Alaskans want to ride. But a pandemic bicycle boom is making supplies scarce.

The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage has seen a doubling of demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s doing its business in tents outside. (Courtesy Nicholas Carman)

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a rush on bicycles has stripped Goldstream Sports of much of its inventory. 

The $500 entry-level mountain bikes are gone from the Fairbanks store’s shelves. There are no hybrids and just a few road bikes left. And with the pandemic disrupting Asian manufacturing, it will be months before new shipments arrive.

Owner Joel Buth has an of-the-moment metaphor to help baffled customers wrap their minds around the situation.

“Some people come in, and they just don’t get it when I’m saying we don’t have bikes and we can’t get them,” he said. “I’m like, ‘It’s like toilet paper. It’s just gone, nationwide.’”

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As residents look for respite from stay-at-home orders and gym closures, Alaska bike shops are reporting a surge in demand — with an extra bump from the $1,200 COVID-19 relief checks issued by the federal government. Nationwide, bike sellers are struggling to keep up, as the coronavirus temporarily closed Asian factories and caused shortages in workers and parts.

Chain Reaction Cycles in South Anchorage was so “slammed” Tuesday that nobody had time to answer a reporter’s questions, said an employee who answered the phone.

At The Bicycle Shop, which has three stores in Anchorage, sales and repairs are both twice the normal level, said manager Nicholas Carman. For the first time in its 55 years in business, the company has had to turn away people who are asking for bicycle service, he added.

Customers who want to buy new bikes have filled out stacks of interest forms and are being called when there’s inventory available.

Stacks of forms filled out by people who want to buy bikes from The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage. (Courtesy Nicholas Carman)

“People are just looking for bikes to get out and ride,” Carman said. “We hear lots of stories, but the general consensus is that they have more time.”

The pandemic has caused some disruptions for stores. The Bike Shop has been doing its business in a parking lot outside its Midtown outpost.

But bicycle commuters and enthusiasts were buoyed by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s decision to allow bike shops to continue operating as non-critical businesses faced closures.

Carman and Buth both said that the crunch has hit their entry-level products the hardest, with $500 bikes selling out first.

But the shortage has gradually climbed up their inventories, and now the least-expensive bike available at The Bicycle Shop is $1,699, Carman said.

(Alaska Public Media photo)
A rider crosses the Chester Creek during a Bike to Work Day in Anchorage. (Alaska Public Media photo)

“The least expensive bikes disappeared first,” he said. “And then, quickly after that, $700 bikes, $900 bikes. At every step of the way, we all thought that it wouldn’t just continue to climb up the chain. But it’s basically just every bike that we could get from the brands that we work with is disappearing.”

Buth, in Fairbanks, said he doesn’t expect the problem to be fixed before the end of the season. He has some less-expensive mountain bikes arriving in the next few weeks, but most sizes will be gone within a few days, and any orders he places now won’t show up until October or November, Buth said.

Whether the pandemic will leave him better or worse off is still an open question, and he expects to have to cut his employees’ hours substantially below normal as he runs out of models to sell, he said.

“Right now, what I can definitely say is that I’m in much better shape than a lot of businesses,” he said. “What the ramifications are as we go through summer… time will tell.”

For Alaskans who can’t find new bikes at stores, employees there said that used models could be a good alternative, though it’s likely harder to find a good deal on Craigslist or elsewhere as demand has spiked.

In the meantime, bicycle advocates are thinking about how they can make the most of the pandemic cycling boom.

Bike Anchorage sent a letter this month to Berkowitz pointing out how increasingly busy trails and sidewalks are making it harder to stay socially distant.

And they note that with fewer people commuting to work, there are fewer cars on the road.

The group is suggesting dedicating some bikes-only lanes in busy avenues, like A Street and C Street, as well as restricting traffic in a few smaller streets to allow more recreational opportunities.

“There’s a lot of demand. There’s going to have to be supply by the government,” said Dev Barrera, Bike Anchorage’s director. “Creating other spaces for cyclists, it’s going to have to happen.”

A spokeswoman for Berkowitz didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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