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Ask Uncle Dave

Dear Uncle Dave: Where the hell is my new bicycle!?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Jan 11, 2021
Reading time

Dear Uncle Dave:

I work in the bike industry and, while I don't want to complain, people are driving me crazy! Half my day is spent dealing with "where's my bike!" e-mails. Angry customers. Angry distributors. Angry dealers. Why can't everybody just chill out a little bit? I know that they really want their new bikes, and I do really want to give that new bike to them. I'm not sure if people have been paying attention, but there's been some shit going down this year that has lead to serious supply chain disruptions. What can I do to better inform people about what is going on?

Sincerely,

Partless, not heartless


Dear Partleheart:

First off, I'd like to express my sympathy to you for having a job that requires you to deal with the public. That sounds horrible! Trust me, it is way more fun having a job/side gig that allows me to send bitchy e-mails to people demanding things rather than receiving them.

Now, about your problem, I don't really have much that I can offer to help you with your situation. The great thing though, is that I know somebody who can! For the first time ever, Uncle Dave is going to interview the question asker in order to help them answer their own question.

Uncle Dave:

I think that most people, myself included, have absolutely no understanding of how the bicycles that they buy come together. We all understand that designing the bikes happens well ahead of time, but sort of assume that some magic takes place and the bikes show up relatively quickly once a decision gets made to make and sell them. So, broadly speaking, how far ahead of time does a bike company have to start the process for manufacturing a bike? When do parts orders get placed? What is the longest lead time item that needs to be ordered? Is there any flexibility to make changes once things are set? What are some of the things that need to happen that we don't even think about?

Partleheart:

We'll start by talking a bit about what happens during a "normal" year of bicycle production. Over the last ten years, the industry has been ordering something like 100,000 bicycles a year. Now, we're asking the same factories to produce 250,000 bicycles a year. These factories haven't added more square footage, tools, or employees. So now there is just simply too much demand, which had led to long lead times. But we'll talk about that in a bit.

In a normal year, assuming a design is approved and finalized, the lead time for a frame from the factory can vary between 90-120 days. Components are typically a bit quicker, with a lead time somewhere between 30-45 days. Then you have to factor in transit time. Ocean freight takes a month. You can airship within a few days, but it is very costly.

You also want to build in a safety margin. It's better to have parts arrive before you need them, not day of. So we add another thirty day cushion. After factoring for lead time, ocean freight, and safety margin, we typically place component orders anywhere from 90 to 180 days out.

Once an order is placed, there is some flexibility to make changes, and this depends on the lead time. The flexibility increases as the lead times grow longer, but you don't want to make last minute changes. All lead times are constrained by things like the quantity of employees, or the number of tools you have.

We order tooling based on projected demand. When demand doubles because of an unexpected global calamity, you have some tough decisions to make. You can only produce X amount of parts out of each tool. The lead time for a new tool is six weeks. Plus you have to train any new staff on assembling the product, etc. By the time you have more tooling, more staff trained, and can now meet the increased demand, will their still be a demand?

That's the process for ordering the bike, but there are a number of logistical business hurdles that take place before you can order. You have to create parts numbers, forecasts, etc. All of these steps take time. Forecasting drives orders. In April, when the sky was falling, businesses were in full lockdown and the cycling industry slashed orders. They assumed that sales would crash precipitously, but very quickly we noticed something odd. The exact opposite was happening. Demand grew.

The decisions we as a whole industry made in the Spring are affecting our business now. The outdoor world asked factories to slash production, and then made an abrupt 180. To paraphrase an overused metaphor - we're trying to turn around a big ship (after changing our minds as to what direction we wanted it to go).

Ultimately, people don't care why products are taking so long to arrive. We're so used to having things shipped the next day and tracking its progress across the country, that waiting is unbearable. We have created a society weaned on disposable products that are available right here, right now.

