COVID creates bike shortage
Normally, Speed’s Bicycle Shop in Sparta offers everything from bikes to trikes and tandems and all the accessories that come along with biking. But in the wake of coronavirus, the owners, Milt and Rose Leis, are having a hard time restocking their inventory.
The majority of local events have been cancelled in “The Bicycling Capital of America,” leaving very little for people to do this summer and biking has become an even more popular pastime.
“We’ve seen an increase in repairs. Probably since the beginning of March it’s just been steady,” Rose said. “Some of the bikes that have been coming in have probably been hanging in barns, sheds and garages for years.”
Normally, the shop has a two to three-day turnaround and now it’s closer to seven to 10 days. Unfortunately, it’s getting to the point that buying parts like tires, tubes, shifters and so on is getting more and more difficult as the parts just aren’t available.
“It’s a supply problem. At the beginning of the year, a lot of companies that we order from had numerous things in their warehouses and I’m sure it’s not just our shop that’s busy, it’s everywhere and now parts are starting to get scarce,” Rose said. “There could come a point where we’re not able to fix something because we’re not able to get anything. It’s a scary thought, we’ve never had a situation like this.”
Milt keeps thinking eventually business will slow down, but for now with every bike they repair, two more take its place.
Just as shop owners everywhere are having trouble getting inventory, manufacturers are also having difficulty finding supplies to make the items. “Factories are going to end up getting shut down again because they can’t work if they don’t have the materials,” Rose said.
Speed’s was established in 1978 by Milt, after he started fixing bikes owned by his friends and neighbors in the fall of 1977. Milt was still a freshman in high school when he opened Speed’s in the spring of 1978 and his shop was located in his parent’s barn.
Milt began repairing and reselling used bikes and as his business grew, he brought in his first line of new bicycles.
In 1987, Milt began working in an electric motor repair shop, learning how to repair motors. In 1988, he purchased the business, Stern Electric, and ran the electric motor shop while he had employees run the bike shop, which quickly became hard for Milt to manage.
A building large enough to house both businesses came up for sale, which happened to be situated right next to the Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail, and Milt purchased the site from Wisconsin Gas Company in 1989.
As both businesses were growing, Milt added on to the building a few years ago in order to expand the showroom, which is now large enough to show a full line of new bikes, some used bikes and a large selection of bicycle accessories.
The moment a customer walks into the showroom, it’s plain to see that stock is limited. A space that is normally overflowing with new bikes in a variety of styles and colors has been reduced to only a handful of new bikes.
“We’ve got people coming in looking to get a bike and we have to tell them we don’t have much,” Rose said. “Apparently they’ve looked around and nobody does.”
Along with the full-service shop, Speed’s also offers a fleet of rental bikes, parking for bikers and shuttle services.
Every fall, they take bikes out of the rental fleet and replace them with new bikes. This year, they had to use the bikes they purchased brand new last fall and put them out on the showroom instead.
“Now we’ve sold those bikes too and our rental fleet is a little scarce in some sizes too,” Rose joked.
According to Rose, they have bikes on order, but she’s gotten very little indication as to when the bikes will be available, if at all.
“Until the supplies start coming back in, it’s a waiting game,” Milt said.