YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Bicycle sales across the Mahoning Valley continue to increase in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, local retailers say, and demand for one particular type is gaining traction every year.
For several years now, sales of electric bicycles – or e-bikes – have risen in popularity among enthusiasts.
“In the past five or six years, e-bikes have dominated my market,” says Augie Thumm, owner of Thumm’s Bike & Clock in Warren. “It is 62% of what we do now – power assisted bikes.”
Thumm says his shop has sold e-bikes since 1998, but it’s only recently has demand skyrocketed. “We stock more e-bikes than most other dealers,” he says. “We have 120 e-bikes.”
E-bikes offer four levels of assist, Thumm says. This could range anywhere from 10% to a 65% boost, he says.
“On the high boost, you only have to exert 35% of the effort to make the bike go down the road,” he says.
Thumm’s store has been in business for 114 years. The shop is in its third generation and Thumm has been working there 55 years.
“When my grandfather opened Thumm’s in 1909, he started with Harley Davidson and Schwinn motorcycles and bicycles,” he says. “Back in the early 1900s when we opened, Harley Davidson manufactured bicycles as well as motorcycles and Schwinn did the same thing.”
Thumm took over the business in 1989 from his father, who had run it since 1945. Motorcycle sales were discontinued in 1948.
The business now specializes in Trek and Electra e-bikes.
Since he has taken over, Thumm says sales have increased between 5% and 9% each year.
“We are selling more and more bikes every year,” he says.
Over the years, Thumm says he has compiled a list of the local bike trails with his wife, which he passes out to customers. Currently there are more than 25 trails on that list between northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, he says.
“They are all within an hour’s drive of Warren,” says Thumm, who says the trail riders generate a lot of business.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to us,” he says.
Even with the more common use of assistive bikes, Thumm says it is a proven fact that an aerobic workout is best served if done for a longer amount of time at a lower workout level.
According to data from IMARC Group, the U.S. e-bike market reached $847.5 million in 2022 and is projected to increase at a rate of 11.8% annually over the next five years to more than $1.6 billion by 2028.
Moreover, the Light Electric Vehicle Association estimates that the United States imported approximately 790,000 e-bikes in 2021, a substantial increase from the nearly 450,000 imported in 2020. In 2019, the association reports that the United States imported just 250,000 e-bikes.
It’s a trend not lost on Anthony Ricchiuti, owner of Outdoor Recreational Equipment in Boardman, who has also observed a surge in demand for e-bikes over the last six years or so.
“They [customers] want that assistance,” he says.
One common misconception is that e-bikes offer rides without any of the work. E-bikes come in pedal assist with throttle options, Ricchiuti says.
“It’s not a free ride but it will help you,” he says.
Oftentimes, only pedal assist is allowed on bike trails.
“People go online and they see electric bikes that may be $1,000 and they kind of set the bar sometimes at that,” he says. “A lot of the bikes you get online we don’t even work on.”
Ricchiuti advises those buying electric bikes to stick with big name brands. Many of the smaller manufacturers stand a higher chance of going out of business within a couple of years, which then makes it difficult to secure replacement parts or repairs.
“Really it does not cost that much more money and you get so much more service behind everything on that electric bike if and when it goes bad,” he says.
Ricchiuti says demand remains strong for other types of bikes as well.
“There are a number of mountain bike trails in [Lake] Milton, Beaver Creek and a couple over in Pennsylvania,” he says.
Ricchiuti says mountain bikes range in price from about $500 to $7,000.
One bicycle produced by Trek, the Townie, is designed for riders to be able to sit and remain flat footed on the ground when you come to a stop, Ricchiuti says. This is a popular style for casual riders, he says.
“When you pedal, you still get full leg extension because of the way the bike is designed,” he says. “They lowered the seat and it moved the pedal up to the front forward a little bit.”
Ricchiuti says Ohio bike shops did particularly well over the pandemic because they were classified as transportation and allowed to remain open. Bike shops in Pennsylvania were not as fortunate and are now about two years behind, he says.
“We pretty much sold every single bicycle in the store,” he says. “The store was cleaned out.”
Sales have since returned mostly back to normal, Ricchiuti says, adding comfort, fitness and mountain bikes are among the most popular choices every year.
Joe Hovorka, owner of G.C. Murphy Bicycle Co. in Salem, opened his shop in 2019. He says that everyone in the bike business had a good sales year in 2020 during the shutdown.
“We basically sold out of everything we had,” he says.
Business has since slowed down somewhat, Hovorka says, but demand is still healthy for e-bikes.
“Retrospec is a line we started carrying last year and they have attractive price points for people who want to try an e-bike,” he says. “That’s been trending this year [and] that’s been a focus for customers.”
E-bike sales began at the store in 2020, says Hovorka. They eventually sold out of those bikes and the brand they were using discontinued the line in 2021.
“COVID just put a shortage on a lot of components related to batteries, so it was very difficult to get e-bikes,” he says. “It was kind of spotty for us for a while. But then last year we were able to sign up with Retrospec and we now have a consistent supply.”
E-bikes have traditionally been pricey, says Hovorka.
“It was hard to get an e-bike for less than $1,500-$1,800,” he says. “Retrospec has done a good job at bringing the price points below $1,000.”
Now, Hovorka says it can sell full-warranty e-bikes for about $800, adding to their popularity.
Hovorka says he often sees customers interested in e-bikes want to keep up with more experienced riders in their families.
Although the business hasn’t been as busy as during the pandemic, Hovorka says he expects sales to increase this year – the first time since 2020.
Hovorka says the most popular trail for his customers is the Western Reserve Greenway, a paved rail-trail extending 50 miles through Ashtabula and Trumbull counties.
“That’s our closest trail,” he says. “You can pick that up in Wastingtonville-Leetonia, so a lot of people ride the Greenway.”
Horvorka says the popularity of the trail has helped sales of hybrid or gravel bikes that are equipped for light off-road riding but also ride well on the street.
“We sell that style of bike more than anything, without a question,” he says.
Pictured at top: Augie Thumm, owner of Thumm’s Bike & Clock, is the third generation to operate the family business. He is pictured with Greg Shupienis, long time mechanic.