There’s a Product Supply Crisis, But That's No Excuse to Be a Jerk

Photo credit: Adam Gault / Getty Images
Photo credit: Adam Gault / Getty Images

We live in challenging times. Around the world, there is upheaval and uncertainty. Environmental turmoil and political tumult threaten stability, and a global pandemic is reshaping much of what we know in ways that might be permanent.

We ride bikes, in part, to escape from all this, if only temporarily. But the bikes cannot escape from the realities of the world today. You might have heard about the ongoing shortages of bikes and bike parts. Or you’ve experienced this personally when the part you needed to fix your bike wasn’t available. Or the new bike you wanted wasn’t in stock, and it was unclear when it would be again.

I’ve experienced all this firsthand. Our Bike Awards issue featured tests of 50 bikes. That we were even able to get 50 bikes in for the issue feels like a victory. Months ago, when I was in the planning stages, I reached out to one of the big brands with a list of close to 30 bikes—a diverse mix of road, mountain, fitness, and e-bike models in either of two sizes—and asked if they had any available to send. I was able to get one of the bikes on the list. One. And I was damn thankful for that.

We got our 50 bikes with patience and creativity, and I’m proud of how the issue turned out. In collecting the 50 bikes, I heard story after story of the challenges bike brands are facing at this moment. Nobody I talked to seemed worried; nobody was freaking out. For sure, there was frustration and a lot of, “This is so crazy all I can do is laugh,” but my overall read on the industry’s attitude at the moment is, “We’ll get through this.”

Here are just a few stories I heard: One person told me there were shortages of derailleurs all because the limit screws were in short supply. Another told me their company finally got everything needed to build their bikes, only to learn that they didn’t have any cardboard boxes to pack them in and that the next shipment of boxes was delayed. Contacts at bike brands told me about unprecedented lead times on parts they needed to assemble their bikes—two years for some products. A shortage of inner tubes, the lowliest of all bike parts, is holding up some bikes. As one of my contacts succinctly put it, “Pick any piece on a bike, and there has been a delay.”

The troubles don’t stop once the bike is assembled and boxed up; it still needs to be shipped. This is another pinch point for the industry. Shipping container space is hard to come by and more expensive, and there are backups at the ports.

Other sources of friction are slowing things down as well, such as uncertainty around tariffs. Another unexpected slowdown happened because of the coup in Myanmar: VIP, a company that makes high-end carbon frames for some of the best-known brands in the industry, has a carbon factory in that country.

Despite all this, everyone I’ve spoken with so far seems upbeat. Equipment sales are up and the kinks are getting smoothed out, albeit slowly. Balance is coming. Unfortunately, it’s not here yet, and finding a bike or a part right now can be frustrating.

Here’s my plea: Have patience and treat the people you deal with at bike shops and bike equipment manufacturers with grace. Remember that they’re facing all the same daily challenges you’re facing. They desperately want to get you the products you want and are working very hard and adapting on the fly to make that happen.

But factors far beyond their control—coups, tariffs, pandemics—are slowing things down. Then there are the surprises, like a snap jump in demand for cycling gear that exceeds the industry’s ability to absorb it. You will get your new bike or that replacement chainring. But a little patience and understanding will make life better for everyone involved.

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