Cycling is booming all around the world right now and that's definitely A Good Thing, but the downside is that many bikes are out of stock, so what can you do to maximise your chances of getting the model you’re after? We asked the UK bike trade for advice on buying, and also on sidestepping the need for a brand new bike.
We’ll say upfront that following this advice doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the bike you want in the next few weeks. What we are saying is that these tips will increase your chances of being successful.
“I know this situation is leading to frustration for consumers but the best advice I can give right now is to reserve the bike you’re after as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment,” says the marketing manager of one well-known brand.
Condor Cycles' Claire Beaumont says, “If you have your heart set on something and can't compromise, definitely get your order in place. Try to not let the long lead times frustrate you — enjoy the journey and know that you will get your dream bike.
“We are seeing a lot of customers opting for full custom paint on their frame. They know it will take time, but it is something they know they will have for years to come.”
“Go to your local bike store and ask them to keep you abreast of bikes coming in,” says Decathlon’s Peter Lazarus. “Ask them to call you when stock arrives and sign up for newsletters.”
“If the bike you want is out of stock, set up an e-alert and you’ll get a message when it comes into stock so you can make sure you’re at the front of the queue,” says Peter Lazarus. “We do this at Decathlon and it works exceptionally well.”
For example, the Van Rysel EDR AF road bike is out of stock (at the time of writing) on the Decathlon website. You do, though, have the option of clicking on: ‘Let me know when back in stock’. Fill in your email address and you’ll get a notification when the bike becomes available.
You are able to buy directly from some brands, so keep an eye on their websites.
“You can click and collect from our website, so it’s always worth checking there, although bikes don’t tend to stick around for long,” says Specialized’s Kirsty Woodcock.
Specialized’s website also has a ‘Find stock nearby’ button next to every bike that allows you to see whether a particular model is available at a local retailer. Many other brand websites offer a similar function.
A lot of us have an upper limit in mind when buying a bike, and those limits tend to be round numbers: £500, £1,000, £1,500… This means that bikes just below these price points tend to sell out quickly. If you can overcome the psychological hurdle of spending a little more, you’ll have more chance of getting a bike.
Granted, a lot of people have had to adjust their budgets over the past few months so it’s not as if there are loads of £1,100 or £1,200 bikes out there waiting to be snapped up, but a little financial leeway will give you the best chance of buying something suitable.
“Having a degree of flexibility is key,” says Condor’s Claire Beaumont. “Demand is higher for disc brake-equipped bikes, particularly hydraulic, so consider a good mechanical disc brake setup, or a more traditional rim brake setup, where component availability is not so constrained at the moment.
“Gravel bikes are super-popular at the moment. We've recently had more frames arrive from Italy, but there is a big demand for Shimano GRX, so you might have to be flexible here.”
You want a bike that’s suitable for the job, of course, but you can still be open-minded about the genres you’ll consider and adapt to what’s available.
If you want a bike for commuting to work, for example, you might not have considered an ebike or a folder.
If an available bike doesn’t have quite the spec you’re after, remember that you can make small changes, such as swapping tyres or adding a pannier rack, that will make a big difference to its character.
“If you can’t buy a bike with the Shimano Ultegra groupset that you want, you could buy a 105 bike and change the wheels to make it better, for example,” says Peter Lazarus. “You could get wheels from a UK brand like JRA or Hunt and immediately upgrade your bike in that way.”
“Don’t exclude any end-of-line models or suffer from ‘famous component deficiency syndrome’,” says Decathlon’s Peter Lazarus. “If you haven’t got this year’s latest colour, maybe it isn’t the end of the world. Be a bit more open and less stressed about getting the newest model.”
If you’re fed up with reading ‘out of stock’ written under every bike that catches your eye online, consider buying secondhand. You might get yourself a bargain.
“Some people might have jumped on the cycling bandwagon last year and not want to continue, so there might be good choice coming through in the secondhand market,” says Peter Lazarus.
“At Decathlon we’ve launched our Second Life project where we’re reconditioning bikes that have been returned not because they’re faulty but maybe they were marked in transport or something. They’re refurbished and we still give them a warranty.”
“Be careful, of course. You could try Decathlon, Halfords, Evans or other physical bike stores that have a good range of returned or reconditioned bikes.”
“You could have a bike fit and buy a frame,” says Claire Beaumont of Condor.
"If you're feeling up to the challenge, build up the bike yourself and tick that off as a life experience. We retail all of our models as frames and have seen an increase in frame sales, with people doing just that, often moving existing components over.”
“If you’re cycling to keep fit, indoor training is very good and you don’t need to upgrade your bike,” says Peter Lazarus.
“You don’t need to worry too much about the wheels or tyres, and there’s not much difference between Shimano 105 and Ultegra when you’re on the turbo trainer! You can keep using your older bike and still have a very good health and fitness experience."
We all love a new toy but in these times of bike scarcity, it might make more sense to maintain or upgrade your existing bike.
“If you already have a bike, perhaps treat it to a service at your independent bike dealer, or give it a service at home,” says Condor’s Claire Beaumont. “Replace components like wheels, tyres, handlebar tape, and gear cables. Making your current bike feel like new might defer the desire for a new bike until waiting times reduce!”
“Don’t compromise on the notion of buying the right size bike for you; that’s the most important thing to consider,” says Peter Lazarus.
If you need a 56cm frame but it’s not in stock, you might be tempted to go for the 54cm frame that is available with the idea of fitting a long stem and seatpost. Don’t do it!
Ride the wrong size bike and the handling and comfort will be compromised. You might even pick up an injury. Getting the right size is vital; you’ll probably regret accepting second best here.
“If you’re buying a bike through the government’s tax-free bike scheme, make sure it is available before applying for your voucher,” says Peter Lazarus.
“I’ve heard of cases where people have had the voucher issued by their employer and the money is being deducted from their payslip, but they don’t have the bike until many months later.”
In our previous feature, the UK marketing manager of one international bike brand told us that we’re probably not looking at a balancing of supply and demand until 2023, and others agreed, so you really should act on the basis that bike shortages will continue and follow the tips above, even if you're not hoping to get a new bike for months.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.