Early last March, Earl Serafica was rearranging his store for the busiest period of the year. Earl’s Bike Shop, his three-year-old bicycle store on the Westside, typically sees its inventory fly off the shelves in the spring. But when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Georgia, Serafica entered the most hectic time of his career. First, customers came for the entry-level bicycles, priced around $500. Then, they scooped up the middle-market models, running up to $2,000. For every bike Earl’s had on the floor, roughly three customers were competing to buy it, compared to just one in 2019. “The only thing left [from the distributor] were the higher-end models,” says Serafica about models that run into several thousands of dollars.
In just a few weeks, the Covid-19 pandemic created a new cityscape as businesses shut down and roads emptied. Atlanta’s springtime weather, homebound remote workers, and bicycle shops made bicycling more attractive than ever before for newcomers and experienced cyclists alike.
Bike shops did their best to keep up. At Outback Bikes, mechanics tuned up bikes outside under rain canopies while masked staff fetched equipment and the few remaining bikes inside for test rides. Loose Nuts Cycles created a running spreadsheet on its website of road, gravel, and mountain bikes in stock to save people time searching—and in the process, give staff time to catch up on servicing bikes.
Not only could the bike shops not keep models in stock, but the bicycle companies couldn’t acquire parts to make them. Shop owners jockeyed for inventory from their distributors, and bike companies competed for brakes and tires. Brake and tire manufacturers were competing for raw materials on a global market. “We had a four-week backup on fixing tubes and tires,” says Mike Goodman, the owner of Intown Bicycles, where, by the end of May, customers had bought out the inventory of bikes to last until the end of August. “Then, we couldn’t get tubes and tires.”
As the weather cooled and people rode less, shops caught up with repairs, although it’s still unclear whether supply will keep up with demand this spring and whether people new to bicycling will continue riding. Regardless, the shop owners say they’re glad to serve—and to see the bicycling community grow. “This January, our service department was busy,” says Goodman. “So far, it’s sticking.”
This article appears in our March 2021 issue.