Ray’s Soapbox: Our Resilient Industry (we hope!)


After a brief and unsatisfying career as a scientist, I joined the bike industry in 1975, opening a bike shop in Normal, Illinois (that’s still there).

That was a significant year in the U.S. bike sales industry (see graph). The Seventies Bike Boom (1971-75), representing the biggest bulge in the snake ever, had just wound down.

Driven by gas crises and a burst in Boomer environmental awareness, the sales volume under the 1970s bulge is three times larger than that of the recent COVID spurt (see graph)

The bike biz is on the downside of the pandemic sales curve. And still going down. A recent survey of bike retailers showed that 2023 will be their worst this century.

More bad news: 68% of shops expect 2024 to be somewhat-to-much worse than 2023. Looks like a disaster looming. And yet…

Take a look at the “tail” of the 1970’s Bike Boom sales curve. Sales started right back up in 1976-77. Bike shop owners and the industry overall are a resilient bunch, because our market is resilient.

Americans love bicycles! They’re not so sure about cyclists, but that’s a topic for a later time. The industry has gone through its ups and downs over my four decades, and when things got tough, some trend always blossomed to spur us forward.

Mountain bikes in the 1980s, The Lance Years at the turn of the century, now it’s e-bikes. We can also look forward to more and better bike infrastructure nationwide being built out in the next decades, a positive impact of the pandemic.

So while it’s a precarious time in the industry (and some say the suppliers are in worse shape than the retailers?), our shops will bounce back . That same retailer survey asked them, “What is your overall outlook for your shop’s future?” 74% said neutral to very positive.

A resilient yet realistic bunch are we industry folk. We know better than to take much credit for our sustained stability. All credit is due to the mechanical beauty and unmatched versatility of the two-wheeled machine we all love.

Submitted by: Ray Keener. Ray is a former Community Cycles’ Board President, and also our most excellent Bike Fitter. His opinions about the bike industry and infrastructure, both nationally and locally, are insightful and will give you food for thought.

Ray’s Soapbox welcomes submissions from Community Cycles members and supporters. Timely cycling-related topics of local interest are given first preference. Our guidelines: Maximum length is 350 words. No name-calling or ad hominem attacks. Keep it positive, please. All submissions are subject to editing. We reserve the right to not publish submissions. Photos or other graphics are encouraged. (soapbox photo credit: Peggy Price)

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