Portugal is Europe's largest manufacturer of bicycles and factories feared for their future when lockdown forced them in March 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.
Earlier this year, cycle manufacturers had to shut nearly 40 factories and put their 8,000-strong workforce on furlough, but the good news is they are now struggling to keep up with booming global demand.
“When we closed, we thought it would be a catastrophe, we were scared,” said Bruno Salgado, executive at RTE Bikes, which owns Europe’s largest bike factory. “But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us,” he said, standing between production lines at the factory, which produced 1.1 million bicycles last year.
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.
Portugal exports about 90% of the bicycles it produces, with key markets in Germany, France and Italy. As lockdowns 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.
João Maia, general manager at In Cycles, a rival firm which produced 87,000 bicycles in 2019, has seen demand double.
Despite this year’s two-month factory shutdown, Gil Nadais, general secretary of the Portuguese bicycle manufacturers’ association Abimota, told Reuters he expects the country will beat last year’s record.
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