Demand For Bikes & Outdoor Gear Surges During Pandemic

At Cahaba Cycles, owner Faris Malki says they’ve been so busy that they are selling bikes out of boxes. Source: Mary Scott Hodgin, WBHM

Spring is always a busy season at Cahaba Cycles. Faris Malki, the owner of the local bike shop, said as soon as the weather changes, people dust off their bikes or start looking for new ones.

This year, springtime also coincided with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which closed down schools and offices.

“We always get a really big rush anyway,” Malki said, “and then couple that with the lockdown. It was just, it was chaos really.”

He said stores were overwhelmed with customers coming in for repairs and shopping for bicycles and they were unable to keep up.

“And then we really just completely ran out of product,” he said. “And it was not just new bikes but it was bicycle parts, shifters, and wheels, and tires, tubes, I mean things you just always take for granted. Like of course we have tubes, we’re a bike shop, right? It’s like a grocery store running out of milk, you know?”

A Global Shortage

Malki said the shortage was two-fold. There was a huge surge in demand, which wiped out inventory, while at roughly the same time, factories all over the world shut down and stopped making new products for weeks or months. When they reopened, there was a backlog of orders, which continues today. 

“The whole bike industry was going through the same thing,” said Olivia Hart, executive director of the nonprofit bike shop Redemptive Cycles in Birmingham.

Hart said during the pandemic the shop has seen an uptick in customers interested in biking.

“People looking just to get a little bit of exercise, to go out and ride bikes with their family and get out of the house,” Hart said, “because everyone was in lockdown and feeling a bit of cabin fever.”

New Outdoor Enthusiasts

People are getting out for other activities too. John Nuckols has worked at Alabama Outdoors for more than 25 years and said business has increased in recent months.

“What we’ve seen here is a lot more people are out hiking and camping, car camping, backpacking, day hiking,” Nuckols said.

Other outdoor shops are seeing the same trend. Hunter Graham oversees operations at Mountain High Outfitters, which has stores throughout the Southeast.

“Not only have we seen just a renewed interest in some of the hiking gear,” Graham said, “but also people starting to kind of segue into activities they haven’t tried before.”

He said some of the store’s top sellers have been stand up paddle boards, kayaks and bicycles.

Planning For The Future

At Cahaba Cycles, the springtime surge has slowed down somewhat, but demand is still high.

While many bikes and parts are still sold out, the shop is trying to order ahead. Owner Faris Malki said they are even getting a warehouse to store all the bicycles that should arrive in coming months.

Malki said it has been great to see more people out riding and he hopes they keep it up.

“I think it would be naive to say, ‘well all these people are going to continue to ride their bikes every day like they are,’ but we do believe there’s a heavy percentage of people who have made lifestyle changes,” he said.

Malki said the next step is to push for more bike lanes and trails across Birmingham to give people more options to get outside and use their bikes.