Even as demand for new bicycles continues to peak, local bike sellers say fewer consumers are rolling out of the COVID-19 pandemic on brand-new road or mountain bikes.
Rather, many are finding that if they want to rekindle their bicycling passion, they must do so atop old bikes they pull out of garage lofts, dust off and get tuned up at local bike shops.
Bike sellers say some bicycling novices assume they can walk into a local bike shop and ride out minutes later on a brand-new Trek or Specialized bicycle. But they are learning otherwise.
Bottlenecks in the global supply chain for bicycles and components have left customers on monthslong waiting lists for new bikes to ship from where they’re made, often in China and Vietnam.
Michael Genrich, an owner of Michael’s Cycles in Janesville, said that in typical years, he starts the bicycling season with as many as 600 new bikes in stock. The showroom at Michael’s Cycles usually houses about 150 or 200 bikes.
This week, Genrich’s shop had about 30 bikes for sale in his shop on North Pontiac Drive. He said that is the smallest standing inventory he has seen in more than two decades.
“It’s the fewest bikes we’ve seen since we first moved into the store,” Genrich said.
Genrich said rabid demand for bicycling emerged in mid-2020 during the do-nothing, go-nowhere months of the pandemic. During those months, Genrich said he mowed through his existing inventory.
As the U.S. now emerges from the pandemic, demand for bikes by both new riders and enthusiasts has continued unabated despite few new bikes showing up at Genrich’s shop.
Genrich said he wonders if the U.S. is now on the crest of a bicycling craze similar to the halcyon bike-selling days of the 1970s and 1980s.
If that’s true, it would be ironic. Because Genrich’s long-running bike shop can’t seem to get new bikes fast enough to stanch local demand.
Genrich showed The Gazette a list of dozens of his customers who are waiting for new Trek and Giant bicycles he has on order. Some of those customers—typically those that seek entry-level bicycles in the $400 to $600 range, might have to wait up to two years for imported bikes.
This spring, one of Genrich’s new suppliers asked him how many bikes he wanted to start the selling season. Genrich said he ordered about 100 from the supplier.
“So far, that supplier has shipped us one bike. One,” Genrich said.
The domestic bicycling industry, like the overall fitness and exercise equipment industry, has become increasingly reliant the last few decades on imports.
Almost all the pieces that go into a bike, including the frames, the wheels, and most of the gears and components, are made primarily in countries in Asia.
Since 2019, imports of new bikes have been lackluster, a trend that national industry analysts say is in part tied to punitive American tariffs set in place in 2019 that curtailed shipments of Asian-made products, including new bikes.
Since the pandemic hit in early 2020, the bike industry has seen a further dwindling in new imports. This year, bike sellers saw 13 million new bikes imported to the U.S., according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. That’s the lowest number of imported bikes since 2009 when the U.S. was still in the grips of the Great Recession.
Yet economic forces now differ greatly compared to the Great Recession. Demand has peaked locally for new bikes to the point that one local seller, Velocity Multi-Sport & Cycling operator Julia Jorgensen, says she can’t get a new bicycle out of the shipping box before it’s sold.
Jorgensen and Genrich both said the bottleneck is tied in part to the rate at which foreign-made frames are built and shipped to the U.S.
And even if more U.S.-based bicycle companies tried to re-shore bicycle building operations in the U.S. to capitalize on current demand, there still would be a bottleneck in gearing and brake components.
Jorgensen pointed out that most of the gear systems used in entry level, midrange and upscale bikes are made in Malaysia by just a few manufacturers. In the last month, Malaysia has seen a surge in COVID-19 infections, which has disrupted factory operations and shipping.
At the same time, Jorgensen and Genrich both said that there is a critical shortage in metal train and semitrailer truck shipping containers that has ramped up logistical costs and scuttled some orders.
Both Velocity and Michael’s Cycles say they’re seeing big upticks in their in-house repair shops as customers avoid waiting for new bikes.
Genrich said he has more than backfilled his lack of new bike business with daily repairs to old bikes that customers are bringing in for new tires, wheels, brakes and gear systems.
That’s part of a national trend that is likely further contributing to a shortage of new bike components.
“We’ve got people bringing out bikes that are 30 or 40 years old. When those new components come in, they’re getting used for reviving old bikes,” Jorgensen said.
One of the major bike brands Genrich is licensed to sell, Wisconsin-based Trek, has included Michael’s Cycles in a network of bike dealers to get their products to individual bicyclists.
That has fueled some walk-in customers from far-flung Midwest cities who are driving to Janesville to hunt for new bikes. The market is just as slim where those buyers live.
Some local riders who are willing to wait are getting new bikes. Jorgensen said one customer was thrilled to finally get a popular model of bike she ordered last year.
“They’d ordered a bike in October of last year. We just got it last week, so the bikes are coming,” Jorgensen said. “We’re just asking people to please be patient.”
Particularly after an incredibly challenging year due to the pandemic, Genia Stevens, founder of Rock County Jumpstart, said innovative solutions are needed to help small-business owners bounce back and grow in the near future.
In line with that goal, Stevens said she is excited to work with Uptown Janesville to showcase Black entrepreneurs from the area.
“There are going to be some amazing things happening with Black business owners in Uptown Janesville, and I think it’s going to encourage people to start thinking outside of the box about what they can actually do in a mall setting,” Stevens said.
Starting this Saturday, Uptown Janesville will host a Black Business Expo that will occur every other Saturday through Dec. 11.
