When Jacqueline Harlow’s kids decided they wanted to learn how to ride bikes this spring, the family hit Loudoun’s big box stores. And like bike shoppers all over America, they struck out.
As COVID-19 has led individuals and families to look for new ways to stay active, interest in cycling has skyrocketed. But supply chain problems are causing a shortage in new bikes. This has folks getting creative. Loudouners are repairing, upcycling and swapping cycles for kids and adults. And for the county’s independent bike shops, it’s a mixed blessing as they struggle to meet demand.
Harlow’s hunt for bikes for her son Eason, 7, and daughter Declyn, 5, initially ended in disappointment.
“The racks were empty. Heartbroken kids,” she said. She searched for used bikes on yard sale sites but found that prices were sky-high—at least double what she had seen before the pandemic hit.
Harlow struck gold when a neighbor in Lovettsville was cleaning out his garage and had a couple of kids’ bikes to give away. The neighbor had an old Spiderman bike that was a perfect fit for her daughter, and Harlow decided to upcycle it to Declyn’s specifications.
“I took off all the stickers, painted it pink and replaced the handlebar covers and seat. My daughter loves her ‘new’ bike,” Harlow said.
After refurbishing Declyn’s dream bike, Harlow was eventually able to find a bike for Eason at an area WalMart later in the summer. So now the Harlow kids are rolling. But some Loudouners are still having trouble finding the right bike. Used bikes on marketplace sites are selling like hotcakes, prices are up and reasonably priced new bikes are still hard to find.
The county’s independent bike shops are still having trouble restocking mid- and lower-range bikes. For Doug Graham of Leesburg’s Maverick Bikes & Cafe, the uptick in interest in the sport he’s passionate about is both a blessing and a burden.
“People on the outside look at it and say, ‘These bike shops are doing so great. It’s really wonderful,” Graham said. “But if you’re running a business without product to sell and there’s a high demand, that is the unequivocal worst possible business scenario.”
Almost all new bikes sold in the U.S. are made in China. Rising demand combined with supply chain shortages related to the pandemic and U.S. tariffs on Chinese products, have brought things to a standstill. Maverick specializes in bikes from Taiwan-based Giant Bicycles, which has production facilities in mainland China and offers everything from high-quality children’s bikes to fancy upscale road bikes.
“Everything in the store is made in China—just like every other store in the United States,” Graham said. “There just was nothing to buy from WalMart to Joe’s Bike Shop on the corner. Bikes at an affordable price point were gone and are gone. They’re just now starting to reappear. We’re hoping we’ve turned the corner on this”
Graham said the shop’s bread and butter lies in high-quality mid-range bikes for kids and adults, in the $450 to $1,000 range. Maverick started moving tons of those bikes in March—until they hit a brick wall later in the spring.
“We reordered several times, and then the supply chain ended,” Graham said. “It was pretty evident that bike shops across the country had completely sold out.”
Graham said the shop missed out on tens of thousands of dollars in bike sales—and also ran out of helmets, clothing and equipment.
“All the widgets that go along with cycling—you name it, I could not get it,” Graham said. “That’s a real problem.”
With no new stock to be found, the repairs started flowing in.
“People started pulling bikes out of their barns and garages because they realized there were no bikes to sell,” Graham said.
Demand for repairs went through the roof. At one point, Maverick had 150 bicycles in for repairs at its downtown Leesburg shop and off-site storage facility. Maverick’s full-time mechanic Justin Hanger had more on his plate than he could handle, so the shop brought in another repair guru, Gary Moon, from Winchester.
“Those guys are qualified to work on everything from your WalMart special to the $12,000 electronic-shifting road race bikes,” Graham said.
Along with a booming repair business, Maverick has also been able to keep up with supplying high-end bikes for serious riders where demand is lower, with machines priced at $2,400 and way beyond.
Maverick Bikes, which is set up as a non-profit co-op, has also kept up with its charitable work, getting donations for Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources (OAR), a Fairfax-based non-profit that works to help released inmates rebuild their lives. Maverick works with OAR to provide bikes to help people get to work after their release from the correctional system. The shop is also working with Loudoun County Public Schools on a donation of 50 refurbished bikes for low income students.
For Graham, a longtime cyclist, there’s good reason cycling is a hot activity during the pandemic–and he doesn’t think it’s going to disappear if and when COVID goes away.
“It is so easy to do. There are so many places–especially in this area–to go ride. And it’s something the family can do together that’s fun and fairly safe. People had been cooped up in their houses for months and this is a way to get outdoors. Hiking and cycling have gone through the roof as far as activities,” he said. “I think this new trend and new love of cycling is something that’s going to stick and stay with us. People have rediscovered the love of it. There’s a positive impact behind the pandemic”
“It’s a great way to get out and get some exercise and also social distance,” said Lisa Campbell, who heads Bike Loudoun, an advocacy group that works with local governments on expanding and connecting bike trails for greater accessibility and functionality.
Campbell, who lives near Aldie, led group rides for Maverick Bikes earlier this summer and was encouraged to see more riders out on weekday rides once they resumed during Virginia’s Phase 2 reopening. She says she’s also seeing more families on bikes in her neighborhood.
“I hope it continues. It’s such a good thing for families,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the increased interest in biking this year will influence biking infrastructure in the future.”
For more information on Bike Loudoun, go to bikeloudoun.org. To learn more about Maverick Bikes & Cafe, go to revolutionsmaverickllc.com.