US bike shops boomed early in the pandemic. It’s been a bumpy ride for most ever since

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Updated 18 May 2024
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US bike shops boomed early in the pandemic. It’s been a bumpy ride for most ever since

  • A surge of interest in cycling in the US pushed sales up 64 percent to $5.4 billion in 2020

For the nation’s bicycle shops, the past few years have probably felt like the business version of the Tour de France, with numerous twists and turns testing their endurance.
Early in the pandemic, a surge of interest in cycling pushed sales up 64 percent to $5.4 billion in 2020, according to the retail tracking service Circana. It wasn’t unheard of for some shops to sell 100 bikes or more in a couple of days.
The boom didn’t last. Hobbled by pandemic-related supply chain issues, the shops sold all their bikes and had trouble restocking. Now, inventory has caught up, but fewer people need new bikes. So, bicycle makers have been slashing prices to clear out the excess. It all adds up to a tough environment for retailers, although there are a few bright spots like gravel and e-bikes.
“The industry had a hard time keeping up with the demand for a couple of years, but then demand slowed as the lockdowns ended, and then a lot of inventory started showing up,” said Stephen Frothingham, editor-in-chief of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News. “So now for the last, a year and a half, the industry has struggled with having too much inventory, at the supplier level, at the factory level, at the distributor level, at the retail level.”
In 2023, bike sales totaled $4.1 billion, up 23 percent from 2019, but down 24 percent from 2020, according to Circana. The path out of the pandemic has been uneven — national retailers, such as REI and Scheels, are stabilizing faster than independent bike stores, said Matt Tucker, director of client development for Circana’s sports equipment business.
For John McDonell, owner of Market Street Cycles on the popular thoroughfare of Market Street in San Francisco, the shift to hybrid work brought about by the pandemic has been particularly tough on business. There used to be 3,000 bikes passing by his shop a day during the summer. That’s fallen to below 1,000, with fewer people commuting to work.
According to Pacer.ai, which tracks people’s movements based on cellphone usage, San Francisco lags all other major cities when it comes to workers returning to offices, with April office visits still down 49 percent compared with April 2019.
“Our downtown is still a wasteland,” McDonell said.
Independent bike stores not only have to compete with national chains, but increasingly, bike makers such as Specialized and Trek as well. They’ve been buying bike shops and selling their bikes directly to consumers, essentially cutting out the middleman. Frothingham estimates there are now around a thousand bike shops in the country owned by either Trek or Specialized.
“They’ve got the money to absorb the fact that bike stores, you know, are not a super profitable thing, and in the process, they’ve also been able to cut us out of it,” McDonell said.
McDonell has been forced to cut down to using a skeleton crew of himself and another staffer, down from five previously. His dream of selling his shop to a younger bike enthusiast when he retires is fading. He might close his store when his lease is up in a couple of years.
“Now I am just trying to land it with both engines on fire and trying not to lose money on my way out,” he said.
In Boulder, Colorado, Douglas Emerson’s bike shop, University Bicycles, is faring better, boosted by its location in one of the most popular places to ride bikes in the country. He’s had the shop for 39 years and employs 30 staffers.
Like other bike stores, the pandemic spurred a frenzy of bike buying at University Bicycles. Emerson recalls selling 107 bikes in 48 hours. But right after the boom, sales slowed dramatically because inventory was scarce, and rentals died down since no one was traveling.
“It became a struggle right after the boom,” Emerson said. “And since then, the manufacturers have overproduced. And they’ve slashed prices dramatically which is good for the consumer. But with the small shops they’re often not able to take advantage of those prices.”
Emerson says the shop reached a “saturation point” – everyone who wanted a bike bought one. Now, he’s selling those customers accessories like clothing, helmets and locks. His shop has returned to its 2019 sales numbers.
University Bicycles has also benefited from some of the shifts in buying patterns. Continued high demand for e-bikes and a growing demand for children’s bikes have helped. And gravel bikes, which are designed to be ridden both on paved and gravel roads, are replacing road bikes as a popular seller.
John Ruger, who has been a cyclist for 50 years and is a loyal University Bicycles customer, hasn’t bought a bike in 10 years, but plans on taking advantage of the current prices to buy a gravel bike. A top gravel bike he’s eyeing that would normally sell for $12,000 to $14,000 is currently retailing for $8,000, he said.
“The timing is good,” he said. “I can get a bike now because they’re less expensive and my bikes are getting old.”
Shawna Williams, owner of Free Range Cycles in Seattle, Washington, didn’t have the sales surge others did because her 700 square foot shop was so small she took customers only by appointment from March 2020 to May 2021.
But Williams did have to deal with the eventual shortages. She spent a lot of time “checking in with other shops to see if we could buy something, even at retail, from them, just in order to get a repair done or a build done.”
She adapted by offering more services like repairs and maintenance to offset lower sales of bikes. The maneuvering helped her keep overall sales steady even throughout the pandemic.
“Bike sales, the way that I have kind of framed the shop, are an awesome bonus, but we really need to be sustaining the shop through repair and, like, thoughtful accessory sales,” Williams said. “A bike sale to me, if we do things well, that means creating a customer for life.”


