Rebecca Bland looks at how the growing popularity of e-bikes is changing the face of independent bike shops
This piece first appeared in the October edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
For bike shops and distributors across the country, the last few years have been a bit of a rollercoaster. From an initial sales boom in lockdown to the long wait list for even basic parts, and then the new Brexit duties to deal with, there’s been plenty for bike shops to adapt to in recent times.
And now, with the popularity of electric bicycles growing substantially in the last few years, the face of the independent bike shop is likely to look vastly different to pre-2020 as they adapt to a constantly changing industry.
York Cycleworks is one such shop, as Jon Cooper discussed the changes the 40-year-old store has seen. “I think over the last couple of years what we’ve seen is a real change in the sort of customers that we get.
“Compared to what we’ve been known for and what we’ve typically done, we now get a whole different demographic in who are looking solely at e-bikes. They are now people who are over 60 who just want to get out and do stuff.
“We have sold bikes across the spectrum of e-bikes, but I’d say for us it’s typically hybrids. We have seen a quite considerable uptake on what we did last year and we’re always talking about them now which is great, because it means that we’re dealing with a wider range of people.”
While previously the shop was regarded for its performance road and mountain bike expertise, it’s been welcoming e-bikes with open arms. It’s a similar tale at the other end of the country for Dave Mellor Cycles in Shrewsbury.
Dave Mellor, co-owner and founder, has seen a real uptake in electric bikes since he began stocking them a few years ago. “I would say that anybody that comes in here looking for an e-bike, we’ll be able to sort them out because our stock holding is really good.
“We’re working really well with the likes of Specialized, Giant, Cannondale and Gazelle, who really pull out the stops to find you bikes. We’ve just been really pushing on with e-bikes, especially the urban type, that’s been great.”
Some types of e-bikes appear to be more difficult to source than others, with the supply chain still feeling the effects of the pandemic and Brexit, as Cooper explained. “Gone are the days where you used to be able to look at Trek’s website and say it’s got 20 of a certain bike in a big warehouse in Milton Keynes.
“If a customer came in we could show them a bike in the showroom, and if it wasn’t the right colour or size, we could say: ‘I’ll order the correct one, it’ll be here tomorrow and you can have it by the end of the week.’ That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s an industry-wide thing, it’s not just e-bikes, it’s anything. But, hybrids we can get no problem at all.”
Andy Fraser, director of York Cycleworks agreed: “If the supply of bikes was more readily available, we’d sell more. When someone’s interested in an e-bike and they come in and they’re all revved up for it, and you say it’s a nine months wait, it deflates them.”
The lack of availability is one thing, but the sale of electric bikes isn’t just where bike shops are having to modify. A large part of many bike shops’ business is done in the workshop, where adaptations for heavier and bulkier bikes need to be made – not to mention the extra training for staff for them to be able to work on the electric bikes.
“Things have changed,” added Mellor, “we’ve had to go with hydraulic work stands, because these things are heavy. So we’ve got one of those, we’ve got battery capacity checkers, diagnostics tablets for logging into things, and linking up to PCs.
“So there’s a lot of change, and a lot of people don’t like change. Mechanics have to learn new skills, things like that. It’s challenging. It’s exciting, but I think we’re moving into the right thing. People are changing, doing away with their second car and coming in and buying an e-bike.”
For York Cycleworks, it’s not the bikes, but the building that presents some challenges. “Physically this shop doesn’t lend itself to e-bikes. We have a workshop on the first floor with a narrow staircase.
“We haven’t bought special work stands but the ones we’ve got have been going for the best part of 40 years, and they’re not modern stuff and isn’t going to cope with it, they’re 40 year stuff that’s been engineered to deal with 15-20kg bikes back in the day.
“So in that respect, having a big hydraulic work stand would be nice but it’s not essential for us because we can do almost everything. We are a Shimano, Bosch and Fazua service centre so we’ve got all the tech that we need for dealing with those e-bikes.
“We get a lot of business from people who have bought bikes elsewhere over the last two or three years with the supply chain issues. They’ve got money, they want to buy a certain bike. They may buy it online or go somewhere else to get it, but it may not be geographically convenient so they bring it to us to get it serviced.”
The landscape of bike sales is changing, there’s no doubt about it. But as many bike shops are forced to adapt, the supply chain is still feeling the effects of Covid and Brexit – particularly in the unassisted bike sector. That being said, it’s not all doom and gloom, as the higher prices of e-bikes mean some shops are reporting higher sales than ever.
“Well, if you say that we’ve been going for 40 years, I think it was about a month ago, we had our best ever week,” said Mellor, “and we’ve had reps coming in and saying things have gone quite quiet, and it’s like, well, we haven’t found that – it’s been incredible.”