Every bike spoken for: YK stores cope with pandemic rush for rides

Last modified: September 24, 2020 at 10:39am

Bicycle sales across the country have skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Two bicycle shops in Yellowknife say the season was so busy, they have run out of bikes to sell.

Ben Clark, bike manager and lead mechanic for the city’s Overlander Sports, said: “We started noticing that people wanted bikes, and they wanted them fast.

“Without even seeing the bike or trying them out, [customers] were just calling up and saying, ‘Hey, I want this bike.’”


The rush for bikes has had a ripple effect throughout the supply chain.

Many shops in Canada cancelled orders from suppliers in anticipation of low sales at the start of the pandemic, Clark said.

Bike tubes and tire rims in Yellowknife. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

When bicycle stores were deemed essential services, demand instantly shot up. Many businesses were left scrambling to provide customers with bikes.

Shops in the south started to see demand grow as early as late February and early March, before the pandemic had made any real impact in the Northwest Territories. Overlander, Clark said, was at a disadvantage with the last-minute rush.


“By the time we clicked in, with our season starting so much later, we were pretty-much scraping the bottom,” Clark said.

“We did manage to find a bunch of bikes and bring them in. They sold before we even had them built on the floor.”

It’s been a pinch to source parts, too.

Clark said he isn’t expecting an order of bicycle tubes until February. By the end of the summer, he had to start turning people away for basic maintenance requests as he had no parts to complete them.


The backlog and overtaxing of shipping systems in the NWT is an extra challenge.

“I worked at a shop in Toronto and if I placed an order that morning, I had [the part] the next morning,” said Clark. “Here, we have to give at least a minimum of two weeks.”

Clark has an order of new bikes coming in, but has been told that shipment might be all he can access for the foreseeable future.

Parts neatly parcelled at Old Town Bike Works. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Old Town Bike Works, a Yellowknife business that salvages old bikes and parts, saw a similar surge in summer sales.

“We worked non-stop all summer long and we’ve got zero bicycles left over,” said co-founder Matthew Grogono.

The business usually refurbishes and sells around 200 bikes each year. This year, it even sold off bikes initially reserved for rental.

Bike Works is a part of Old Town Glassworks, which specializes in glass products like cups and bowls. The Glassworks makes much of its money through hosting workshops, though Covid-19 rendered that largely impossible.

The surge in business at the bike shop has allowed the collective to pay heating costs, cover rent, and retain a “reasonable amount of staff” despite pandemic workshop restrictions.

According to Grogono, bike sales “saved Glassworks’ bacon.”

Bike Works salvages many parts from old bikes, which allowed the business to weather most of the nationwide parts shortage by rescuing components from existing stock.

Bikes and wheels line the wall inside Old Town Bike Works’ dome, made from old tire rims. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

However, bike manager David Stephens said equipment ordered in April has yet to come in.

“It changed the whole market for us,” he said. “This year, people are much more anxious to have their bicycle working – and the stores do not have new bicycles available.”

In normal circumstances, the Bike Works says it can’t compete with lure of new, cheaper models from box stores such as Walmart or Canadian Tire. At the beginning of the year, the business was even looking at shutting down.

However, with fewer bikes to choose from this year and more people riding, many opted to fix up bikes they already had.

This was a huge boon for Bike Works, Grogono said.

As the NWT biking season comes to an end, both Overlander and Old Town Bike Works aren’t sure what the future has in store.

Matthew Grogono (left), co-founder of Old Town Bike Works, and David Stephens, bike manager. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

“We’re trying to figure out if we should be hoarding everything we can get, because [with] supply chains breaking down, it’s a subtle change, and the high-demand things like bicycles are the first symptoms,” Grogono said.

This coverage of the NWT’s business sector during the Covid-19 pandemic is sponsored by the NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment. Visit Buy North for more information on businesses near you.