To meet a jump in demand, the country’s bike-making industry is building new factories, hiring workers, and dealing with parts shortages.
VOUZELA, Portugal — Inside a factory set among eucalyptus trees in the Portuguese countryside, workers carefully cut thin strips of sticky carbon fiber and press them into molds. It is slow and painstaking labor.
But after each mold is cooked in an oven heated to 200 degrees Celsius (about 390 degrees Fahrenheit), out comes an incredibly light frame for a bicycle that may sell for about $7,000, helping accelerate Portugal’s growth as the largest bike manufacturing nation in the European Union.
Demand for bikes is soaring, thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic. More people have decided to pedal to stay fit after long lockdowns or to avoid crowded trains and buses on the way to work. Politicians, aware of the climate benefits of cycling, are adding more bike lanes to their cities, including in Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, and Barcelona, Spain.
And it has been a boon to northern Portugal, home to a heavy concentration of manufacturers with ties to bicycles. About 60 companies in the region assemble bikes or make their parts and accessories, including handlebars, brake pads and helmets.
The country of 10 million people — a little more than 2 percent of the European Union’s population — produces nearly a quarter of the bloc’s bicycles. The industry has turned into one of Portugal’s fastest-growing employers, its work force expanding 65 percent in the past five years to 7,800 employees, according to Abimota, a bicycle industry group.