In the age of the coronavirus, public transportation is less in vogue, festivals are canceled, events are mostly a no-go, and the usual places for socializing, recreating and exercising are either closed or fraught with restrictions and added risks. Put another way: Biking is booming.
“We’ve been sold out since early June and there's no real end in sight as far as our reservations are looking,” said Sam McNichols, owner of Mountain Adventure Equipment in Mountain Village. “And we probably have to turn away about 40 people per day. A lot of people are renting bikes for one or two weeks at a time.”
But it’s not just that people are rushing to the local bike shops to purchase or rent bikes, though that is part of the equation. When the global pandemic shut down much of the manufacturing sectors around the world, disrupting the production of everything from processed foods to bike parts, it created a scarcity of bicycles and bicycle components at the same time that it propelled millions of people to rummage around for their bike helmets, and head to the nearest shop for a new bike, rental or a tune-up for their own bike.
“It’s been an interesting year,” reflected Travis Young, owner of Box Canyon Bicycles in Telluride, calling the busyness of this summer “absolutely” an outlier. “There’s been really high demand in the cycling world overall. People in the cities are dusting off old bikes to use as commuting vehicles as people avoid cabs and public transportation, and in suburbs, people are looking to get outside. In the mountains, you see the same thing. Then there are also people coming from the cities wanting to bike, and that adds to it as well.”
Locally, sky-high demand left sales floors empty early in the season, with few bicycles in a moderate price range available to replace the quickly selling merchandise.
“The bike companies and distributors indicate that they are trying to produce bikes as quickly as possible,” said Young. “We pretty much can't get any mid to lower priced bikes. Bikes under $5,000 to $6,000 are just not available, and haven’t been for a couple of months. Above that price point, bikes are somewhat available. Demand is really high, and production slowed down in some areas. That’s true pretty much all over the world.”
McNichols recalled the moment when a bike industry representative called him early this spring. “One of our reps called and said, ‘Hey, if you don’t take your bikes now, there might not be bikes for you to take.’ I’m so glad we took the advice,” McNichols said, who even with the advice was nearly sold out of mountain bikes by late May.
Another contributing factor to the busy summer for local biking businesses is Telski’s new bike park, which debuted to great popularity last summer for local riders and visitors alike.
“Along with the need to get outside, and families who are trying to escape the virus, now there are bike parks in every single ski resort they go to,” observed McNichols, comparing the new summer trend to the winter family ski vacation. “We’re seeing a ton of people in that 10-to18-year-old range who are getting into it and riding every single day. And their plan when they visit somewhere with their family for the week is to get a bike and ride everyday. That’s one of the coolest things we’ve seen at our shop, lots of young kids and young girls getting into it.”
Yet, like most services being offered this summer as the pandemic continues its course, bike shops are also burdened with the extra work and challenges of providing their services while mitigating risks.
“Everything takes us twice as long, from the rental to the cleaning to going through the bike, to make sure they’re safe for the next customer,” McNichols said, who instituted a two-day minimum rental policy to avoid everyday turnover overwhelming the staff’s ability to thoroughly check bikes coming back in. On top of that, he said, the number of people coming through the door with bikes that are “dangerously unsafe” has been notable, and he urged parents and bikers in general to schedule regular tune-ups and maintenance rather than wait until something goes wrong with the bicycle.
“We’re not as able to do immediate fixes right now, and we’re often between two and six days out on service,” he said.
Young agreed that service can at times be days or weeks out, though they’re hard at work trying to keep up.
“We are really trying to take care of our regulars and local people the best we can,” he said. “The bike industry in general is doing everything we can to keep people happy.”