How’s Business? March 2021

Welcome to our monthly chat with bicycle store owners and managers across Australia and New Zealand.

Recently we’ve seen a proliferation of electric scooters on the roads, bike paths and footpaths across both countries. Many are part of newly emerging hire schemes, but many more are privately owned.

It appears that most of these are being sold by mass merchants, despite their use still being illegal in most states and territories. So we thought we’d use How’s Business for a quick survey of what bicycle retailers are thinking and doing about electric scooters. Therefore, this month’s follow up question was, ‘Do you sell or have you considered selling electric scooters?’

Steve Kilpatrick from The Full Cycle of Albury NSW, on the Murray River border with Victoria said:

Pretty good. Pretty interesting. As we all know it’s strange times – nothing new or unusual about that in the past six months. It has been incredible.

We’re in that bit of a mix at the moment when the covid bubble has burst somewhat. So things have quietened off a little bit from Christmas and that whole covid lockdown buying bikes and trainers situation. We have Specialized, Scott, Avanti and Haro.

So there are now categories that we have good stocks of, but there’s still categories that we’re missing. They tend to be your most popular categories of your hard tail and dual suspension mountain bikes and some of your road bikes.

So in those areas we’re suffering, but in our general bike sales we’re fortunate that our stock is somewhat replenished and that’s helping us out.

Without a doubt the border lockdown had a big affect on us. It may not be the same for all border town but in general, the Victorian side which is Wodonga, people come to Albury to go shopping. Particularly because there’s three major cycle stores in Albury, they come across from Victoria to shop.

A large part of our catchment area is not just Wodonga it’s (other Victorian) places like Yackandandah, Beechworth, Chiltern, all the way out to Mt Beauty, Corryong, down to Yarrawonga, so you do get an instant effect of that border closure coming in.

Some people do have a permit to come into Albury, but when they did lock the border down many would think, ‘It’s not worth it. I don’t want to sit in a queue for 30 minutes waiting to get back into Victoria.’

So we saw a massive effect on us for the major lockdown. Not so much for the little recent one.

When the big down lockdown was lifted there was an instant effect for two days. Not just in our store but in town in general it was busy.

Another thing I found pretty interesting was I know Victorians were restricted in the amount of exercise they could do, so I would have thought some cyclists were smart enough not to download their rides on Strava when they were going out for an hour and a half, well outside their five kilometre zone! (laughs).

Sell or considered e-scooters?

At this point we don’t sell them and I haven’t considered selling them. To the best of my knowledge electric scooters still are not legal to ride in NSW if they exceed a certain speed.

Peter Sutton from The Complete Cycle in the southern beachside Adelaide suburb of Port Noarlunga, SA said:

Bike sales obviously are down because you can’t get the stock. We’re finding that about 70% of our bike sales now are electric. We’ve got one supplier in particular that’s been very proactive in getting stock and forward ordering, so there’s been a reasonably steady supply from him apart from the odd shipping glitch. That’s Tony Morgan at TEBCO – really good people. The other main supplier we deal with is Oceania. They’ve been struggling a bit with supply, but we’ve had enough to make it worthwhile opening the shop.

Having said that the year’s trading has still been much better than we expected.

I’ve been here 42 years. I’ll be 78 years old in June. I’ve got my 21 year old grandson Reef working here full time now. So I’ve got a succession plan. I’ll be able to sit and dribble in the corner and watch him work!

It’s just been amazing – repair work – we just cannot keep up with it. At the moment we’re looking booking repairs about 10 days ahead. We can’t touch anything before then. The biggest problem is people who say they want it the next day, then don’t pick up their bike for a month! But that’s always been the case.

If you keep looking for parts, you will find them, that’s what I’ve found. Also the fact that I’ve dealt with certain suppliers for years and stayed loyal… it works for you.

Sell or considered e-scooters?

Absolutely not! I wouldn’t touch them in a fit.

I’m very fussy with electric bikes. I won’t even change the handlebar grips on anything that’s non-compliant. I don’t want to spend 12 or 18 months in court.

