Santa Cruz is Front and Center for Bike Boom

It has been said playfully that bikes are the new toilet paper, with bike shops selling out of all but their highest-end bikes faster than their mechanics can put them together. “We’ve never seen a surge like this across a range of products,” said Robert Margevicius, executive vice president of Specialized in a recent interview. In April, US sales of adult “leisure” bikes tripled the sales of April 2019, according to a report by a research firm called the NPD Group. Meanwhile, nationwide overall sales of bikes doubled.

It has been hard for bike shops to keep up with this demand, with waits on getting a new bike or repairs sometimes driving customers to extreme measures. “We’ve had a number of customers come from as far away as Oregon and Nevada to get bikes,” reports Gene Selkov, sales manager at Spokesman. “Most days, there are lines around the block, and even after the initial slowdown in March, our sales have more than doubled over last year.”

Biking during the COVID-19 pandemic has many appeals: from parents seeking to engage and entertain their kids, to exercise options while gyms are closed, to alternatives to public transportation, biking fits the bill. In a recent national study commissioned by Trek Bicycles, 85% of respondents felt biking was currently a safer mode of travel than public transportation. Trek’s study seems to also suggest that people increasingly see the bike as a practical tool for these times, with 90% of participants listing biking as one of their top three transportation choices for trips within 5 miles. “Many people are feeling stuck in one place. Bicycles are increasingly appealing in their ability to expand our range while maintaining social distance and enjoying the benefits of being outdoors,” says Matt Miller, Bike to Work Program Manager.

Shops like Spokesman see no sign of the “bike boom” slowing, and while customers may have to wait 3-4 weeks for a new bike or a service appointment, many shops have much longer waits. “I recently looked for bikes for myself and my fiancé, and most options involved a 3-month wait,” says Yaser Awad, a member of the Ecology Action staff. “After looking at 5 or 6 shops, we finally found some of the last bikes in our sizes and made deposits.” Prior to the local shelter-in-place order, Yaser relied on JUMP for his bike-riding needs. “We’ve been going for rides every day on our new bikes, and we feel great,” Yaser reports.

Low-cost options have also seen a surge in popularity; for low-wage essential workers as well as the unemployed and unhoused, many turn to community DIY programs like the Bike Church. But COVID has impacted the Bike Church’s ability to serve these populations: “We normally serve 30-50 clients a day in a drop-in format, many of whom are at the lower end of the economic spectrum,” says Nik Jones, Bike Church collective member. “With COVID making working indoors much less safe, we’ve moved things outside and are scheduling 2-hour repair appointments via email.” Bike Church staff train clients on how to make repairs themselves, often working in close quarters. The collective closed from March through May to develop protocols to keep everyone safe. The appointment wait time at the Bike Church is currently two weeks.

Even during normal times, it can be challenging to find an affordable bike. In order to serve people working on the front lines of the COVID crisis, Bike Santa Cruz County recently launched a local chapter of Bike Match, a national program working to match donated bikes to essential workers in need. “I’m a radiologist working on in-patient COVID studies. My bike was recently stolen, and that was my main form of transportation,” says Mohammed E., a recent recipient. “I have a relative staying with us who is dealing with cancer treatment. Using the bike helps me travel safely with minimal exposure.” Learn more about Bike Match.