When You Can’t Afford Four Wheels, Will Two Do?

In his previous essay looking at the inexorable increase in the cost of vehicles that is putting new ones out of the reach of many, Todd Lassa rhetorically asks, “So what’s the average Joe to do?” So he continues. . .

The answer is bicycles. Before the pandemic, bicycle sales were strong as urban planners re-designed cities to be less auto-centric, and the bike industry innovated with disc brakes and tubeless tires trickling down to $1,000 commuter models, as high-end road bikes adapted electronic shifting. Electric-assisted (e-bikes) and bike-friendly clothing lines formal enough to be worn at office make the commute easier, even in northern cities.

The U.S. market exploded after last March, and severe shortages, especially of those commuter-style bikes were compounded by factories closed to avoid pandemic spread and tariffs against Asian manufacturers by the Trump administration. More than 90 percent of bicycles sold worldwide come from Taiwan and China, with the Giant Manufacturing Company building frames for most the world’s mainstream brands.

Cars and light trucks aren’t going to disappear en masse as urban planners design more, wider bike lanes onto the streets, but more balance between the two types of conveyances is not a bad thing, even for auto enthusiasts.

Pinarello Dogma F1. (Image: Pinarello)

Annual U.S. bike sales numbers are not as reliable as auto sales by registration. The industry is split between cheap commodity bikes sold at big box stores like Walmart, and more “serious” higher quality bikes sold at bicycle shops. The U.S. Commerce Department does count bike and bike frame import numbers (serious enthusiasts can build their own bikes at home by ordering a high-quality aluminum or carbon-fiber frame and adding components from Shimano, SRAM and other suppliers), says Stephen Frothingham, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News editor-in-chief. By last October, Frothingham told me, 13.6 million bikes and bike frames were imported into the U.S. for the year, up 19% over the same period in 2019. He estimates the full-year number of bike imports will come to “well over 14.5-million sold in 2020.” Does that number sound familiar?

If you haven’t purchased a new bike in a few years, you might be a bit surprised to walk into a reputable bike shop and find most models priced between roughly $1,000 and $5,000. A new Pinarello Dogma F12, probably the Ferrari SF90 of bikes, will set you back $6,500, frame only, or $12,000 fully built. But consider that the cheapest model you can buy in the U.S. from Ford, the company that put America on wheels, is the wonderfully mediocre EcoSport subcompact crossover, at $21,240.  –Todd Lassa

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