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Bike industry on a roller-coaster ride
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Bike industry on a roller-coaster ride

In recent years, the path for the bicycling industry has been far from smooth. Instead, between the pandemic sending demand soaring, followed by worldwide supply chain shortages and the rapid advent of e-bikes, it’s been a roller-coaster ride, said Gretchen Brauer, general manager of Wheel & Sprocket in Evanston. (Read a profile of Brauer at this link.)

Gretchen Brauer, general manager at Wheel & Sprocket in Evanston. Credit: Alan K. Cubbage

“We started 2019 as a normal year, trending up a little and then in 2020 Covid hit, and it was just hold on as best we could. We had lines of customers down to the end of the block and demand was through the roof. We sold every bike we had. Then we couldn’t get bikes or parts – at one point we couldn’t even get a 24-inch inner tube to fix a kid’s bike,” Brauer said.

Much of that demand came from new riders who were looking for a way to get outside during the pandemic. That, in turn, created a surge in demand for electric bikes, which have small electric motors to assist riders. While the overall demand for bicycles softened in 2022, e-bikes continue to grow in popularity, Brauer said.

E-bikes initially were designed mainly for use by commuters in cities, but versions now exist for every use, ranging from kid carriers to sturdy mountain bikes to sleek road bikes. At Wheel & Sprocket, approximately 20% of bikes sold now are e-bikes.

“There are tons of reasons to buy an e-bike: You want to ride with a partner and they may be a faster biker, maybe you’ve had an injury, maybe you commute and don’t want to get to work all sweaty, maybe you’re hauling kids,” Brauer said.

The addition of electric motors means the store’s repair technicians need electrical skills as well as mechanical skills, she noted.

“E-bikes systems are all a little different, but they’re not super complex, so you can figure out how to make them work. We’re fortunate that we have the mechanic, Chris Keil, here in Evanston who wants to master those skills.”

Despite the challenges of the past several years, Brauer remains enthusiastic, but
cautious, about the bicycling world, noting the rapid changes that have occurred.