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Tuesday 16 Jul 2024

The Last Bicycle
David Simmonds

Source: publicdomainpictures.net

My friend Peter said he got the last bicycle. The last what?  The last bicycle.  The last bicycle in the store?  No, the last bicycle in Belleville or in Eastern Ontario or in Canada, for that matter. 

My kingdom for a bicycle.

I thought he was exaggerating, but apparently not. The shortage was the subject of a comprehensive article in The Globe and Mail the other weekend. Bicycle retailers are clean out of stock. One west coast retailer says that his wait time for delivery of an entry level of $500 to $1,500, for a mountain bike is 550 days.

The causes are not that hard to identify.  Demand has increased sharply as the pandemic winds down. For the first three months of this year, US bike sales increased 77 per cent over sales in the previous twelve months. 

Bicycles are part of the fabric of living locally, in Wellington.  Public transit use has declined. Biking is a low-cost alternative.

Cycling offers permissible freedom from enforced isolation.  It’s environmentally sound.  It’s fun to ride on two wheels, keeping your balance through forward motion.

The County is getting on the right side of the cycling movement by integrating its cycling master plan with its master transportation plan. Although it would cost $20 million to fit the County up for what the cycling planners are planning. They haven’t realised money doesn’t just fall from the skies.

On the other side of the ledger, supply has dried up. There are slowdowns at bicycle factories. There are logjams in shipping.  Increased demand fuels price increases across the board and shortages occur.  Most of these problems can be traced back to Covid.

The supply chain problem isn’t unique to bikes.

Guitar sales boomed during the pandemic and shortages have ensued. One company, Taylor guitars, reportedly has only thousand instruments in its entire worldwide factory inventory.  The Globe states shortage problems also extend to such durable goods, such as appliances and furniture.

There are two other factors exacerbating the general problem in the bicycle world. First, the multiplicity of source countries for the various components of bicycles. Second, the sole sourcing of some components,  

The Globe article reveals that for most bikes marketed in the US, Taiwan is the supplier of front and rear tires, as well as the saddle, crankset, fork and final assembly. China is the place from which you get your frame, paint and decals. Malaysia gives you your front brakes and Japan supplies the critical shift cables and their housing as well as the rear derailleur. Vietnam is also becoming a force Oh, yes, and the US supplies the hand grips,  

That’s a great number of moving parts to fit together and if any one of them is out of whack, well, you can’t produce bicycles,  On top of that, if your only supplier of derailleurs slows down, you are hostage to that outfit’s fortunes and benevolence. The reaction of the North American bicycle sector has been as you might expect; look for alternative, preferably domestic, suppliers, but it can’t change overnight.

The problem boils down to the fact that the unrelenting search for the location of the minimum cost of production has exposed its weak link: the fragility of the global supply chain. We have already experienced a panic in the case of PPE equipment. At the outset of the pandemic, we discovered our national inventory was threadbare and we had to scramble to meet the need.

We had to turn to China for help. Some of the products China sent were of such poor quality they couldn’t be used.  We were staring disaster in the face.

How many of our critical (e.g. medical supplies, food, clothing) and not-so-critical (e.g. bicycles, guitars) and durable goods (e.g. refrigerators) are we content to leave to lowest-cost-others to supply and how much must we supply from within Fortress Canada? On the one hand, globalisation has enabled consumers to buy goods for the same prices as they were advertised two generations ago.  On the other hand, public safety is put at risk by relying on imported necessities.

Will the government respond?

With an election in the offing and with due deference to Kim Campbell, let the public debate begin. Does the government help business find new operating models? Does the government rely on a laissez-faire marketplace?

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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