reid. "The supply chain definitely got complicated this year."

The producers expected the industry to slow down, says Lee, and planned accordingly. Now that it boomed instead they're having to react to the situation. Blanken says her shop was in the same situation.

"COVID hit and we did not expect it to have the impact upon the industry like it did," she says, noting her shop dropped to just her and her husband for a couple of weeks, but now is fully staffed with some concern of burnout.

Lee anticipates the boom to continue through the rest of 2020, and is hoping that a good portion of those rediscovering cycling will stay interested in the coming years.

"Cycling has been growing consistently for the last 20 years," he says.

"That'll continue for several years, but that will plateau," he adds.

Blanken is less certain.

"We don't know what to expect for next year," she says. "How many will want to return and upgrade?"

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