Sacramento bike dealers hit high gear as gas prices climb
By Andrea V. Brambila - abrambila at sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, June 30, 2008
Story appeared in BUSINESS section, Page D1
After years of stagnant national sales, the gas crisis may be pumping some new life and changes into the bicycle industry. Sacramento bike sellers say they're seeing a boost in business in sales and repairs.
"Bike sales have gone up since the price of fuel has gone up," says Brad Winter, general manager of Bicycles Plus in Folsom. "In the last two to three months, we're starting to see more people willing to commute (by bike)."
According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, the U.S. bicycle industry racked up $6 billion in sales in 2007, including bicycles, related parts and accessories. This year the association expects revenue to stay about the same, despite an increased interest in bikes and accessories for commuting. Officials say that's because people are buying less expensive bikes in the slow economy.
Still, area bike shop owners say more people appear interested in riding, and sales have risen by as much as 20 percent from a year ago at some local bike shops. Bike repairs have climbed even more dramatically, as high as 60 percent at some outlets.
"My favorite thing is when people come in and say, 'I need a bike because I just sold my car,' " says Jess Clifton, mechanic for the Bicycle Chef in midtown Sacramento.
"People used to be scared to commute (by bicycle). But now with the I-5 (lane closures due to repairs) and the traffic and the gas prices, people are realizing that it's not that bad," says Kristie Hamilton, sales manager of Mike's Bikes downtown.
The demand for commuter bicycles has changed the type and price of two-wheeler sales, according to many bike shops. Rather than mountain bikes, more customers come in looking for commuter bikes in the $200 to $600 price range, which is lower than many high-priced road bikes.
"What's really surprising is the volume. We're selling more bikes, but at a slightly lower price point than we have in years past," says Bowen Doxsee, manager of City Bicycle Works.
Doxsee says his shop is selling 80 to 100 bikes a week, compared with 70 to 80 bikes at the same time last year. Two weeks ago, he said, the shop had its busiest non-sale weekend of this year with 56 bikes sold between Friday and Sunday.
That same weekend, Bicycle Chef Bicycles in midtown sold out of its Beach Cruisers, a single-speed bicycle with a coaster brake. Priced between $300 and $400, they're generally designed for riding around town and shorter commutes.
"Most people are buying them for work because they live around midtown here," says Whit Brooks, Bicycle Chef's manager.
Also popular are hybrid bicycles, a cross between a mountain bike and a street bike, recommended for commutes between five and 10 miles.
Most local bike shops say they're selling fewer road bikes in the $1,200 to $2,000 price range, presumably because of the economy and fuel prices.
"I can only imagine (it's because) the middle class has less discretionary income, or is using it to pay for fuel," Doxsee says.
Instead, many are coming in to rehab their old bikes.
"(These are) bikes they thought they'd never fix up that have been sitting in the backyard shed for 20 years," Brooks says. Bikes from the 1970s and 1980s are not uncommon. Neither are bikes from big box stores like Wal-Mart or Target.
These older bikes often need a light or medium tuneup, typically costing between $75 and $180, depending on the shop and the bike's condition. The most common repairs are to replace tires that have rotted from disuse and cables that have rusted beyond repair.
While exact figures are not available, shops say profits are up. That's partly because as bike sales and repairs rise, so do accessory and parts sales.
Bicycle Chef's Brooks says his profit on parts and accessories is up 30 percent from last year. If customers come in for a bike, they often leave with additional equipment: a helmet, a lock, a rack, lights, reflectors, saddle bags.
Library clerk Sally Sweeny recently plunked down $199 at City Bicycle Works for a green Phat Breeze cruiser, which she plans to use for commuting from her midtown home to work. Because her old bike was stolen recently, she also bought "two massive macho locks" and a basket that can fit two bags of groceries.
For Elk Grove resident Jason Booke, "It just made sense" to start riding to his job at a nearby fiber-optics company. He recently bought a $359 cherry black Beach Cruiser for his 2.5-mile commute. He wanted to exercise and spend less money on gas, but he's also found his commute more relaxing.
"It's a little bit slower. You enjoy the scenery, vs. being in a car," says Booke.
Despite an apparent recent increase in first-time bike commuters on the road, Sacramento Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Lazark says officers haven't noted any recent spike in bicycle-related accidents.
What has increased are bicycle-related questions on the department's blog, at blog.sacpd.org., including inquiries about riding on sidewalks and where to buy unclaimed bikes.