Lost phone returned with smiling surprise as Scotland-Germany love-in blossoms

Updated 21 June 2024
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Lost phone returned with smiling surprise as Scotland-Germany love-in blossoms

  • “Kieran left his phone in a portaloo. These Germany fans found it, took a selfie, then handed it into the police,” supporters’ body the Tartan Army Group posted on X
  • The Scotland fans have not just been confined to cities where the team is playing

STUTTGART, Germany: When you lose your phone abroad you hardly expect to get it back, let alone with a smiling selfie on it from the good-natured rival supporters who handed it in to the police.
But that’s exactly what happened to a Scotland fan in Germany who was reunited with his lost phone and discovered a pleasant surprise in the camera roll, the latest entreaty in a blossoming love-in between the two countries.
Thousands of Scottish fans have made the long journey to the Euros, in their kilts and sporrans, and have endeared themselves to their hosts with their infectious enthusiasm and 24-hour carousing.
Where once German city centers would have the sound of an oom-pah band echoing through the streets, now it’s the skirl of bagpipes ringing out along with deafening chants of “No Scotland, no party.”
“Kieran left his phone in a portaloo. These Germany fans found it, took a selfie, then handed it into the police. He has his phone back. What a country,” supporters’ body the Tartan Army Group posted on X on Thursday alongside the picture of the five smiling fans.
The two nations may not be famous for their bilateral relations, though there is a connection that dates all the way back to William Wallace’s letters to the Hanseatic League in 1297.
However, there are now calls for a new special relationship to be formed in Europe.
“And we definitely need you guys back in the EU! We’ll always leave a light on for you!,” a German poster wrote underneath the Tartan Army Group post.
“I didn’t know that the Germany-Scotland-Love is what I needed. Please don‘t ever leave, Scots!,” another wrote, adding: “Can we build a direct tunnel? Or a gigantic bridge?“
“There’s something special between Scotland and Germany, I don’t know why, or what it is, but I can feel it,” said another post.
The Scotland fans have not just been confined to cities where the team is playing, with many spread across the country simply happy to soak in the atmosphere — and indeed the beer.
“Dear Scots, these have been a wonderful couple of days with you. I could not be a happier mayor. You are always welcome to Cologne,” Henriette Reker, mayor of Cologne, said on X.
The Tartan Army descends on Stuttgart as Scotland hope to extend their stay in Germany with a win against Hungary on Sunday. No doubt they’ll now have the locals cheering them on, as well.


Albanian player apologizes for encouraging offensive fan chants

Updated 21 June 2024
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Albanian player apologizes for encouraging offensive fan chants

  • Daku was caught on camera whipping up fans after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia in Hamburg
  • Albania are at only their second major tournament and have been roared on by some of the most fanatical supporters seen so far

HAMBURG: Albanian forward Mirlind Daku, who led fans in derogatory post-match chants about North Macedonia with a megaphone, apologized on Friday citing the intense emotions of playing at Euro 2024.
Daku was caught on camera whipping up fans after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia in Hamburg. That triggered a demand for an apology from North Macedonia’s football federation plus an investigation from Europe’s soccer body UEFA.
“Apologising is manly, and I feel a moral and professional obligation to do so, for all those who have been hurt,” he said in an Albanian-language statement on social media.
“Like any footballer, in those moments the emotions are on another level, which can only be understood on the field. It is difficult to describe the feeling of playing for this national team, for these wonderful fans who give us unlimited love.”
Albania are at only their second major tournament and have been roared on by some of the most fanatical supporters seen so far during the month-long tournament in Germany.
“Sorry if I offended anyone after the match with Croatia, the effect of the game does its thing,” the 26-year-old added in his post. “I continue to work together with the whole group for our dreams.”
Kosovo controversy
Rows are proliferating at the tournament over insults relating to bitter rivalries in the Balkans region.
Serbia is demanding punishment for Croatia and Albania over hateful language, saying both sets of fans chanted “Kill, kill, kill the Serb” during their match on Wednesday. Serbia have also been admonished by UEFA for their fans’ behavior.
Most of the controversies center on Albanian-majority Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not accept.
Kosovo-born Daku represented his homeland before switching to Albania in 2023. Ethnic Albanians revolted in North Macedonia two decades ago.
“An investigation has been opened in relation to the alleged inappropriate behavior of the Albanian Football Association (FSHF) player, Mr. Mirlind Daku,” UEFA said in its statement.
North Macedonia’s football federation said his “nationalist chants” were “scandalous.”