The factories are facing these same dilemmas. Should they invest in the infrastructure and personal to meet this new found demand? Will the demand still be there by the time they scale up? In many regions, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find employees. Many are forgoing factory jobs in favor of different career paths. Others have fled due to their homes due to Covid and some countries remain travel restricted. We've heard rumors that some factories are turning away brands because they have exceeded capacity. These brands and factories may have long term relationships, but there's only so much capacity.

On the brand side, scaling is scary. Some bicycle vendors are placing order locks within certain delivery windows. If a bike shop cancels an order, they're charged a small cancellation fee, but we're left holding that inventory, so you want some certainty that you can sell it.

So, that's how we have gotten to where we are now. What does this mean? Well, for us, our carbon frames have the longest lead time. That has shifted dramatically due to the pandemic induced bike boom. With some factories, we have now placed orders one year in advance. We've done this because factories have limited capacity and we are trying to secure our place in line for that product. So we've almost tripled our lead time on bicycle frames.

Components are all over the place. Over the past few months, we've had difficulties with a number of products. The lead times for suspension, drivetrain, saddles, tires, etc. are continually shifting. All of these suppliers are in a tough position. They're trying to find ways to best serve all of their customers, and so are we. We've made spec changes. We've dual sourced some components from additional vendors. The biggest change is commonizing spec. We're moving towards parts that can be utilized across multiple product lines, so that we can have a deeper supply of any given component. We've also been forced to reduce customization and options to ensure we have better inventory, and have shifted towards vendors with shorter and more reliable lead times. Just anything we can do to ship complete bikes.

When is it going to go back to normal? Right now it's anyone's guess! To meet demand, our vendors are working to increase their capacity. That requires more equipment, staff, training, etc. We should see that increase in capacity by Spring 2021. By that time, the bike boom may have cooled off. There's no way to tell.

No one has an answer to these questions...and if they do, they should be investing in the stock market, not selling bikes. Year over year, the total volume of bikes sales does not tend to increase. It just shifts from one category to the other. Maybe it's gravel this year, mullet bikes next, and reverse mullets the year after that. The total number stays static. This Pandemic induced bike boom has brought a surge of new customers into the market. If even a small percentage become passionate cyclists, then the total volume will increase. By how much and for how long is anyone's guess.

Uncle Dave:

So, basically, you're fucked?

Paddleheart:

Ya, I guess so.

Uncle Dave

Sorry.


It's looking up for you Paddleheart, because you've won a Blackburn's new Core Pro pump. It's designed to be a shop-level pump for home use. It has a nice wide base for stability, is compatible with any valve, and it's a whopping 29" tall. Hopefully this will cheer you up after a long day dealing with all of your angry contacts!

blackburn-core-pro-pump2.jpg

Blackburn's Core Pro pump is designed to have shop level functionality and durability, but at the reasonable price of 100 USD.

If you've got a question that will satisfy Uncle Dave's curiosity, you could win a prize, but you'd better make it good; he's tough to please.

Send your excellent (or funny, or ridiculous) questions at askuncledave@nsmb.com


Uncle Dave's Music Club

Not too long ago, I complained about all of the introspective pandemic albums that were coming out. Which was a bit unfair. I do wish that more people had spent the pandemic figuring out new ways to peel off their wallpaper using nothing but sound, but I recognize the challenge of doing so when you're locked away all alone. So, I'd like to take a moment to recognize a slow burner that grew on me through the fall.

Kevin Morby is one of those guys that I just can't stay mad at. He jumps around a lot and puts out some weird shit from time to time, but I keep coming back for more. I'm not sure if Sundowner qualifies as a true "pandemic album", but it feels like one. For some reason, I can't embed the link for the album version...or for the live acoustic version...so there's an extra few clicks for you required.

Campfire is worth a look as well, if only because the intro looks like it could be leading into an mtb flick.

Additional Uncle Dave's Music Club

It's no surprise that a man who lives as an enigma goes out like one too. MF Doom died sometime back in fall 2019 but the news is just coming out now. I was most into the King Geedorah/Viktor Vaughn alter egos. I spun that shit like crazy on my Mini Disc player and just started to give some of it a listen again a few months back. Check out Vaudeville Villain, The Drop and Fazers for a brief taste. Dark, funny, twisted, all at once.


