Casey Nance, a seventh grader at Pacific Crest Middle School in Bend, was recently shopping for a mountain bike to replace an older model Gary Fisher that he had outgrown.
In normal times, that’s a relatively straightforward purchase. But supply chain shortages for products across the board turned his shopping experience into something akin to a treasure hunt. Eventually, a bike he liked appeared on Craigslist.
“That was the only one we saw that was in the price range we were looking at,” said Chris Nance, Casey’s father. “Everything else was slim pickings and a very pricey.”
The Nance’s struggle to find a good, affordable bike is not uncommon for many Central Oregonians in recent months, as bike stocks have been largely depleted. That’s right, bikes are the new toilet paper.
Casey now uses the bike to ride with instructors and members of the Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, which provides outdoor sports instruction to kids and teens. Like many Central Oregonians, he has been enjoying one of the only sports available in this time of unprecedented mass closures.
“With everything shut down, mountain biking is the only thing going on right now,” said Chris Nance. “In a normal year it would be hard to find a bike, but this year it’s especially more difficult than it would be otherwise. We found that one and jumped right on it; we bought it immediately.”
Bike shops and big-box stores around Central Oregon have limited supplies of bikes, particularly in the lower-end and midrange category of bikes. The bike sections at Fred Meyer, Walmart and other stores in Bend are largely picked clean.
Much of the world’s bicycle supply chain originates in China, and disruptions caused by COVID-19 mean that deliveries of new bikes will be delayed for the rest of the summer.
Paul Keitelman, sales manager at Project Bike in Bend’s Mill Quarter, said most bikes under the $2,500 price point are sold out at his shop. The rental bike business is also doing well, having doubled compared to the same period a year ago.
“We can’t get availability; there is a huge supply chain shortage,” said Keitelman. “Specialized (bicycles) sold their entire summer inventory in a month or two.”
James Gritters, owner of Sagebrush Cycles on Bend’s west side, had a handful of bikes on hand at his shop, but expects them to be gone within a week. He has been getting calls for bikes from as far away as Eugene, due to the statewide shortage.
“There is nothing really out there,” said Gritters, who purchased the shop a little over a year ago.
“Entry-level bikes are effectively gone for the season. We are looking at the end of August before we will see anything new, which is too late because then we flip to ski season.”
Gritters said bike repair orders were up to a week out during the pandemic, but have since eased back to a three- to five-day wait. Much of the work comes from people who are dusting off a Trek, Specialized, or Schwinn bike that has been sitting in the garage for far too long.
“We have seen a lot of people with very old bikes that needed a lot of work to get them up and running,” said Gritters.
The popularity of bike riding is evident on Bend’s bike trails, which have seen a surge in use this year.
“It’s just ridiculously packed out there,” said Gritters. “I would say a Wednesday is like the end of June on a Saturday.”
Woody Keen, Trails Resource Director for Central Oregon Trail Alliance, which builds and maintains bike trails around Bend, agrees that it’s crowded out there. But beating the crowds is still possible for those willing to ride at off-peak times, he said.
Early morning or twilight rides will be less crowded. If your bike is equipped with strong lights, a night ride is also possible, said Keen.
“During the current times, mountain biking and trail-based exercise is good for us, and risks are pretty low,” said Keen. “If you know where to go and when to go, the trails are not crowded at all.”
Casey Nance, the young Bend bike rider, agreed that there is room on the trails for everyone and wasn’t bothered by the crowds. But he anticipates more riders coming, thanks to a surge in popularity in his age group, the interest fueled by online videos.
“I feel like a lot of people are getting into biking,” said Casey Nance. “They are discovering new tricks, especially from social media and YouTube. Lots of people are nerding out about it.”