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Patience. This has been the key word since the beginning of the pandemic if you, like millions of other people, have had the idea of (re)taking up cycling. Exploding demand and stalled production have made two-wheelers a rare, rare commodity. This situation will continue in 2021, to the great displeasure of the vendors and their customers.
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A fear of public transport was one of the major consequences of the ongoing pandemic. As a result, many people have brought their old bikes out of their cellars or garages or have sought to buy a new bike. But with factories closed for weeks on end, and only resume production at a slower pace, cargo shipments were almost at a standstill, all while demand exploded. A winning formula for the global bike shortage. Although it was thought that these delays would have been resolved by 2021, the situation remains very tense, with sales staff at a loss for words and customers on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Here's a quick look at the situation, more than 18 months after the start of the pandemic.
Camille Muller of the ProVelo asbl waited more than two months to change one of his brake discs. He is besieged by his relatives who are desperately trying to find a bike: "The whole world has taken to cycling, it's crazy. While waiting for mine to be repaired I started riding my old steel bike from the 1980s. Fortunately, these models can still be easily repaired with parts that you can find in DIY shops", he says, noting a rise in the second-hand market. "There are two shops that I know of that offer them, so it's a good alternative for getting a bike quickly at the moment. Especially as some 'new' cyclists will quickly sell their bikes because they don't use them or because of a lack of infrastructure", he continues.
Aids that boost the market
The global economic situation is the number one reason for the shortage of bicycles, but the craze for bicycles is accentuated in Luxembourg by the introduction of very advantageous state aid for aspiring cyclists.
Guichet.lu stipulates that private individuals (residing in Luxembourg) can claim a premium of 50 percent of the cost (excluding VAT) of the vehicle for the purchase of a pedelec25 or a bicycle made between 11 May 2020 and 31 March 2022 (with supporting invoice).
Applications for financial assistance must be submitted no later than one year after the purchase of the vehicle. Only one grant is awarded for such a vehicle per individual within a period of 5 years.
Some municipalities also offer bonuses in addition to those offered by the state.
The craze is such that the state services have been very late in paying these bonuses. It takes months. Here too, patience is required.
In the meantime, the bike shops are still buzzing with costumers. At the end of summer, even in the middle of a weekday afternoon, the salespeople are busy with customers who don't have to be picky. In Esch-sur-Alzette, at Cycles Rasqui, the customers come one after the other, leaving little respite for the boss, Georges, who has to juggle orders that do not arrive and impatient customers. One family has just ordered three bikes, which will probably take months to arrive, and another customer has come to ask about her order, placed last March: "I was supposed to receive it in August, so I've come to ask about it, but now they've told me I'll have to wait until November… A friend bought the same model in a shop, it was in stock, but the conditions were much less advantageous", she explains.
"A bike you ordered in March, will be more expensive to deliver in November."
Georges Rasqui of Cycles Rasqui in Esch
With a large budget, about 3,400 euros for an electric bike, this customer wanted to take advantage of state aid by opting for a nice model, but she will have to wait. "I get around a lot on foot, but I'd like to do more with an electric bike, so in the meantime I'm using my old one", she says as she leaves, sympathizing with the shop owner who plays fair with the prices. Because what is rare is expensive: "The brands are raising prices, which means a bike that you ordered in March, will be more expensive to deliver in November, but I don't pass this on to my customers, I'll take it out of my margin, it wouldn't be a good idea to do otherwise", explains Georges Rasqui.
The shop is packed from floor to ceiling, with a few models on sale in the window, which does not give the impression of a shortage, on the contrary. Mr. Rasqui played what he calls a poker game last year: "Given the way things were going, I ordered 1,500 bicycles of various brands in June 2020, and then another 1,000. Today I have about 40 bikes arriving every week, for 45 orders. I don't know where to turn between sales and repairs, the few bikes in the shop window will be gone in a few days, that's for sure. Demand is not decreasing", says the owner.