Bosch are very strict on this. Anybody who is playing around with these 1,000 watt motors… I mean, it’s not illegal to make them, it’s not illegal sell them, but it is illegal to ride them on public roads. The liability could be horrendous in the case of a serious accident.

Byron Wallis of Roll Cycles in the city centre of Hobart, Tasmania said:

It’s hectic! It’s really hectic at the moment. Just trying to get enough bikes to meet demand is a bit of a challenge at the moment. Especially accessories. We’re starting to see quite a few delivery dates pushing to the end of this year or early next year before we see some products.

Handlebars, stems – most of that we have to pre-order. Even shoes, we have to order for August at the moment, so like six months away, for high turnover items.

It’s a bit of a battle. But we’re getting lots of bikes out the door and there’s lots of people out there riding.

We used to be called Bike Ride. We changed our name about two years ago when we opened a Launceston store. It was started from scratch. In Hobart we had Ride Bellerive, we were Bike Ride, then Avanti Plus Hobart changed to My Ride. There was quite a bit of public confusion. We had them coming in with gift cards for the other stores.

We thought it was easier to change both stores and get away from the crowd.

The Specialized Levo (high end electric mountain bikes) is one of our key bikes. We’ve got a fairly big waiting list of people who want those bikes. They’re not cheap. Most of the ones we’re selling are over $10,000. There’s a substantial amount of demand for that particular bike.

We’ve had some people waiting for a few months already to secure the right size and spec. Some of the delivery dates… Specialized have basically sold out of Levo’s for this season.

In the past few weeks we’ve received quite a few bikes so we’ve got quite a healthy looking store.

During covid the recreational hard tail was the most popular bike and we completely sold out of those. But we’re starting to get some of them in now.

We don’t really have any (dual suspension) mountain bikes on the floor below $7,000 at the moment. Any dual suspension MTB’s below that are really desirable and we just can’t get enough of those.

We’ve got a few city ebikes on the floor… like the Specialized Vado. We’ve got a couple of those in the bigger sizes, large and extra large. But mediums, they’re out until July.

Actually we just sold a Vado just then, to a guy who’s happy to wait until July.

Sell or considered e-scooters?

We don’t sell them and it’s probably something that we won’t do purely from a support point of view. We tend to do brands that… we can back our products. So if someone has a battery or a motor issue, we will only do a brand that can support us.

Being a Specialized dealer, they’ve set the benchmark for electric ebikes, so it makes it hard for other distributors to compare.

So at the moment, we’re purely focussing on bikes.

Murray Watson of Recyclery, a not for profit second-hand bike store in Acton, part of the Australian National University grounds in central Canberra, ACT said:

Right now we’ve got more business than we can handle. Every year at the start of Uni we get hundreds of first year students coming in looking for a bike.

We always struggle through the first two or three weeks of semester, trying to get everyone on a bike. Most of the year we get five or 10 customers through every day but at this time of year we get 40 or 50.

We’re on the edge of the campus, immediately next to the city. At the end of our peninsular is the Australian Museum. We get donations from the general public. Everyone brings us their old bikes. Myself and a team of dedicated volunteers fix them up and then we sell them relatively cheaply to raise money to keep the workshop going, plus a lot of bicycle advocacy and teaching people to fix there own bikes. We’re also part of the Canberra Environment Centre so some of the money we make is spent on environmental projects through the Environment Centre.

I haven’t really gauged what other bike shops think of us. I think we offer quite a different service. For example we don’t offer straight servicing. If someone comes to us with a problem on our bike then our first step is to teach them how to fix their bikes themselves.

Our bikes are usually no more than $300 to $400. So I think we’re hitting a target market who probably wouldn’t buy a new bike anyway. I think our main competition is with second-hand sellers.

We’ve developed a good relationship with the bike shop on campus. They send people our way for second-hand parts and stuff that they don’t have and we send people their way when we can’t help them.

Sell or considered e-scooters?

We do not sell electric scooters. I don’t think we’ve considered it. We do have a couple of volunteers who retrofit bikes with electric kits. That was one of the first things I did when I started here. I never thought I’d ride an ebike but I live 35 kilometres from work and I didn’t want to have to drive, so I put a motor on my bike to make my commute a little easier.

