Bike technician Ted Sloan works on a bike at Old Town Bike Shop in this 2012 photograph.

John Crandall has owned and operated Old Town Bike Shop in Colorado Springs since 1976.

"You'd think I'd know what I was doing," he recently said. "But, alas, a curveball."

A curveball in the form of COVID-19.

Like industries everywhere, America's bike business is navigating unprecedented waters brought on by the virus.

In cities bigger than the Springs — cities where buses and subways are widely depended upon — people have turned to another way of commuting: two wheels. Lines to buy bikes reportedly spanned several blocks in the early weeks of the pandemic.

"That created this global spike in demand that just depleted supply," said Nick Ponsor, owner of Criterium Bicycles on the Springs' north side.

The scene there has been similar to that of retailers across the country. National headlines have likened the current bike shortage to the toilet paper shortage of March and April. 

"I'm looking around my store and it looks like I'm halfway through a going-out-of-business sale," Ponsor said. "The racks are just empty."

At his downtown shop, Crandall has hardly been able to offer standard parts, let alone whole new rides at the price point most people seek. Like his counterparts across the city, his back-order list is growing.

And, like everyone, he's hearing about long waits for shipments. It could be mid-November until a substantial batch comes from top supplier Giant Bicycles, Crandall said.

"It's one little business and one little industry," he said. "But, to me, it's a fascinating example of the interdependence and interrelations of the world economy."

In March, market analysts with NPD Group reported a national 121% surge in leisure bike sales compared with the same month in 2019. Demand was soaring while production facilities were still waking up; most closed in China through January and February.

In May, once shops in the Springs started curbside retail sales, bikes were hot commodities as people sought a new outlet for mental and physical relief with gyms closed.

"That created this immediate shortage," Crandall said.

Those who couldn't snag a new bike dusted off their old one. And that created an overwhelming number of requests for repairs.

Springs shops, many with decreased staffs, have struggled to keep up. Ponsor said workers have been "buried in bikes." Where before customers could hang around for simple jobs to finish, now they're waiting closer to two days due to the backlog, Ponsor said. 

Surveys from Boulder-based advocacy nonprofit PeopleForBikes suggest the same conclusion by NPD Group: "Ultimately, more people are likely riding today than in years past."

PeopleForBikes CEO Tim Blumenthal told The Los Angeles Times he predicted "a fundamental change" in the landscape. City planners, economists and environmentalists are waiting to see if the pandemic shapes the U.S. into a more bike-relying country of the European sort.

Ponsor suspects more people than usual will buy bikes in winter, "scrambling to get whatever happens to come in," he said.

But a slow season wouldn't be so bad either, he said. "We need the sanity back a little bit."

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