How has COVID-19 affected bike repairs and servicing?

One advantage IBDs will always have over the internet is servicing and repairs. Even if customers do choose to spend an increasing amount of time perusing the web, the value of customer service and expertise that bike shops provide in person can never be overlooked. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a boom in demand for bikes, with data in June revealing that 1.3 million UK consumers have bought a bike since the beginning of the crisis, many have also been taking bikes out of their sheds for their daily exercise. But have workshops seen an increase in demand? And how big a role do they play in cycle stores’ offerings?

“Demand for repairs has changed for us – pretty much from day one of lockdown the phone didn’t stop buzzing,” says Jim Cartridge from 73 Degrees Bicycle Shop. “It was not our usual customer base, in fact we have barely seen any of our ‘usual’ customers – ie club riders and enthusiasts. It has purely been local people who have never or very rarely been into the shop. If only 10% of these customers get the bug and start commuting or generally riding on a more regular/permanent basis, it will be good for us, and I assume other bike shops will have exactly the same.

“Obviously, the type of bikes we were getting in weren’t the sort of thing we usually work on, but we rolled our sleeves up and got on with it. Even the bike fitter was getting dirty hands. New stocks of cheaper hybrids were put in the window instead of carbon superbikes, and we became acquainted with 7 and 8 speed drive chains external cable routing and threaded bottom brackets. We are now starting to see the end of this and our more regular customers are appearing again, so whether the Government repair scheme will be a hit remains to be seen.”

An emotional rollercoaster
The Government’s Fix your Bike Voucher Scheme, announced earlier this year, allows members of the public to receive a voucher worth up to £50 towards the cost of repairing a bike. The scheme has been set up to encourage more people to embrace cycling, to boost the number of commuting and leisure trips, and to promote an alternative to public transport. It also aims to help reduce the number of short journeys made by private cars.

The vouchers can only be used with bike repair businesses that are registered for the scheme, and bike repairers must meet certain eligibility criteria, including the possession of valid public liability insurance with a minimum cover of £2 million.

“When the COVID-19 lockdown started we were left in a very strange place,” says Bill Temple, Primera Sports MD. “Were customers going to disappear, was cycling going to be banned? We were on an emotional rollercoaster but took it all day by day. About a week into lockdown, we suddenly realised everyone wanted to get cycling – it was allowed and people needed to get out of the house. Workshops were going into overdrive and the phones were beginning to ring off the hook.

“We appreciated that not everyone would want to visit the shop, so we put on a full-time collection and drop off service. This proved extremely popular with local hospitals and other key workers looking for help keeping their bikes running. Although we have several mechanics, we were running a booking service three weeks in advance, also taking into account cleaning contact areas on bikes, service time was extended.”

Temple says they were ‘very impressed’ with the Government’s offer of a service voucher, as this could keep new cyclists keen and engaged with cycling. The more people cycling, the more chance there is of local councils improving cycle networks.

“We are involved with our local Dorset Mind charity as we have no doubt that cycling helps to achieve a happy mind and body. Increased new bike sales have also put more pressure on staff, so although the bike business is booming it has also brought new pressures, but good ones to have. Whatever happens in the bike trade you have to embrace it and turn it into a positive. We are a unique bunch!”

The joys of cycling
The role of bike shops has been highlighted as ‘extremely important’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Paul Corcoran, owner at Pennine Cycles. “As a shop which also offers servicing and repairs, we have seen an increase in demand. We think the voucher scheme is a good idea as it encourages people to ride their bikes and use their local bike shops for repairs. We have signed up and will be interested to see the take-up.” Since the lockdown, servicing and repairs have increased, Corcoran says, especially given the shortage of new bikes – meaning customers are having to repair their old ones for the
time being.

And Tom Farrell from The Woods Cyclery says that since COVID kicked off, the shop was almost immediately busier on repairs than ever in its history.  “We offered free labour on NHS workers’ bikes to help them stay rolling. It seems there was a massive number of people who rediscovered the joy of cycling, whether to try and stay healthy during lockdown or purely because there wasn’t much else to do. We can only hope that they keep it up when life returns to normal.

“We are feeling really positive about the future of cycling. With people being more conscious of their health, money being invested in cycling infrastructure and the sheer number of new cyclists that COVID has inspired, we are sure to see continued growth.” The Government’s £50 cycle service voucher scheme is a ‘great idea’, continues Farrell. “It’s so nice to see that cycling is being thought of during this difficult time. I hope the Government continues to value cycling and considers it a solution to many of the world’s problems.”

However, Ian Whittingham, co-founder and managing director of Sigma Sports, expresses slight concern about the Government’s “lack of consultation” with independents before launching the £50 voucher scheme. “Whilst we’re very supportive of any measure that encourages more people to ride bikes, we’re concerned that there’s little consideration for existing capacity for repairs in the industry, and the significant admin and unprofitable business this could create for independent retailers. At a time where bike shops are incredibly busy trying to support new customers and get more people on bikes, there’s a chance this scheme could be a distraction from a huge opportunity for an industry that has been trying to become more sustainable for a number of years.”

Sigma Sports has also seen an increase in demand across all areas of its business, Whittingham says, with many stores experiencing uplifts in service bookings. “Due to the immediate and significant increase in demand for new bikes, our workshops were very quickly at maximum capacity and we had to prioritise servicing for key workers and existing customers only. This continued throughout April and May, meaning access to service bookings at Sigma Sports currently has a long lead time.

“Going forward, we expect the level of demand for workshop services and repairs to grow even further, the knock-on effect of massive increases in bike sales is naturally going to create an increased demand for after-sales services and repairs. We’re looking closely at our business model at the moment and looking to identify areas where we can increase capacity to cope with the new levels of demand.”

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