But e-scooters have taken off in Canberra big time. You see them everywhere now. There’s these rentals for them. But I think we all like encouraging people to use their legs as much as possible.

Marcus Walker of Walkers Wheels in Montmorency in the leafy the outer north east suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria said:

Still very busy. Repairs are crazy. I think everyone’s in the same boat. The phone just rings off all day looking for bikes to get repaired or people chasing bikes that we haven’t got.

The last lockdown was golden! I could shut the door and catch up with three days of repairs.

It’s getting bizarre. I’m even thinking of just becoming a repair centre. There’s enough repairs to keep us going and there’s not much bike stock.

Specialized is my number one brand. I do a few Avanti’s, a bit of XDS. I don’t mind some steel framed Jamis bikes. I have certain models I like in certain bike brands and I try not to put all of my eggs in one basket… although all the people I deal with, their baskets are empty! (laughs).

Parts are a little bit challenging some times. I have stocked up on a fair few components and consumables. For example I would normally stock one box of disc brake pads, the common ones. I’d normally have enough to last me about a month or so. Now I probably have enough to last me six or eight months now. So every time I’m buying, I’m buying more, which is probably helping to create the problem. We’re all perhaps buying more stuff because we’re hearing of these future shortages that we’re going to get.

But so far it doesn’t seem terrible. Some things are missing but you can normally get a substitute.

Sell or considered e-scooters?

I have a couple here, just probably the kids ones. I still reckon they’re a grey area. And safety on them… you’ll remember the craze years ago of the petrol powered scooter and the petrol powered monkey bike. While there was only one person running around with them it wasn’t a problem, but as more people got them, it became a problem and then the police clamped down on them.

I’m dubious about the legality of electric scooters, so that’s what worries me a bit.

A bike has an Australian Standard and has to comply with that standard.

I had a conversation with Vic Roads about this, a scooter is just a handlebar with two wheels – like a wheelie bin. I’d like some clarification.

Having been to Brisbane and Wellington, New Zealand hooning around on the hire electric scooters, they’re grouse! I love ‘em! But I don’t know about selling them yet.

Darren Murray, of Cyco in Eden Park, two kilometres south of the city centre of Auckland, New Zealand said:

We’re super busy at the moment. Like everyone, covid has been very telling for the bike industry. Now getting stock is more of the issue. We’ve got to be more creative as to how we make things work, than what we used to.

We’re deal mainly with high end, so it’s probably easier for us than stores that are selling $2,000 and under bikes, which in New Zealand are totally out of stock. At least for us we can do frame swaps and group set swaps and as long as it works for the customer, it just takes more time to get things over the line.

But there’s certainly not a shortage of people wanting to spend money. Since the first lockdown the most common thing we here is, ‘I had two or three international trips planned that have been cancelled so I’m going to pick up a new bike.’

We’ve been going for 28 years. I’ve owned it for five and a half years. I worked for the previous owner for 14 years so when I took over it was more of a rollover because I knew a lot of the customers.

We deal in high end road and mountain and probably the biggest thing for us right now is gravel bikes. Brand-wise Trek’s our main go-to brand and then we sell Curve, Ibis, Cervélo and 3T.

Sell or considered e-scooters?

Not for us, just because of the type of store we are. Our customers would be turned off by seeing electric scooters in our store.

It’s really weird over here. You know bikes have to ride on the road or the bike path. They can’t go on the footpath. Then you’ve got these e-scooters that can do 25 or 30 k’s per hour. They can go on the bike path, the footpath… there’s no regulations on helmets.

You’ve got these things that can go super-fast and they’re super dangerous and there’s no regulations around it. But everything around it like bikes have a lot of regulation.

Then you’ve got the rental scooters all around the place. I’d say it would be probably a 50/50 split of people who have got their own scooter now vs renting them now.

When Lime first came to New Zealand, they were the first big scooter rental people and you’d see everyone on them everywhere but you certainly don’t see people use those share scooters as much anymore. I think people have got their own ones.

Join the Conversation: Do you sell or have you considered selling electric scooters in your store? Please comment below.

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