A US veteran died at a nursing home, abandoned. Hundreds of strangers came to say goodbye

US Marine Gerry Brooks is laid to rest Thursday, June 20, 2024 at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta, Maine. (AP)
Updated 21 June 2024
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A US veteran died at a nursing home, abandoned. Hundreds of strangers came to say goodbye

  • Hundreds of people who knew nothing about the 86-year-old beyond his name showed up on a sweltering afternoon and gave Brooks a final salute with full military honors Thursday at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Former U.S. Marine Gerry Brooks died alone at a nursing home in Maine, abandoned and all but forgotten. Then the funeral home posted a notice asking if anyone would serve as a pallbearer or simply attend his burial.
Within minutes, it was turning away volunteers to carry his casket.
A bagpiper came forward to play at the service. A pilot offered to perform a flyover. Military groups across the state pledged a proper sendoff.
Hundreds of people who knew nothing about the 86-year-old beyond his name showed up on a sweltering afternoon and gave Brooks a final salute with full military honors Thursday at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.
Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles escorted his hearse on the 40-mile route from the funeral home in Belfast, Maine, to the cemetery. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars paid tribute with a 21-gun salute. Volunteers held American flags next to the casket while a crane hoisted a huge flag above the cemetery entrance.
Some saluted while filing by. Others sang The Marines’ Hymn.
“It’s an honor for us to be able to do this,” said Jim Roberts, commander of the VFW post in Belfast. “There’s so much negativity in the world. This is something people can feel good about and rally around. It’s just absolutely wonderful.” He said Brooks’ son, granddaughter and son-in-law came to the funeral but did not speak during the service.
Roberts said the VFW is called a couple times a year about a deceased veteran with no family or with one that isn’t willing to handle the funeral arrangements. But “we will always be there." Like other veterans helping out Thursday, he hadn't known Brooks.
So many groups volunteered to take part in paying tribute that there wasn’t enough space to fit them into the 20-minute burial service, said Katie Riposta, the funeral director who put out the call for help last week.
“It renews your faith in humanity,” she said.
More than 8 million of the U.S. veterans living are 65 or older, almost half the veteran population. They are overwhelmingly men. That's according to a U.S. Census Bureau report last year. As this generation dies, it said, their collective memory of wartime experiences "will pass into history."
Much about Brooks' life is unknown.
He was widowed and lived in Augusta. He died on May 18, less than a week after entering a nursing home, Riposta said. A cause of death was not released.
The funeral home and authorities reached his next of kin, but no one was willing to come forward or take responsibility for his body, she said.
“It sounds like he was a good person, but I know nothing about his life,” Riposta said, noting that after Brooks' death, a woman contacted the funeral home to say he had once taken her in when she had no other place to go, with no details.
“It doesn’t matter if he served one day or made the military his career," she said. "He still deserves to be respected and not alone.”
The crowd on Thursday wasn't all strangers — and it turned out Brooks hadn't been one, either.
Victoria Abbott, executive director of the Bread of Life shelter in Augusta, said he had come every day to eat at their soup kitchen, always ready to crack “dad jokes” and make the staff smile. He had a favorite table.
“Your quintessential 80-year-old, dad jokes every day,” Abbott said. “He was really great to have around. He was part of the soup kitchen family.”
But most people there Thursday met him too late. The memorial book posted online by Direct Cremation of Maine, which helped to arrange the burial, had a few strangers' good wishes.
“Sir,” one began, and ended with “Semper Fi.”
The two others, a couple, thanked Brooks for his service. “We all deserve the love kindness and respect when we are called home. I hope that you lived a full beautiful life of Love, Kindness, Dreams and Hope,” they wrote.
They added: “Thank you to all those who will make this gentleman’s service a proper, well deserved good bye.”
Linda Laweryson, who served in the Marines, said this was the second funeral in little over a year that she has attended for a veteran who died alone. Everyone deserves to die with dignity and be buried with dignity, she said.
Laweryson read a poem during the graveside service written by a combat Marine who reflects on the spot where Marines graduate from boot camp.
“I walked the old parade ground, but I was not alone," the poem reads. "I walked the old parade ground and knew that I was home.”
 

