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'Disproportionately busy:' Ottawa bike shops like Cycle Power selling as many as they can get

Ken Power and his crew are pedalling hard to keep customers on two wheels.

Ken Power and his crew at Cycle Power are pedalling hard to keep up with the recent demand for bicycles.

And they aren't the only one.

Across Canada, the combination of a long, isolated and largely lethargic pandemic winter and social protocols prohibiting most social activities has led to a pent-up demand for bikes that like of which Power hasn't seen in his 38 years in the bike business.

And with the spring cycling season now in top gear, bike shops are feeling the heat.

Across Canada, and here in Ottawa especially, interest in cycling is surging. Big time.

“I think people are tired of feeling isolated,” Power, 59, says. “Normally, our season starts on March 15, but this year, we were going full-bore on January 15. In my 27 years at this shop, I've never seen customers so ready to get on with the season.”

That would be good news for bike retailers if manufacturers were able to keep the flow of new product coming, but the global situation is fragile. According to Power, factories in Taiwan, where most of the bikes sold globally are made, are struggling with their own pandemic challenges, scaling back operations to comply with coronavirus protocols and accessing raw materials. Further complicating the situation; shipping across borders can be time-consuming and problematic, leaving frenzied shops scrambling for what little new inventory is available.

“It's disproportionately busy right now because of the coronavirus. Factories aren't working at peak capacity. People are afraid to go to work. So there's a shortage of bikes and high demand. It creates a very precarious situation for bike stores.”

Last year, the industry was largely caught off guard by the economic lockdown. Unable to source inventory, many bike stores were empty by June.

Fortunately, well-managed wholesale companies learned from that experience and prepared to ensure steady flow of bikes for the 2021 season.

Their anticipation paid off. Sales at Cycle Power were up 70 per cent in 2020, to more than $1-million in sales. Power says they sold more than 1,000 bikes, ranging from $600 hybrids and mountain bikes to custom road racers costing more than $20,000.

“I didn't think the store was capable of doing that kind of business,” Power says. “And it looks like we'll beat that this year.”

Power recommends if you're in the market for a new ride, you get into the store as soon as possible.

“I didn't get a lot of time to ride last year because I was so busy working at the store,” he says. “Judging by our sales, and the number of bikes I see on the road, biking is very popular here.”

With its natural beauty, extensive network of bike trails and its relatively compact size, Ottawa is, per capita, one of the busiest places in Canada for cycling.

Power's favourite ride is the one to Champlain Lookout in Gatineau Park. He also recommends the 30 km ride along Sir John A. Parkway, to Alice's restaurant in Carp and back.

“The city was planned to be a good place for people to enjoy the outdoors, with lots of park space and bike paths and limits on urbanization,” he explains. “Biking is the best way to commute across Ottawa in the summer. It's better than the bus. It takes a lot of character to commute in the winter, but a lot of people do it. I think Ottawa is a paradise for cycling.”

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