Some Vancouver Island bike shops are busier than they have ever been thanks to more people taking up cycling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shops are unable to keep bikes on the floor as sales have skyrocketed, and service centres are full every day with people trying to get their bikes road-ready for the summer.
“It’s definitely increased the sales and people getting out on bikes,” said Rob Stables, owner of Campbell River’s Bike Chameleon. “It’s a lot more than the usual years. It’s good to see people getting out and getting active.”
However, the demand is starting to outpace supply. Stables said that he won’t be able to get any new bikes in from his supplier until August. Other shops are feeling the pinch as well, according to Ken Clausen of Pedal Your World, some of the staple items are unavailable from suppliers.
”Supply is actually declining,” Clausen said. “It’s pretty dismal, we’ve run out of a number of things, and a lot of key items are running out from vendors that we get products from.”
Clausen and Stables have both seen an increase in demand for electric bikes. The genre has grown steadily for years, now with most bike brands offering an electric version of their bikes. Electric bikes can be used for any discipline, from dual-suspension mountain bikes to long-haul touring bikes.
“Campbell River’s a pretty hilly place. a lot of people who have come here to retire are choosing this as a form of leisure activity. All styles of ebike have improved, we’ve seen growth in the mountain, commuter and touring styles of bikes,” said Clausen. “There are people who live in Merville and Black Creek who work at the hospital and commute on ebikes. They just carry their chargers with them and go on high speed the whole way.”
Electric assist is not the only new technology that is making cycling easier than it ever has. Mountain bike shifting has become easier with “one-by” set ups (one chainring at the pedals), gearing is getting wider, which gives more range in speeds. Frames and components are not only becoming lighter, but are becoming more comfortable to ride as well. Hydraulic disc brakes make stopping in all weather a breeze, and there is even electronic shifting on some top-end bikes these days.
“This is an exciting time for cycling,” said Clausen. “Many people are rediscovering the simple beauty of riding a bicycle. I seen technologies advance in many ways through my 35 year career in the cycling industry and this has made bikes better.”
Early summer is usually a busy time for bike shops. Through the summer it is not uncommon to see a week-long waiting period for repairs. Even on a good day, shops can only bring in a certain amount of bikes to be serviced per day, and with reduced staffing and social distancing, it is harder and harder to keep up with demand.
Although the bike mechanics are being kept on their toes, shop workers and owners are happy about the uptick in business. Cycling not only helps stay physically active, but it also has mental health benefits.
“I think all around it has definitely been good for the bike industry. I’ve never seen it like this in all my years,” said Stables. “Hopefully it’ll be something that sticks too. It was so nice when this first happened and there was no traffic, even no planes flying over and that kind of stuff, way less pollution… It’s great seeing people out there getting excersize and how much that will benefit them in the long run both mentally and physically.”
Though both are glad to see more people on the bike, they both would like to see an increase in driver awareness as well as improved riding infrastructure in the city.
“There are more riders on the road and kids riding their bikes on the sidewalks, [it’d be great] if people were more accepting of that,” said Stables.
“Junk on the road is a big deal, you’ll see debris on the roadside that you’ll have to avoid,” added Clausen. “The main road surface may be maintained, but not necessarily the shoulder, where a lot of people are riding.”