COVID-19, Road to Perdition or Ride to Triumph?

By Bill Plock

Snow notwithstanding, multi-use paths are packed with cyclists, pedestrians, dogs, rollerbladers and more. Roads in places around the country have been shut down to allow for people to recreate. People have come out of the woodwork to be active, much like the Coronavirus has sprung to life and has touched every corner of the world. A trip up Lookout Mountain on the weekend feels like you have stumbled into an organized century ride you didn’t know about. 

Photo courtesy Ryan Muncy

We have always wanted more people to ride bikes. Not only is there the obvious health benefits for ourselves and the planet, but more people riding bikes might hopefully fuel the demand for increased safe infrastructure and law adaptation that improves safety and prevents unsafe, deathly distractions and careless crashes. Maybe down the road more people will try new types of cycling, try racing, or do their first century and become advocates.

And now the Corona effect:

People isolated at home, but given the green light to ride bikes, run, and take walks have seemingly cashed in their gym memberships and are recreating on paths and roads at record levels. I have witnessed quite a bit of dangerous behavior, with all of these folks jammed on bike paths moving at huge differences of speed with an even larger gap of skill and courtesy. I recently surveyed trail users in Golden, and when asking pedestrians, they say that probably less than half of the cyclists announce themselves coming from behind. 

Prefers a cyclists use a bell

I played devils advocate and suggested to one pedestrian, that I, as a runner as well, prefer cyclists to not announce themselves as it scares me half the time. And I, as a cyclist, often have people get scared and veer into my path, so I sometimes hesitate to say anything. Of the ten pedestrians I spoke with, eight of them said that hearing a warning bell is the best way to let them know. 

I also observed an enormous variety of bikes being ridden. Everything from single speed commuters, older 26er mountain bikes to countless blue/green steel-framed Bianchis from the late 70’s complete with downtube shifters and seats sitting right on top of the frame—pure classics. People are pulling bikes out of the garage or the basement and heading outside. I also saw a lot of new road bikes and a fair share of e-bikes. 

And I saw a lot more people than usual, not wearing helmets. Seth Wolins, owner of Big Ring Cycles in Golden, attributes the lack of helmets to mostly people getting back out on the roads today and not realizing that the culture has changed where most frequent riders these days wear helmets. It would be like if you hadn’t skied since the 1980s and put on that favorite wool hat and headed to the slopes, you would quickly feel out of place. Clearly, some of it is economical as well as people try to spend the least amount possible to be active. 

So how has all this translated to business? Bike shops are listed on the essential open-for-business list, but they limit customer access, and leisurely browsing. Customers are dropping bikes off, picking them up, and are pretty much in and out. It’s hard for them learn about accessory options and different features and benefits of bikes.

Bike service is way up. Bike sales are strong as in the number of units sold, but the category that is growing the most are road bikes below $1,500. In many shops that means the overall sales dollars are down. Russ Chandler, owner of Full Cycles in Boulder, said, “I have many customers order their bikes online, come pick them up and we don’t have the normal interaction we would typically have. We don’t get a chance to really educate them about what is on the market through test rides and spending time fitting them and showing them some beneficial features and accessories like helmets.” 

Russ adds that he expects mountain bike sales to start increasing as the weather improves, and he hopes that the timing of the small business stimulus aid helps everyone get through the next few weeks as the peak of the bike season begins to hit when hopefully things begin to re-open. 

Says Seth about his business at Big Ring Cycles, “we are seeing a large number of customers “dusting off their road bikes,” and bringing them in for tune-ups, new tires, etc. to make them safe and enjoyable to ride again. We are very happy for two significant reasons; first, we absolutely love seeing bikes from the ’80s and ’90s being invested in and getting back on the road. Those were pretty special and impactful years for the growth of cycling in The United States, especially with the success of Americans in professional racing. Secondly, we are seeing more couples and families getting their bikes in riding shape so that they can ride together; and isn’t that the primary reason that we are all working during these trying times?”

By definition, perdition means something very dangerous or harmful. Perhaps the emergence of the Coronavirus will lead to a triumph in cycling down the road and not take us down a road to perdition?

Maybe a new generation of cyclists will emerge, and all those first-time cyclists will be back in the store in a few years to upgrade their ride and buy some new accessories and clothing to go with it. Maybe they will race or sign up for more centuries and organized events. Maybe in five years we will be thankful for this time to reconnect with our bikes, the outdoors, and loved ones. 

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