Treat with care
The lucky few that got hold of their bikes should try to treat it with care. Spare parts are as scarce as the bikes themselves. Georges Rasqui is sometimes forced to strip new bikes for parts. "The owner of a 15,000 Euro bike is waiting for a brake disc… which is currently 654 days overdue. I used to wait a few days for parts, now it can take months", says the owner.
"My bike that I use for training is broken, it's a stupid little part that costs no more than 10 Euros, but I've been waiting 5 months for it! "
Gregory Bianco, manager of Bike Tours
Gregory Bianco, manager of Bike Tours, has bikes in his fleet that had to be sorted out due to a lack of parts: "For example, there is a shortage of brake pads, everything comes from China and Taiwan, there are transport problems and delays that start in the factory." The problem is that customers are losing patience. "Everyone is on edge", he says, especially as he is not given priority, even as a professional. "My bike that I use for training is broken, it's a stupid little part that costs no more than 10 Euros, but I've been waiting 5 months for it!"
Of the fifteen or so bikes that make up his fleet, apart from the broken one, two have been stolen, which is a scourge because the very tight market makes people covetous: "Thieves are relentless because the demand is enormous. The second-hand market is also soaring. The problem is that if a bike is stolen, I would normally replace it quickly, but that's impossible at the moment", he continues. Figures from the police show an increase in thefts in recent years: from 468 in 2018 to 725 in 2020. Camille Muller also warns of the increase in thefts with some advice: "You have to be careful and invest in a good chain and attach it to the frame, not just the tire. And when I can't keep an eye on my bike, I put it in an underground car park, the Knuedler for example has spaces reserved for bikes, it's more secure."
The Shimano brand, which suffers from huge production delays, is at the heart of the global problem, even though it supplies 80 to 90 percent of the spare parts for all brands. If a part is missing, an entire production line is stopped for machines that are produced and assembled on the other side of the world. This dependence impacts an entire sector. The same applies to the shortage of semi-conductors, which affects the production of electric bicycles, which are also months behind schedule. "The sector exploded with the pandemic, many people wanted to avoid public transport or to exercise again, the whole world wanted to start cycling at the same time. At the same time, production collapsed, with factories closed for weeks on end", explains Benji Kontz, head of Cycles Arnold Kontz. 18 months after the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the situation has not been resolved. "I have the impression that the situation is not improving", he says. And with good reason. The books are filled with orders, with unprecedented delays.
Lack of stock
Luc Reis is the director of sightseeing.lu, who himself waited a year to receive his own bike. His company wanted to expand its fleet of rental e-bikes in 2020: "We placed the order last September to be ready for the season, as early as spring. They arrived at the end of June! We are still waiting for quite a few of them. For a single trailer, there is an eight-month wait. And I'm not even talking about the spare parts, we're not sure we'll be able to replace them", he explains. As a result, it is impossible to make more bikes available, even if he would like to invest.
"We continued to place orders throughout 2020, which turned our stocking patterns upside down."
Benji Kontz, Director of Arnold Kontz Cycles
There is plenty of stock at Cycles Arnold Kontz. The shop on Rue de Strasbourg is full of bikes. What is the secret of Benji Kontz, the successor of this century-old family business? "The shop in town opened just before the first lockdown, so we had a large stock in anticipation. We continued to make orders throughout 2020, which turned our stocking pattern upside down as well as the pre-financing of all those bikes, with the result that we have the largest stock in the shop's 105-year history."
This is a winning bet, as the experts estimate that it will take until 2023 to return to normal, when you will no longer have to wait nine months to receive your bike. Cycles Kontz is therefore one of the shops where you still have a bit of choice, even if you shouldn't be too picky, which attracts customers well beyond the borders of the Grand Duchy: "Our main market remains Luxembourg, that's our priority. But by now, we have increased our visibility on the internet, which is attracting customers from all over Europe. We recently had a couple who came from Paris just to buy a bike, they couldn't find what they wanted there, although you'd think there'd be more choice. It's a bit crazy", concedes the owner.