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Justin Bernardo works on assembling a bike in his shop. JB's Bike Shop in Shillington. Bernardo is dealing with a surge in demand for bicycles during the coronavirus outbreak. BEN HASTY-READING EAGLE

Bike shortage slowing shops, riders in Berks County

If you're hoping to purchase a new bicycle in time to ride this summer, your best bet might be to get on a waiting list now. And if the opportunity to buy one does come along, bike shop owners in Berks County suggest you don't hesitate — it won't be for sale much longer. "I've been telling people point blank: 'If you want this bike, you should buy it now,'" said Justin Bernardo, owner of JB's Bike Shop in Shillington. "'This isn't a sales pitch. Seriously, if you don't buy it right now, it won't be here when you come back.' I don't think they believe us."

Bike shops across the country are getting cleaned out as temperatures rise and more people look for outdoor activities that allow participants to practice social distancing. Bernardo estimated the showroom floor at JB's was down to between 20-30% of its normal volume. Spokes Bike Shop in Shoemakersville, another popular destination for riders, reported having just eight bikes left in stock as of Wednesday morning in a store that can display around 70. "We've been having a lot of new people, but we can't get bikes," said Regan Myers, owner of Spokes. "I'd say we first started getting low on stock maybe three, four weeks ago. As of two weeks ago, you can't get anything."

Myers explained that, in the past, Spokes could simply order a bike that wasn't already in stock. However, the shortage goes well beyond retailers simply selling bikes faster than they arrive. Suppliers are experiencing shortfalls, too, which means if you can't find a certain model or size in stores, there's a good chance it's on back order.

When can you buy a bike?

The problem is twofold. In addition to increased demand caused in part by COVID-19 bicycle manufacturers and supply chains are impacted by the pandemic as well — "sort of a double whammy," said Myers. At this point, bike shops are waiting on the next model year to replenish stock, which should be available soon. Yet, even then, there's no guarantee everybody will be able to get their hands on them.

"The thing that freaks me out most is our manufacturers being cleared out," said Bernardo.  "We're seeing releases of 2021 product, but in some cases, our business-to-business wholesalers are sold out immediately."  Bernardo noted some manufacturers are speeding things up, and he hopes to be stocking up "in a few weeks."  Myers sounded less optimistic about a large cache of bikes arriving in store all at once, nor are her suppliers providing specific timetables.  "I think it's gonna be a trickle-in effect," said Myers. "This month, I might have a little trickle, in July, a little trickle, and as the bikes come in, they're going to be allocated to back orders.  "Imagine every bike shop in the United States — and every order is already allocated out."

Bike repairs impacted, too

It's not just people attempting to buy a bike that are experiencing delays, either. Plenty of existing bike owners are seeing longer-than-normal waits to have routine service and repairs performed.  "That's going to be the next hurdle," said Bernardo.  "We've got parts companies running out of basic repair stuff. I just waited two weeks to get kick stands. Things like tires and inner tubes starting to run out."  JB's Bike Shop might typically take a week to a week-and-a-half to perform a tune-up during its busy season. With so many more people in need of service right now though, wait times now can approach two weeks.  "We're struggling to even keep it that fast, but we're doing pretty good," said Bernardo.

Even with Berks County moving into the yellow phase on Friday, Bernardo indicated he'll likely continue operating the store by appointment only to focus on repairs and service.  "If we don't have bikes to sell anyway, I think those hours could be better utilized," said Bernardo.  Spokes has kept its doors open throughout the pandemic, but with their store now nearly empty, the run on repair work is welcome despite some challenges.  "Everybody's been bringing their bikes. Which is a good thing because we don't have any to sell," said Myers.

Sales are up, but...

JB's Bike Shop has been steadily growing since opening in 1998, coming off its best year yet in sales in 2019. Bernardo hasn't had time to check, but he has every reason to believe 2020 will be better still.  "It's going to be interesting to compare once we're looking back at this whole situation," said Bernardo. "I've never experienced anything quite like this."  The concern, Bernardo said, is the long-term outlook.  One of the goals is to get more people riding, something he's obviously passionate about. What happens though when JB's Bike Shop runs out of bikes to sell?  "Every day that we're open, we're down that many more bikes," said Bernardo. "It's fantastic that many more people want bikes. We're loving it. But it's a bummer we're going to have an empty store."

As for potential customers in the market for a bike, the best thing to do is place an order or get on a waiting list awhile.  Spokes got two new bikes in last week. Myers called two customers on her list, and the bikes went right back out the door.  It might take time depending on how long the list is or what model and size bike you need.  Myers believes bikes could be easier to come by in a couple months — and that it won't be too late to go for a ride.  "We're looking for something positive," said Myers. "Bikes will be coming in later this summer. Fall is a beautiful time. There are even pockets in the winter.  "So if you want a bike, don't be discouraged."