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Pandemic leads to a bicycle boom

More people are riding and it’s leading to a shortage of bicycles

By ASSOCIATED PRESS and WOODLAND DAILY DEMOCRAT |

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Fitness junkies locked out of gyms, commuters fearful of public transit, and families going stir crazy inside their homes during the coronavirus pandemic have created a boom in bicycle sales unseen in decades.

In the United States, bicycle aisles at mass merchandisers like Walmart and Target have been swept clean, and independent shops are doing a brisk business and are selling out of affordable “family” bikes.

That’s also been reflective in Yolo County, where Foy’s Bike Shop in Woodland, has seen people not only buying bicycles but getting their older — and sometimes, long-unused — bikes cleaned up and refurbished.

The Bike Campaign, which has headquarters in Davis and a facility in Woodland, has seen a surge in bicycles being restored as well as sold. The Campaign collects older bicycles and then refurbishes them for resale. It also offers bicycle safety courses and other incentives to get people out and riding.

Maria Contreras Tebbutt, director of The Bike Campaign, said earlier that she’s definitely seen an increase in riders. Tebbutt works out of her Davis home, using her garage as a storage area as well as a workshop, where she and others provide tune-ups. She reported seeing high-quality bicycles donated for repair as well as resale as people either upgrade their rides or decide to hit the road.

Tebbutt said that The Bike Campaign’s efforts are needed more than ever because those businesses selling and maintaining bicycles — such as Foy’s in Woodland — can take as long as three weeks to tune up a bicycle.

Under Yolo County’s current health order, individuals are not required to wear face coverings while riding or performing other outdoor exercises though they should have one handy at all times and always practice social distancing.

Pandemic or not, they should also consider protecting themselves by wearing a helmet when riding.

It’s because people need refresher courses, including reminders to wear helmets, that bicycle safety training area has been built at Ferns Park in Woodland. At the park, a walking path has been painted to resemble the intersection of a roadway.

Called the “Bike Skills Playpark,” the course was laid out by Woodland city workers about a month ago, but hasn’t been promoted yet because of the coronavirus. It includes “stop signs,” turning lanes and other markings.

Bike Campaign representatives wanted to have a formal dedication, but city staff didn’t want to bring people in close proximity out of fear of spreading the virus. They hope to do something in the future when it won’t be so easy to contract the disease.

The city of Woodland, like others throughout the nation, is also providing more bicycle lanes in an effort to reduce the city’s overall carbon footprint. That’s why some local streets are being reconfigured to allow for bicycle lanes. The nearly completed $12 million West Main Street reconstruction project will soon be stripped to feature a dedicated bike lane, just as Beamer Street was remarked more than a year ago.

As other city streets are upgraded in the coming years, such as Gibson and Matmor roads, they will also be designed to provide bike lanes.

Nationally and worldwide, bicycle sales over the past two months saw their biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s, said Jay Townley, who analyzes cycling industry trends at Human Powered Solutions.

“People quite frankly have panicked, and they’re buying bikes like toilet paper,” Townley said, referring to the rush to buy essentials like toilet paper and hand sanitizer that stores saw at the beginning of the pandemic.

The trend is mirrored around the globe, as cities better known for car-clogged streets, like Manila and Rome, install bike lanes to accommodate surging interest in cycling while public transport remains curtailed. In London, municipal authorities plan to go further by banning cars from some central thoroughfares.

Bike shop owners in the Philippine capital say demand is stronger than at Christmas. Financial incentives are boosting sales in Italy, where the government’s post-lockdown stimulus last month included a 500-euro ($575) “bici bonus” rebate for up to 60% of the cost of a bike.

But that’s if you can get your hands on one. The craze has led to shortages that will take some weeks, maybe months, to resolve, particularly in the U.S., which relies on China for about 90% of its bicycles, Townley said. Production there was largely shut down due to the coronavirus and is just resuming.

The bicycle rush kicked off in mid-March around the time countries were shutting their borders, businesses were closing, and stay-at-home orders were being imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has infected millions of people and killed more than 450,000.

Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April while overall U.S. bike sales, including kids’ and electric-assist bicycles, doubled from the year before, according to market research firm NPD Group, which tracks retail bike sales.

It’s a far cry from what was anticipated in the U.S. The $6 billion industry had projected lower sales based on lower volume in 2019 in which punitive tariffs on bicycles produced in China reached 25%.

There are multiple reasons for the pandemic bicycle boom.

Around the world, many workers were looking for an alternative to buses and subways. People unable to go to their gyms looked for another way to exercise. And shut-in families scrambled to find a way to keep kids active during stay-at-home orders.

“Kids are looking for something to do. They’ve probably reached the end of the internet by now, so you’ve got to get out and do something,” said Dave Palese at Gorham Bike and Ski, a Maine shop where there are slim pickings for family-oriented, leisure bikes.

The pandemic is also driving a boom in electric-assist bikes, called e-bikes, which were a niche part of the overall market until now. Most e-bikes require a cyclist to pedal, but electric motors provide extra oomph.

VanMoof, a Dutch e-bike maker, is seeing “unlimited demand” since the pandemic began, resulting in a 10-week order backlog for its commuter electric bikes, compared with typical one-day delivery time, said co-founder Taco Carlier.

The company’s sales surged 138% in the U.S. and rocketed 184% in Britain in the February-April period over last year, with big gains in other European countries. The company is scrambling to ramp up production as fast as it can, but it will take two to three months to meet the demand, Carlier said.

“We did have some issues with our supply chain back in January, February when the crisis hit first in Asia,” said Carlier. But “the issue is now with demand, not supply.”

In Maine, Kate Worcester, a physician’s assistant, bought e-bikes for herself and her 12-year-old son so they could have fun at a time when she couldn’t travel far from the hospital where she worked.

Every night, she and her son ride 20 miles or 30 miles around Acadia National Park.

“It’s by far the best fun I’ve had with him,” she said. “That’s been the biggest silver lining in this terrible pandemic — to be able to leave work and still do an activity and talk and enjoy each other.”

The Daily Democrat contributed to this report.

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