Oakland, California, recently opened up 74 miles of city streets to cyclists and pedestrians by closing the streets to cars. Across the bay, San Francisco followed by closing 12 popular streets to cars, including making parts of world-famous Golden Gate Park permanently car free, to the joy of cyclists and runners. NYC has recently freed 12 streets for cyclists. Paris, France, is preparing to remove 74% of street parking to make way for bikes. Milan, Berlin, Mexico City—cities across the world are seeing a push for more access for bikes.
And bikes are selling like hotcakes right now, as public transit seems a sketchy and potentially unsafe proposition, and more people have more time to be outdoors.
“We’re basically selling bikes faster than we can build them,” said Bradley Woehl owner of San Francisco’s American Cyclery, a bike shop in Haight-Ashbury.
“Later today there will be a line around the corner,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have, we’re appreciative to have the demand. We’ve lived through world wars, pandemics, economic booms and busts, and people still want to ride bikes.”
For many shops across the country, it’s the same.
Jim Quinn owns the Bicycle Link bike shop in Weymouth, Massachusetts, south of Boston. The last month has been the busiest by far in the shop’s 33 years. “Some families are coming in and getting 2 or 3 bikes. The dad who hasn’t ridden in three decades is on a bike now,” Quinn said.
While some areas in Europe banned cycling and outside activities for a time this spring to curb the pandemic’s spread, those restrictions are easing, and, along with countries that never instituted such bans, people are clamoring for bikes like never before.
Shops are selling out routinely. Service departments are too busy assembling new bikes to keep up with repair business for existing bikes. That’s a problem, because lots of people are dusting off bikes they’ve kept unridden for years in a garage, and those bikes need a bit more work than just pumping up the tires.
Entry-level bikes of all varieties—including mountain bikes and road bikes—and mid-level commuter bikes seem to be the biggest sellers, with many popular models backordered until the fall.
“We’re the new toilet paper and everyone wants a piece,” Grant Kaplan, manager of Giant Sydney, a bike store in Sydney, told Guardian Australia.
The World Economic Forum recently published a report asking, “Could the pandemic usher in a golden age of cycling?”
The answer, especially in Europe, seems likely to be “yes.”
Across the continent, cities are shoveling money into infrastructure programs that increase bike lanes and limit car access. Part of the push toward bikes is to allow freedom of movement while maintaining social distancing, but also because air pollution is plummeting as people keep their cars off the road. Municipalities are seizing the moment with both hands to keep pollution down and health up.
Of course, not all bike retailers have seen a sales explosion. Many cities in Europe instituted bans on cycling in March, which helped send sales numbers through the floor in some areas. Specialized, for example, furloughed or laid off nearly half its European work force.
But as the effects of a worldwide push to get more people out on bikes spreads through the broader economy, that downturn looks likely to be a temporary dip in what may very well be a dramatic rise in global cycling.
“A lot of companies are selling out of bikes,” said Dan Zapkowski, a bike shop owner in San Diego, California. “I spent more than an hour last night researching new brands and companies we can introduce to our shop because the suppliers we’re used to are running out of bikes.”
Surely, many bike commuters will become dedicated road bikers, and mountain bike trails will see more pressure in the coming years as their bulge of new riders works its way through cycling’s infrastructure. But that’s also an opportunity for more advocacy for bike-friendly cities and pathways, and bike-friendly trails in the front country.
Welcome to the age of the bike.
Photo by Totem Cyclery/Denver