Bicycle production in Portugal, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, has received a huge boost huge as it is experiencing huge market demand.
This is coming months after bicycle manufacturers feared for their future when the pandemic, in March, forced them to shut for two months but 2020 now looks set to be a bumper year as people shun public transport and opt for healthier ways of getting around.
Portugal, Europe’s largest manufacturer of bicycles, had to shut its nearly 40 factories and put their 8,000-strong workforce on furlough to help curb the spread of COVID-19, but is now struggling to keep up with booming global demand.
Bruno Salgado, executive board member of RTE Bikes, which owns Europe’s largest bike factory, in the city of Gaia, in northern Portugal, said:
When we closed on March 13, we thought it would be a catastrophe, we were scared.
But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us.
Worldwide, people have been trying to avoid crowded trains and buses during the pandemic, preferring to cycle, walk or jog to work and other destinations.
A civil servant in Lisbon, Cristina Latoeira, said it was the pandemic that had finally persuaded her to splash out 800 euros on the electric bike she had long dreamed of buying.
The 42-year-old said:
It’s the fear of being on very busy public transport, in winter, the fear of contagion that made me choose this mode of transport that I consider much safer.
Like most other European countries, Portugal has recently seen the number of COVID-19 infections rise again after a summer lull.
Portugal exports about 90% of the bicycles it produces, with key markets in Germany, France and Italy.
As lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19 began to ease across Europe during the summer months, distributors around the continent ran out of stock, pushing Portuguese manufacturers to raise production and capacity.
RTE Bikes is now working at full steam, producing about 5,000 bicycles a day, up from an average of 3,000-4,000 this time last year, Salgado said.
Joao Maia, general manager at In Cycles, a rival firm which produced 87,000 bicycles in 2019, has seen demand double.
At the moment, we export bicycles to all countries in the world, including countries that are supposed to be major bicycle producers.
In Cycles plans to double its production lines to four from this month and already has orders for about 185,000 bicycles in 2021, Maia added.
Even before the pandemic struck, partly due to increased concerns over climate change and a move to healthier lifestyles, Portugal’s production had jumped 42% in 2019 to a record 2.7 million bicycles – almost a quarter of all those built in the European Union, according to Eurostat data.