If you've got a question that will satisfy Uncle Dave's curiosity, you could win a prize, but you'd better make it good; he's tough to please.

Send your excellent (or funny, or ridiculous) questions at askuncledave@nsmb.com

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Comments

Bad-Sean
+4 WasatchEnduro Cam McRae ManInSteel DCLee
Sean Chee  - Jan. 11, 2021, 4:05 a.m.

Excellent article as always. I think people also underestimate the impact of the pandemic on two key inputs to global trade, people, and surface transportation.

One of our products at work relies heavily on overseas sourced components. A couple of those are heavily affected by the vendors ability to get qualified/experienced employees to work at their factory. Travel restrictions are preventing people getting there. One of the other components is quite a large assembly and whilst getting it produced isn’t a problem, a previous 6 week journey from the factory in Korea to our workshop in Australia, is now 14 weeks for the units we are getting tomorrow. Even sending stuff by air is slow due to the demand for logistics from online shopping.

Multiply this by every part on a bike, from hydraulic fittings and cables to valves and seat rails, it’s bound to be chaotic.

Reply

Sethimus
+8 Simon Apostol WasatchEnduro AJ Barlas Cam McRae trumpstinyhands Velocipedestrian DCLee Stretch
Sethimus  - Jan. 11, 2021, 4:34 a.m.

because some wankers voted for brexit and now my frame sits in transit. FML

Reply

olaa
+7 Andy Eunson WasatchEnduro Velocipedestrian Pete Roggeman Gage Wright Sanesh Iyer makudad
olaa  - Jan. 11, 2021, 5:10 a.m.

I think that many companies do themselves a disservice when they try to give optimistic delivery times, or give the estimated delivery time based on everything working perfectly. That creates expections that they will struggle to live up to. Add that most companies are pretty poor at giving regular updates on status. It's not that strange that the customers ask where their bike is when you are a month past the expected delivery date and they have recieved no news.

I am currently waiting for a bike, which had a 12-13 week expected delivery (up from 8 weeks in normal times). I am now at 22 weeks from order date, and i get no updates unless i ask for it. The slow delivery is not a problem for me, it is winter and ski season, but just having some kind of regular update every 4-5 weeks would be nice.

In the past i ran a ski company with production in other countries, so i know the issues. The customers are very understanding of delays as long as you keep them informed. If you just take the money and then don't give them any info, they will get annoyed and rightfully so.

Reply

jdw103
+2 WasatchEnduro ManInSteel
Jason West  - Jan. 11, 2021, 5:15 a.m.

Good point. So many companies or shops do that. They take your money and they disappear. Its ridiculous.

Reply

HollyBoni
0
HollyBoni  - Jan. 12, 2021, 10:30 a.m.

I ordered a bike with a 23 week wait, but luckily I had the option to not pay yet, only when the bike comes back in stock. Personally i'd be too afraid to pay 23 weeks in advance for a bike.
Since I haven't paid yet cancelling, the order would be pretty easy. Who knows, a bike I want more might come out in those ~6 months.

Reply

tashi
+5 WasatchEnduro jaydubmah ManInSteel olaa Velocipedestrian
tashi  - Jan. 11, 2021, 7:13 a.m.

I’ve been working with the public for my whole life and yep, managing expectations is key. 

Set them high to impress the customer and out compete the other guy is great, unless you can’t meet those expectations because then customer is let down and you look like a chump. 

Much better to set expectations slightly lower and then exceed them as the customer is then stoked that their expectations have been exceeded. They’re special now, and you look awesome!

Reply

fartymarty
+5 Andeh 4Runner1 AJ Barlas WasatchEnduro Kris Rayner
fartymarty  - Jan. 11, 2021, 10:13 a.m.

Under promise, over deliver.

Reply

krisrayner
0
Kris Rayner  - Jan. 11, 2021, 12:27 p.m.