 


After Drake battle, Kendrick Lamar turns victory lap concert into LA unity celebration

Updated 20 June 2024
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After Drake battle, Kendrick Lamar turns victory lap concert into LA unity celebration

  • The audience of 17,000 people at the Forum in Inglewood, California included The Weeknd, LeBron James, Ayo Edebiri and Rick Ross
  • The 37-year-old rapper curated a three-hour livestreamed concert featuring a mix of up-and-coming LA rappers and stars

INGLEWOOD: Not content with merely taking a victory lap after winning his battle against fellow rap superstar Drake, Kendrick Lamar turned his Juneteenth “Pop Out” concert at the Forum into a cathartic livestreamed celebration of Los Angeles unity.
Lamar curated a three-hour concert featuring a mix of up-and-coming LA rappers and stars including Tyler, The Creator, Steve Lacy and YG. When it was his turn to take the stage, the 37-year-old rapper powered through a set with Black Hippy collaborators Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, performed his Drake diss songs “Euphoria” and “6:16 in LA,” then was joined on-stage by Dr. Dre.
The two West Coast titans performed “Still D.R.E.” and “California Love” before Dre quieted the roaring crowd by calling for a moment of silence. It was a misdirect. He then delivered the “Sixth Sense” quote that opens Lamar’s chart-topping “Not Like Us”: “I see dead people.”
A crowd of 17,000 that included The Weeknd, LeBron James, Ayo Edebiri and Rick Ross rapped along to every word of the biting-but-jubilant DJ Mustard production, which Lamar restarted twice after the first verse and performed four times in full.
Shuffling, frolicking, dancing and spinning around him as Lamar strode the stage in a red hoodie: NBA stars Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan, Mustard, rapper Roddy Ricch and even a teenage dance troupe led by the krumping innovator Tommy the Clown.
Lamar reveled in the moment: “Y’all ain’t gon’ let nobody disrespect the West Coast. Y’all ain’t gon’ let nobody imitate our legends, huh,” he said, referring to Drake’s use of an AI tool to mimic 2Pac’s voice on one of his diss records.
But Lamar had more on his mind, calling out to specific men and women to join him on-stage for a group photo.
“Let the world see this,” he said. “For all of us to be on this stage together, unity, from East side ... LA, Crips, Bloods, Piru — this ... is special, man. We put this ... together just for ya’ll.
“This ... ain’t got nothing to do with no song at this point, ain’t got nothing to do with no back and forth records, it’s got everything to do with this moment right here. That’s what this ... was about, to bring all of us together.”
After the final song, Lamar exited, saying “I promise you this won’t be the last of us.” The stabbing horns of the “Not Like Us” instrumental kicked in once again and the crowd rapped the lyrics without Lamar as they filed through hallways out to the parking lot.


Two beluga whales evacuated to Spain from war-torn Ukraine

Updated 19 June 2024
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Two beluga whales evacuated to Spain from war-torn Ukraine

  • The whales, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived “in delicate health” at the Oceanagrafic aquarium
  • They were first transported overland from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southern port of Odesa

MADRID: Two beluga whales have been evacuated from an aquarium in war-torn Ukraine to Spain by road and plane in a “high-risk” operation, officials at their new home said Wednesday.
The whales, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived “in delicate health” at the Oceanagrafic aquarium in Spain’s Mediterranean port of Valencia on Tuesday evening officials there said.
They had completed “a gruelling journey across the war zone,” the aquarium said in a statement.
They were first transported overland from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southern port of Odesa, a 12-hour drive.
After health checks, they were taken across the border to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, from where they were flown in a six-seat chartered plane to Valencia.
“The high-risk, complex rescue operation presented numerous challenges and required multi-national collaboration,” the statement said.
Experts with the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld in the United States took part in the rescue.
A team of medical and nutritional experts are looking after the belugas in Valencia, and two Ukrainian caregivers will stay with them for several weeks to help with their transition.
“This courageous rescue constitutes a historic milestone worldwide in terms of animal protection,” said the head of the regional government of Valencia, Carlos Mazon.
Russian artillery fire against Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, had intensified in recent weeks, with bombs falling just a few hundred meters from the aquarium where the whales lived.
The director of zoological operations at Valencia’s Oceanografic aquarium, Daniel Garcia-Parraga, said if the whales had stayed on in Kharkiv “their chances of survival would have been very slim.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv has evacuated several seals, sea lions and dolphins, but evacuating the belugas required months of preparations due to their size.