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Here’s why the bike shortage isn’t going away any time soon

China’s omicron lockdown measures along with ever-prevalent imbalances in the shipping container chain are not good news for seeing the end of supply chain issues

Buying a bike has been really difficult over the past year or so, as a result of demand far outstripping supply thanks mostly to the effects of Covid-19. The recent news of China’s latest port lockdowns and the continuation of the government’s 'zero-Omicron' approach, along with the massive mismatch in the global container market revealed in a recent study, are both causes for concern - supply chain issues are not over yet.

 > Get essential buying advice from the UK bike trade to avoid missing out over here

Container xChange is an online marketplace for container logistics, connecting users and suppliers of container equipment, and it partnered with German applied research company Fraunhofer CML to carry out a study which has revealed that the mismatch in the global container market is far from over. 

Waiting times for containers in Chinese ports have been reduced from 61 to five days, but in Europe the average median number of days is massively up; Germany is now at 25, while in the UK it’s at a staggering 51 days.

Containers may be moving in and out of China at encouraging speeds, but it is the port congestion in Europe that’s continuing to cause problems due to the slow return of boxes to Asia. 

This port congestion is causing the mismatch between supply and demand at the moment, according to Container xChange’s report findings. 

Jefferies Equity Research revealed that due to the inability to process the amount of cargo on time, an average of 36.2% of all container capacity was stuck in ports in November 2021.

That said, the bulk of bikes coming from Asia land in Rotterdam, but Bike Europe spotted this port is absent from the report. The bicycle business journalists reckon this omission suggests that the Dutch port is not facing the same congestion and delays as highlighted for the others - that sounds pretty spot on to us too.  

Nevertheless, the results of the C-Timing study show the end of the imbalance in the container chain is not round the corner, according to Container xChange’s CEO Johannes Schlingmeier.

He said: “There remains an imbalance in the chain, both in terms of containers and ships - this imbalance is also affected by three new disturbances.

"First there is the omicron variant of the virus, in addition the Chinese New Year is approaching and finally there is a lockdown in some ports. We therefore expect a rather volatile start to the year.”

China has been facing multiple outbreaks of the delta and omicron Covid-19 variants in recent days, including across major port cities such as Dalian and Tianjin.

Ship congestion at Chinese ports has already worsened recently as more cities implement strict Covid restrictions because of the outbreaks (in accordance with the Chinese government’s ‘zero-Covid’ policy), or as they tighten testing policies ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday season which starts on 31st January.

While the strict approach has been effective, with the increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, economists are currently doubtful about China’s strategy. 

CNN Business pointed out that Goldman Sachs slashed its projection for Chinese economic growth in 2022 to 4.3% from 4.8%. With those changes made "in light of the latest Covid developments — in particular, the likely higher average level of restriction (and thus economic cost) to contain the more infectious Omicron variant," Goldman analysts wrote.


It’s not looking good for the end of the bike shortage then; and in some respects we are only just beginning to see the devastating consequences of the supply chain issues during the Covid pandemic, as smaller brands are no longer able to struggle though. We reported just a few days ago, for example, that Bowman Cycles has liquidated following supply chain woes.

"All that has made life very difficult this year and there isn’t an end in sight to the manufacturing issues coming out of Asia [where many of their components are produced],” Bowman’s founder and managing director Neil Webb told in November about the “absolute clusterf**k" of supply chain issues.

"For instance, we placed an order with Shimano in December last year that will only start arriving in August 2022. Usually, we’d have bought some stock from Madison [Shimano’s UK distributor] to see us through, but there’s absolutely nothing around."

Webb added that suppliers and distributors appeared to be prioritising their larger clients, meaning "the big players are taking all the space".

"All the smaller businesses like us that I know are experiencing this same problem in some way, shape or form and these constant delays have taken huge amounts of man power to manage."

Other bike businesses are trying hard to help consumers hunt down their desired bike and build. 

Ribble, for example, has a dedicated section on its website with the ‘best availability bikes’ which are “builds that are configured with componentry that is more readily available and is constantly updated and amended to reflect the supply situation”. 

Orbea's approach was to introduce its Rider Connect tool to help consumers view bike models that are currently available at their shop of their choice, as well as incoming bikes and their respective delivery dates. Not all bike shops have a massive online presence, therefore you might not find every bike that you're in the market for by searching online.

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mpdouglas | 2 years ago

No mention of Brexit?! When I go searching for stuff, it seems that things are generally more available in Europe. When supply is challenged, once it arrives in Rotterdam, why would anyone favour routing it to the UK with all the paperwork burden that comes with that, when there is plentiful demand within the EU where goods can move freely.


Steve K replied to mpdouglas | 2 years ago
mpdouglas wrote:

No mention of Brexit?! When I go searching for stuff, it seems that things are generally more available in Europe. When supply is challenged, once it arrives in Rotterdam, why would anyone favour routing it to the UK with all the paperwork burden that comes with that, when there is plentiful demand within the EU where goods can move freely.


I do wonder why the container wait in the UK is twice that for Germany.

Hirsute replied to Steve K | 2 years ago

Further away !

We negotiated better rates but the downside was longer leadtimes !

Awavey replied to Steve K | 2 years ago
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The "waiting" time they are reporting is the dwell time of a container, the time a container sits at a port, usually empty.

So you need a shipping line with the capacity to move it empty, though youd prefer it to be used for export goods but that complicates the route it needs to take, back to where its most needed which is the Far East where all the stuff gets made.

But remember the shipping costs have trebled globally, it's very expensive now to shift empty containers about, its cheaper to leave them sat on ports or as is more common at the moment sat in industrial estate container mountains, and it's actually even cheaper for companies in China just to fabricate new containers instead and forget about the old ones.

So the problem is a surfeit of containers ended up out of place in the world during the pandemic,even the USA has dwell times comparable to the UK, with not enough global shipping capacity to cope with moving them back and clear the backlog in the supply chain and keep on top of current ongoing demand.

Chris Hayes replied to Steve K | 2 years ago

Germany exports more goods to China than the UK... usually through Rotterdam... and the containers belong (or are more likely leased) to the major shipping lines tied to German exporters.

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