I agree with that method. I suspect the vendors that do the opposite attract more business from impatient people though.

Reply

andy-eunson
+1 olaa
Andy Eunson  - Jan. 11, 2021, 8:37 a.m.

Yes. Communication is key. I worked in a service industry. We relied upon others who relied upon others to perform jobs. A delay from one contractor had a knock on effect. I used to joke with bike shops when I ordered something that I would apply Andy’s Constant. 2X. If the thing was going to arrive in a week, I applied 2X to my expectations or, two weeks.

Reply

fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - Jan. 11, 2021, 5:53 a.m.

Dave - thanks for the tip on Kevin Morby.  I have been listening to Singing Saw earlier.  UToob then followed up with this guy (i've not heard of him before) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IihEXA88GyI&ab_channel=DanielNorgren-Topic worth a listen if you don't already know about him.

Reply

denomerdano
+2 AJ Barlas Cam McRae
Deniz Merdano  - Jan. 11, 2021, 8:26 a.m.

Also important to know that bicycle companies made their 2020 purchasing committments in 2018, 2021 commitments in 2019. So there will be little to none in parts and components to buy in 2021 because all that was forecasted has been reallocated to 2020 demand. 

Keep those derailleurs and xx1 chains in good shape boys and girls because there will be no replacements until late summer.

Sorry...

Also love Kevin Morby, Harlem River has been on my regular rotation for ever.

Along with beautiful stranger..

Reply

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 11, 2021, 11:50 a.m.

It's going to be interesting watching how this season plays out.

Reply

craw
+1 Mammal
Cr4w  - Jan. 11, 2021, 8:33 a.m.

I am so glad I got fresh frames in the last few years and barring a major gear failure should only need consumables this year.

Reply

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 11, 2021, 11:50 a.m.

Finding (desired) tires at the moment is proving challenging though, and we're not even 'in season' here in North America. :(

Reply

andy-eunson
0
Andy Eunson  - Jan. 11, 2021, 1:24 p.m.

So those wiggly wobbly 27.5 Assegais in my garage might actually be worth something?

Reply

sanesh-iyer
0
Sanesh Iyer  - Jan. 11, 2021, 2:27 p.m.

Are they 29 compatible too? Tade you a copy of Mario Kart.

Reply

bart
+3 Sanesh Iyer Pete Roggeman Ben Pye
bart  - Jan. 11, 2021, 3:34 p.m.

As another bike industry guy - I find myself very fortunate to still have a job and have work,  but it has definitely been challenging -  when we talk about the whole supply chain it goes all the way down to raw material.  if your bolt supplier to make your component is late on delivery, your small parts is late, which means your frame is late, which may mean you missed your container ship you booked which means the distributor is late, which means we can't get it to the customer.  So many things need to go right these days.  You can't substitute parts from what you ordered at a factory level cause there are no parts available to substitute.  I have heard of some parts suppliers being 400+ days out for delivery.  The good news.. you will see more component manufacturers with OE spec.  Microshift for sure is on a lot more bikes for next year, hopefully this bring some value and competition on the OE side of the buisness.

Reply

davetolnai
+2 Sanesh Iyer Pete Roggeman
Dave Tolnai  - Jan. 11, 2021, 4:43 p.m.

That's interesting to look at it as an opportunity to improve options and competition.  If you can figure out how to get something made, there might be a market for it.  Now, all we need is for bike companies to be a bit more open about what they need to get made.  Then I can dust off the old Autocad and rake in the profits.  Right?

Reply

UFO
0
UFO  - Jan. 11, 2021, 8:59 p.m.

So what I'm reading is that SX and NX may no longer be viable OE options? Darn

Reply

DemonMike
0
mike  - Jan. 13, 2021, 5:20 p.m.

Still waiting for my new bike. Was told November, then December . Now just about mid January still waiting. Put a deposit on it in Oct.

Reply

mudrunner
0
mudrunner  - Jan. 13, 2021, 6:24 p.m.

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