The Business of Bikes in 2023

A month or so back I wrote a post about it being a particularly optimal time to buy a new bike, due to a massive glut of post-pandemic inventory. That post shockingly and quite suddenly became the most read post ever on The Cycling Independent. Nearly 50k people read it.

The state of this industry is one of my preoccupations for a variety of reasons. First of all, I have a professional stake in it. Understanding what bike consumers are doing informs my consulting work. But I also have an interest in economics generally, and the bike industry is one of the interconnected micro-economies in the macro picture. Because I’m in touch with bike companies and bike shops and bike consumers in my daily life, paying attention to the trends within the system are fascinating, like being inside your favorite movie and getting to talk to the characters.

So today I’m just kind of catching up with where we are in the middle of summer, which should be the busiest time of year for most bike shops. By the way, in addition to anecdotal information from my various sources, I also read Rick Vosper and Jay Townley in Bicycle Retailer. If this is a story you want to follow along with, those guys are super informative.

Alright, so where are we? Massive quantities of new bikes are still discounted. In the sales game, discounting is a way of buying sales, and one of the most reliable ways to move through product. What we’re learning is that even with deep discounts, bike buyers aren’t buying, and that seems to be because so many of them bought a bike during the pandemic. From casual riders to the serious sort, everyone pulled their next bike purchase forward by a year or two, or even three.

So the pandemic boom cannibalized future seasons, and the lesson there is that the total number of bikes sold will fluctuate but remain fairly constant over time. That’s a heads up for the product managers out there forecasting sales. You need to look, not just at last season, or the orders you have in hand, but at historical trends. The spikes we sometimes see in sales are seldom paradigm shifting. They are mostly anomalies. Trends remain linear.

The other theme I see developing is that clothing and accessories are in short supply. I suspect this has to do with the production timelines for those items being shorter, allowing a lot of companies to pull back the reins before flooding the market. 

The upshot of all of this, as usual, is that your local bike shop is working overtime to navigate a difficult marketplace. If I could plant one suggestion for how you might help your LBS weather this storm, it would be to order products through them, and by that I mean, even things they don’t have in stock, ask them to order for you. My attitude about this has mostly been, “Why do I need you to order something I can order myself?” So I get why you’d balk at the suggestion.

But. The retail price will remain the same, and the shop will be able to get their small cut and bolster their standing with their suppliers, many of whom, in desperation, are rushing to the direct-to-consumer market. In the long run, you’ll benefit from this small investment in your local community, and maybe even save the shipping the charges.

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says

    I generally agree with going through the LBS and usually do so, but sometimes, the markup is amazing. A few months back I decided to go from 700-25 to to 700-28’mm Vittoria Corsas on one set of wheels for my old CAAD5. LBS had them for 85 bucks apiece. A certain place in Colorado had them on sale for about a hundred bucks a pair. Needless to say, I ordered online. Yeah, the shop probably has a lot of overhead given it is in a prime space in downtown Fanta Se, but money is money. I do use that shop for other stuff, along with all the others in town.

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