It’s not just the toilet paper and hand-sanitizer.

Across Oahu, a decent bicycle has become one of the most prized possessions in the age of coronavirus.

Local bike shops are scrambling to do the best they can with what they describe as unprecedented sales and demand for repairs since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March.

Their showroom floors are uncharacteristically bare. Most new shipments from the mainland sell almost as soon as they arrive, they say.

On Monday, McCully Bicycle and Sporting Goods’ normally packed floor only had a half dozen or so standard bikes available. A customer was en route to claim two of them. Ownership there said they’ve seen bike sales increase as much as 60%.

“I have never seen bike sales like this. Some days, it was two Christmases in one day,” store co-owner Ali Kessner said. “We have never sold this many bikes so fast.”

The Bike Shop manager Carl Nethercutt assembles a bicycle, part of a recent inventory shipment. Sales are brisk and staff has been surprised by the unusually high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The family business has been on the island about a century, she said.

About a mile west on King Street, at The Bike Shop, a handful of customers waited outside the door until there was enough space for them to enter and maintain a safe distance. That’s pretty typical during the pandemic, management there said.

“I’ve never seen it this crowded on a normal day — and all these racks are empty,” said Ala Moana resident Rich Cline, who had stopped in for a simple tire repair.

“I have never seen bike sales like this. Some days, it was two Christmases in one day.” — Ali Kessner, co-owner of McCully Bicycle and Sporting Goods

Cline said he’s been cycling on Oahu since the mid-1990s, and with fewer cars out he’s never seen so many bikers on the island’s roads.

“It’s kind of a good thing — if there’s a silver lining,” he added.

The Bike Shop’s next available date for a major repair or tune-up is about a month away, on June 8.

No Gym, Tons Of Family Time

Any bike under $900, “I can’t keep on the floor,” said Carl Nethercutt, manager at The Bike Shop. For every two bikes he assembles in a day, he said he sells one of them almost immediately.

The shop isn’t running any special sales or promotions, either.

“I’ve never seen it this busy and shelves this empty for this long,”  said Nethercutt, who has worked there since 2013. “They’re flying.”

Nethercutt and other local bike retailers point to several key factors.

First, the gyms that many local residents rely on for exercise have been closed for weeks, part of state and county efforts to slow the spread of the virus through the islands.

Families, meanwhile, are spending more time inside together than ever, and they’re looking for quality and acceptable ways to venture out of the house.

Until recently, Hawaii’s beaches were off limits except for surfing, paddling and swimming. They’re still off limits for sunbathing under the latest state orders.

“Biking, at the core, offers a sense of freedom,” Nethercutt said. The shutdown orders have restricted a lot of personal freedom — and “biking gives you a little bit of that back.”

Supplies Stretched Thin

The bike boom is hardly limited to Hawaii — demand has exploded across the U.S. and other parts of the globe during the pandemic.

That leaves a limited local selection, and securing new inventory on the islands is getting more challenging amid the global spike, the local shops said.

Most of the industry’s main suppliers are currently based in mainland China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia — and any bicycle shipments bound for Hawaii must go through the mainland U.S. first, they said.

Sometimes, that leaves Hawaii with last dibs on what’s available, Kessner said.

McCully Bicycle gets a new shipment of 50 bicycles from its dealers every week, she added. Prior to the pandemic, the store could specify which models it wanted in its order. Now, Kessner said, the store has to take whatever the dealer can give them — and the bikes sell anyway.

Staff was busy building bikes recently at the The Bike Shop’s King Street location. The sales floor is unusually bare due to high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“There is a slight concern” that the inventory might dry up altogether if the demand persists, Kessner said. In that case the industry and retailers would have to find a way to adjust to the new normal, she added.

At The Bike Shop, the scarcity has them selling models they didn’t offer previously, Nethercutt said.

Fears That Inventory Will Grow Scarce

Much of the U.S.’s  bike inventory supply had already been strained prior to COVID-19’s arrival thanks to the trade war with China, both Kessner and BIKEFACTORY owner Mitchell Parcels said.

BIKEFACTORY, in Kakaako, put in a big order for new inventory when the pandemic emerged but before demand exploded, Parcels said.

“We had to strategically get product to the island quickly, and that’s taking a big risk,” he said Monday. “I prepared for a drought. I could smell the storm coming.”

So far, he said, the move has paid off. But his inventory will soon be as scarce as everyone else’s if the demand persists, Parcels added.

“We are just so grateful that we can stay in business and service our customers. It’s a horrible situation for everyone,” Kessner said. “We are very fortunate that bikes are considered essential.”

Moiliili resident Ted Hebert bought a new bicycle on March 31. He said he needed to find another way to exercise after his gym had closed.

“The heavy traffic in Honolulu has always kind of scared me away from getting serious with road biking — and then I saw traffic start to decline,” said Hebert, accompanying Cline to The Bike Shop for his repair.

In recent weeks, as business restrictions have eased, Hebert said he’s seen more cars reappearing. But now he’s more confident biking in town.

“I’m going to keep going,” Hebert said.

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