Uptick in bike sales complements rentals


The COVID-19 crisis has caused shortages of a variety of goods: From cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to toilet paper and meat, consumers have been stocking up.

People also have been buying and renting more bikes and scooters.

As the pandemic drones on and consumers shy away from public transportation and shared rides, many are instead using more micromobility. For some, micromobility offers a respite when other forms of transportation — especially in cities — require the use of shared spaces, some with poor ventilation.

The shift in rider behavior has resulted not only in an increase in rentals of shared bikes and scooters but also — at least with bicycles — in more purchases.

Sales for bikes, parts and related accessories shot up a combined 75 percent to $1 billion in April, according to market research company NPD Group. Retailers found themselves dealing with a national bike shortage this summer. Bike sales grew 63 percent year over year in June, including a 190 percent increase in e-bike purchases, NPD said.

But these trends — the increase in rentals and the increase in retail sales — might complement, not compete with, one another.

Scooter-sharing and bike-sharing can coexist with personal ownership, said Sam Sadle, senior director of government relations for North America at shared-mobility provider Lime.

“There was a worry initially that when you launch bike-share, it would take away from bike sales,” Sadle said. “But what it’s actually done is gotten more people into riding bikes to get around. Same thing with this. Launching scooter-share has actually brought more people to use scooters as a method of getting around, which has gotten more people comfortable with the method, which means they’re willing to use more scooters.

“They are often used for different purposes, but the purposes are overlapping.”

Scooter-share company Bird has dipped its toe in both waters lately and now rents and sells its scooters.

Bird began sales of the $599 Bird Air scooter in September. The company declined to provide sales data to Automotive News but said in a statement that “retail plays an important role in the future of micromobility.”

Lime’s Sadle said the company is focused on its current strategy and is not pursuing sales of its devices as a revenue stream.

“We’re really focused on being the shared mobility platform for rides under 5 miles,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Lyft, which offers both bike- and scooter-share, said in a statement to Automotive News that “shared bikes and scooters can provide an alternative form of transportation for folks who don’t own a car or bike.”

That doesn’t mean the micromobility ecosystem cannot accommodate both retail and rental, said Kersten Heineke, a partner leading the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility in Europe. “Both trends and both types of businesses are going to benefit from the pandemic, for different reasons,” he said.

“If you’re replacing the commuting use case, and if the commuting journey that you’re doing is feasible with a bike or a micromobility device, end-to-end, that’s a case for ownership.”

If riders are incentivized to use a combination of micromobility and public transit instead of their vehicles, on the other hand, that is a use case for shared micromobility. If riders are commuting by bike but have other point-to-point trips they want to take, that’s also a case for sharing, he said.

“It depends entirely on the use case,” Heineke said. “It’s a combination of all of it.

“The whole bike network and promoting of bikes or bike-like devices is just accelerating everywhere.”

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