What’s Up With the Global Bicycle Parts Problem? One Dude’s Story

It’s complicated. And not unlike many people’s relationship status, there’s a lot going on. I’m not a journalist and this isn’t an extensively researched analysis of the industry. From what I’ve gleaned, and experienced first-hand from contacting half a dozen Austin, Texas bicycle shops, the supply chain is busted thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s apparently a byzantine network of large and small shops, distributors, manufacturers, brokers and more behind the scenes. Normally, tons more people re/discovering bicycling for exercise, transportation, stress-relief, and other reasons would be a good thing. But it’s that same demand coupled with crippled supply chain that is making it a feast for some and a famine for others. You can read all about that later, but here’s the story of one dude just trying to fix his bike so he can Just Keep Pedalin’.

The Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal. Source: Wikipedia

Sophie, my Fairdale Weekender Archer has been my main ride for a few years now, since the sad demise of Sookie the Fuji Silhouette to a fatal frame crack. I surpassed the mileage of the former riding the latter a while ago. And all these miles add up – over 16,000 now. So it’s inevitable that components wear and out and must be replaced. (If only I could do that with certain body parts!) Sometimes I’d have to order something but it always showed up pretty quickly, magically. But those days are gone, for now.

I don’t know if any bikes or bike parts were on the Ever Given, the ship that got stuck and clogged up traffic in the Suez Canal for six days and was just freed yesterday. But when one of the largest shipping vessels in the world –with millions of dollars of merchandise on it can impede such a strategic transport passage — it illustrates how fragile the international trade system is. The boat itself is owned by a Japanese company, managed by a German one, has a Panamanian registration, is chartered by a Taiwanese firm, and was sailing from Malaysia to the Netherlands, with a largely Indian crew. We are the world, and the world is a delicate, interconnected place.

Shifter and cassette for Sophie the Fairdale Weekender Archer

A recent article in the cleverly-acronymed BRAIN – Bicycle Retailer and Industry News goes into great depths about the specifics of the bike world. In “Broken Chain: Small and new brands hard hit by component shortage” we learn about the competition, complex arrangements, market forces and more that go into what for the end user — a dude like me — used to be usually a fairly simple transaction. You go to your friendly LBS (Local Bike Shop), fork over your money, get the part and put it on yourself or pay the shop to do it for you. But nowadays in pandemic times, things are far from simple, as the article explains. The lesson I get from this is that while smaller bike and parts manufacturers get squeezed and some go out of business, some adapt. And the big boys and girls (Trek, Specialized, Giant, etc.) have the money and thus more chance of keeping things going.

What does this mean for little ol’ me and Sophie? She needs a lot of stuff to keep me going: a new shifter with cable and housing, cable, chain ring, chain, and rear cassette. I’ve checked with many shops in town, and have almost enough to make it happen. I got the shifter from Monkeywrench Bikes, whose owner was willing to break up a set and just sell me the front half. I found a rear cassette from Bicycle Sport Shop before it was rebranded by new owners Trek Bicycle (remember them from last paragraph?). Sun and Ski couldn’t get them in a timely manner. Peddler Bike Shop said no one had the 11-36 cassette I wanted to keep the same size for getting up hills easier. Bike Farm suggested a bigger front chain ring which would solve that problem, but Clown Dog told me that it might not be the type I need. The chain and housing shouldn’t be an issue.

I don’t know what the global supply chain is going to do to sort itself out, but it sure needs to fix it. To the degree it can while The Plague continues to affect us all. But as you can see from my experience, that just riding one’s bike every day can be a problem. Yesterday, I was out on the Southern Walnut Creek Trail when my shifter got stuck. Fortunately I was in the lowest (easiest) gear, and it was mostly downhill to some friends house. The couple has a garage full of bikes including a tandem, tools and bike stand. Their neighbor had a friend who was a bike mechanic, and he did what he could to loosen things up. Meanwhile, his wife who is a bicyclist, runner and medical professional worked on a very sore body part. It was very nice of them both; it’s good to know good people.

Click the photo to view this in Strava. © Strava

Today I made some progress toward getting my the remaining parts and the bike fixed. My friend Rhodney rode with me and we stopped for some Mediterranean food. It was a beautiful day for a bike ride. Even if right now it feels like my bike, like my life, is literally the lyrics from the theme song to Friends:

So no one told you life was going to be this way.
Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s DOA.
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear,
When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

But, I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour.
I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before.
I’ll be there for you, cause you’re there for me too.

Source: Lyrics on Demand

What has been your experience with bike parts? Where are you? Let me know in the comments!

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One thought on “What’s Up With the Global Bicycle Parts Problem? One Dude’s Story

  1. Not bike parts but my job is in furniture retail. High demand and shortages in the supply chain have been an issue since reopening in June last year. This year will be worse as there have been serious shipping issues since December (massive price hikes) and there is basically no furniture shipping happening from Asia/China now or since January 😔

    Liked by 1 person

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