Coronavirus and its effect on the bike industry

Supply bottlenecks, limited choice, empty stores – is this what the next few months or even the year will look like? With many production facilities across China falling silent, we’ve consulted the experts to find out what sort of an impact the virus may have on the industry.

It has been met with drastic measures in China, with authorities deciding to extend the Lunar New Year holiday to at least 8th February in a bid to minimise movement and use public transport to prevent the spread. Many festivities have been called off, flights cancelled, and those travelling in or out of the country may face quarantine. Much like the automobile industry, the bike industry is largely dependent on Chinese production, which has prompted well-known manufacturers to predict delays. With travel off the cards, important meetings and on-site quality controls are also unable to take place.

China-based manufacturers of e-bike motors, batteries and displays BAFANG have ceased production for the time being, while SWYPE – a young bike brand that’s part of cycle union GmbH – have announced delays to lead-times for their full-suspension mountain bikes.

A pressing issue for eMTBs is the fact that lithium cells found in the batteries are almost exclusively produced in Asia, accounting for more than 90% of the market: Panasonic/Sanyo and Sony from Japan, LG Chem and Samsung from South Korea, plus a handful of Chinese makers. It’s not a new issue either; delays to distribution of e-bikes thanks to a shortage of lithium cells is already something we’ve encountered.

ISPO Beijing cancelled – Taipei International Cycle Show still running

Big events of global importance including ISPO in Beijing (scheduled for 12–15 February) have been cancelled. Taiwan informed the industry in a press release on 31.1.20 that the Taipei International Cycle Show will still take place; this appears to be current news, as their website – updated on 4th February – confirms this. Taiwan is confident the show can still take place due to their high standards of medical care and the fact that no new cases have been reported in the past 72 hours. Plus, Taiwan has only had 10 reported cases, and no deaths as yet.

Screenshot of the website, taken 08.02.2020: The Taipei International Cycle Show is organising a press conference on 11.02.2020, which is when we’ll see if the coronavirus will have an effect here.

Sense of unease in the bike industry

After reaching out to brands, several manufacturers expressed a general sense of unease that it will lead to delays and supply bottlenecks. Depending on where production takes place, they will face varying amounts of disruption:

Paul Lange & Co / Shimano – Michael Wild

Shimano rely on Chinese components for their entry-level bikes. High-end components such as XTR, Dura-Ace and e-bike drive units are produced in Japan, which is currently running smoothly according to Michael Wild, head of marketing at Paul Lange & Co / Shimano.

Pexco Bikes (Husqvarna and R RAYMON) – Felix Puello

Felix Puello, co-director of Pexco, gave us the following statement:
“We’re naturally keeping an eye on how this unfolds across the globe and wish a speedy recovery to everyone affected. The health of our employees and those of our partners is a priority for us. We’re not yet feeling the effects of the coronavirus; our suppliers are well organised. We have pulled out from the Taipei Cycle Show due to uncertainties regarding the situation and above all the future spread of the virus. As soon as the situation calms down, we’ll be rearranging the missed appointments on an individual basis.”

Susanne and Felix Puello run Pexco alongside Johann Haunschmid

ZEG Groups (inc. BULLS) – Stefan Sahm

Stefan got back to us with this response: “I travel to Asia frequently to oversee quality management and production–a trip I usually make once per month. While the company hasn’t put out a blanket travel ban, nobody will be forced to travel somewhere that they aren’t comfortable with. Currently it doesn’t make sense to go there anyway; many flights aren’t running, and certain countries are putting those who travel to and from China under a two-week quarantine when they return. This issue largely affects my Asian colleagues in quality control. The major problem is that China is systematically sealing off the towns in which the virus breaks out. This means that many people, who may have travelled to their home provinces over the Lunar New Year and its enforced extension, may not be able to make it back to their current residences to start work again. To date it is still not known when or whether full production can resume. The delays mainly affect the final series production and deliveries. As China is often responsible for individual parts [of the bikes], this means that production lines in other countries will also come to a halt. Welcome to the globalised world!”

We probed Stefan further: would the current situation impact on new releases or product relaunches? He surmised that it could be an issue, and it would be one that affects the entire industry. Whether this current situation will have consequences for EUROBIKE in September, remains a question mark.

Ex-pro Stefan Sahm is responsible for the Asian supply chain & quality management of frames, although the three-times Cape Epic winner prefers the title ‘fireman’ or ‘troubleshooter.’

Zweirad-Industrie-Verband (ZIV) – David Eisenberger

David Eisenberger, responsible for marketing and communication at Germany’s industry association ZIV, informed us that the ZIV would be contacting its members on 7.2.20 to inquire about the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

World Health Organisation (WHO) – current information

To find out about the current situation and the spread of the coronavirus, consult the WHO website.

Overview of the current coronavirus spread, as of 06.02.2020

Our thoughts

We’ve ended up in some sort of empty space, with no real clarity to be found. There’s a sense of cautious optimism and everyone is hopeful that China will soon be in full health and back to normal order.

But the fact is that many manufacturers of bikes and parts have production facilities in Asia – particularly China. Even Taiwan-based Giant, the world’s biggest manufacturer of bikes, relies on China. On a global scale, this means that supply chains are disrupted and meetings cancelled for the foreseeable future. We’re living out the fear that many people held: when China coughs, the world holds its breath.

So what does it mean for us riders? Delays are pretty much a given, but we can’t yet gauge the extent of the outbreak and its effect on EUROBIKE 2020 or what the shelves will be looking like in stores.

Stay tuned for developments in the situation.

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Words: Susanne Feddersen, Manne Schmitt Photos: divers