TORONTO -- Canadians hoping to get a bike in time for the summer cycling season may have a hard time finding one as businesses struggle to keep up with the sport’s surging popularity.

Demand for bikes began early last year during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first lockdowns, which saw business closures, manufacturer delays and slowed shipments. Retailers say that the desire for bikes isn’t slowing down.

“The demand has definitely sparked a COVID bike boom but so much has changed in the business that in a million years we couldn’t have predicted it,” says Ira Kargel,a partner at Gears Bikeshop in Toronto. “It’s one thing to say people might want to be more active with their families since they’re stuck inside. But to the degree that we’ve seen, it has just truly been remarkable.”

The decline in supply is largely due to the massive increase in demand.But, Kelly Hodgson,manager of marketing and operations at United Sport and Cycle in Edmonton, says the supply issues are also the result of slowed manufacturing from overseas suppliers due to COVID-19, which has delayed the shipment of bike parts like chains and chain wheels.

“It’s not just an Eastern Canada thing or a Western Canada thing, it’s not even just Canada, it’s actually a worldwide thing that's a problem and it has to do with the componentry on the bike, not the bike itself,”she says.

 In response to high demands, retailers began taking pre-orders for bikes in the hopes that supply would slowly increase. However, continual delays have meant that customers who put their names down in the fall are only receiving their bikes now.

“This year was just constant phone calls and emails where people who had been shut out in 2020 on bikes were asking if they could get in line or put deposits down or pre-buy or do whatever they could do so they wouldn’t miss out in 2021,” says Pete Lilly, owner of Sweet Pete’s Bicycle Shop in Toronto.

“Every bike now that is coming in has a name on it already. It’s still been just as frustrating because there are tons of people who didn’t do that extra leg work over the summer.”

Lilly isn’t alone in dealing with a backlog. Simon Coutts, owner of Simon’s Bike shop in Vancouver, is still filling orders put in last year.

“I’m waiting for the orders I placed last summer to come but the supply chain has been...slowed to the point where instead of getting 100 to 150 bikes at a time, every shipment is probably 10 to 12 bikes and they’re sporadic,” says Coutts.

The delay has also meant that bike repairs, which require similar parts and tools, have also been backed up, Coutts says.

Lockdowns and business closures have prevented customers from entering stores and testing out bikes the way they traditionally would have. Kargel says that the shift to online buying has required an increase in virtual customer service so buyers can chat with an expert about what bike is right for them. 

“We will talk to you about your age, your fitness, your flexibility, your height, your weight.We can ask lots of questions and have the experience to connect you to a bike without having to ride it or touch it,” Kargel says.

Alex Fraser, bike expert and co-owner of Spokes and Sports in Toronto, advises potential buyers to think about the type of model they want, the type of riding they plan on doing, and who plans on riding the bike, before making their decision.

“When you are buying a bike, it’s not just about size and height, it’s about age and riding ability,” Fraser says. “An adult bike is not just for size, you also have to consider what type of riding you’re looking to do. You’ve got mountain bikes for ripping it up on the trails, road bikes for longer distance riding. But a lot of people are gravitating towards a hybrid bike. A hybrid is recreational, and can be used for commuting.”

Fraser also advises customers buying for children to think about sizing up and to keep in mind the importance of age and height when deciding the type of material and features a bike should have.

Customers should also make sure they purchase the necessary safety gear, such as helmets, bells and lights. 

Fraser says that this period of waiting is a good time for customers to begin researching to find out what their dream bike is and to prepare themselves for when the time comes to make a purchase.

“Talk to your local bike shop to manage demand,” Fraser says. “We don’t see things getting back to normal anytime soon, but as I said bikes are coming in all the time and even if you have one now plan for next year already, get something on the books just get that ball rolling.”