Stevens estimated that about 50 Black small-business owners from around Rock County and beyond will be involved in the events throughout the fall.
While it can be a scary step for small-business owners to buy a storefront, one of the core tenets of Rock County Jumpstart is educating Black entrepreneurs about conducting market research, creating a business plan, managing tax records, identifying a clientele and seeing their ideas through to fruition.
“It’s really a sort of test- before-you-buy concept, to allow them to put their feelers out there and get comfortable,” Stevens said. “And I wanted to help facilitate that process.”
Julie Cubbage, general manager of Uptown Janesville, said the organization is excited to partner up with Rock County Jumpstart to highlight small-business owners.
“It’s a good way to help these new businesses get their names and services out into the public eye, and also it’s a way for us to incubate these small businesses and potentially get them into brick-and-mortar stores,” Cubbage said. “We’re giving these people an opportunity to have their dreams come true.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a number of businesses shifting to work-from-home models, Cubbage said now is an ideal time for business owners to buy into commercial real estate.
“Now is the best time to be looking at commercial property because you can really get a good deal,” Cubbage said.
Part of the excitement in hosting a business expo, Cubbage said, is that it supports the facility’s mission of being “more than just a mall” and offering a variety of stores and activities for visitors.
For example, Uptown Janesville is working to bring in youth theater groups and farmers markets.
“What we’re trying to do is bring some of those experiences back,” Cubbage said.
Tennisha Loggins of Beloit, owner of Snacks and Stuff, is excited to move into a kiosk in the food court by Sept. 1.
Loggins said the new space will be a significant upgrade from a food truck. Having an indoor location will allow her business to operate during the winter months.
“I didn’t think it would go this far. I thought it was just going to be me and my little truck,” Loggins said. “This was amazing. I’m definitely blessed to have that to keep elevating my business.”
Loggins also plans to continue working closely with Stevens at various business expos in the future.
“It’s amazing that we’ve all met and have been able to network through Rock County Jumpstart,” Loggins said.
Paquita Purnell of Beloit, owner of Blessed Divine Creations, will be moving into her own storefront at Uptown Janesville on Sept. 3.
The 3,400-square-foot space includes 14 different wall displays, which will allow Purnell to invite 13 other small-business owners or vendors to rent out their own area inside her store.
Purnell started her business in 2010. It all started as a hobby after she made a customized Easter basket and received lots of positive feedback. From there, she kept on making crafts and goodies for friends, family and fellow church members before launching a full business model in December 2014.
For several years, Purnell was a vendor at local antique malls and events before securing her own storefront this year.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming,” Purnell said. “If I’m being blessed with this opportunity, I wanted to bless other vendors with space of their own as well. It’s all about lending a helping hand. We’ve got to start somewhere.”
Kelly D. Elliott
Mary E. Sarbacker
Helen Agnes “Ag” Schumacher
Monica Marie (Hogue) Vander Kooi
Fires in two remarkable Interstate crashes in Janesville on Monday and Tuesday were so hot that pieces of the concrete pavement cracked and crumbled.
Both crashes kept parts of Interstate 90/39 closed for many hours while the remains of semitrailer trucks and cars were removed and the damaged pavement was patched, officials said.
Tuesday’s incident kept the northbound Interstate closed nearly 12 hours, starting at 1:40 p.m.
Sgt. Craig Morehouse of the State Patrol said Wednesday that both crashes remain under investigation. He had no word on what caused them.
In both incidents, a semitrailer truck crashed and burned.
Jim Parry, a longtime concrete engineer for the state Department of Transportation, said burning fuel and tires of a semitrailer truck can make the surface of the concrete expand so fast that the layers of concrete farther down can’t keep up, and pieces of the road surface rupture.
The intense heat can also break the chemical bonds that hold the concrete together. After such incidents, core samples will be drilled into the concrete to analyze the extent of the damage, Parry said.
The concrete on the Interstate at Janesville is 12 to 13 inches thick, Parry said, and photos of the damage he saw showed the top few inches were affected.
Parry said the likely repairs involve temporary patches while more analysis is done and until a permanent patch of concrete or asphalt can be installed.
“It’s pretty new pavement, unfortunately,” Parry said, noting that the Interstate between the state line and Madison has been rebuilt and widened in recent years.
“If they do a good job on repair, it should be minimally noticeable” to motorists, he added.
The other major factor in the delay in reopening the Interstate lanes was the wreckage.
“You can’t just pull it out of there,” Morehouse said.
Both fully loaded semis burned to ground. When Morehouse left the scene Tuesday night, he said workers were discussing dismantling the wreckage before moving it.
The pavement repairs needed after the Monday crash probably won’t be as extensive as what is needed as a result of the Tuesday crash. For that reason, repairs at the first crash site were put on hold, Morehouse said.
The Monday crash occurred near mile marker 169 near Milton-Harmony Townline Road north of Janesville, with three semitrailer trucks colliding, one of which then caught fire. Lanes were closed for about nine hours.
Both crashes were in the northbound lanes, and in both cases, a semi truck caught fire.
In both incidents, traffic was diverted from the Interstates onto local highways and streets for many hours, causing traffic tie-ups.
Monday’s incident included extensive damage to several hundred feet of concrete barriers, 11 of which had to be replaced.
One minor injury to a driver was reported Monday and three injuries wer reported Tuesday.
Tuesday’s incident started at 1:40 p.m., and the southbound lanes were reopened around 10:15 p.m., but the northbound lanes remained closed for about three additional hours.