COVID-19 Stories: The New Pandemic Bicycle Culture

If it feels like there have been more bikes out on the roads and trails lately, you’re not imagining things.  Call it a bicycle renaissance or a childhood pastime revisited, but the COVID-19 bike surge is real. During the past three months, people who haven’t been on their bike in years dusted it off or purchased a new one and took it for a spin.

Even as spring Grand Valley Bike Month activities shifted to online alternatives, local residents turned to biking as a way to cope with the stress and boredom of pandemic-related restrictions. The sudden high demand, however, left local retailers strapped for inventory. Hundreds of Mesa County residents stormed local bike shops, with literal lines out the door.

Ash Jordan, owner of The Bike Shop, passed along his apologies for the waits and explained, “We’re trying to maintain store hours from 9-2 to allow our repair and maintenance employees the necessary time after hours to repair all the bikes that keep coming in for tune-ups.” Flat tire repairs and other types of maintenance are up too.

Chris Brown, who owns Brown Cycles on Main Street in Grand Junction, echoed that sentiment. “Right now it’s taking me about 7-8 days to turn around bike repairs. There are some shops that are backed up for 30 days. I’m grateful we’re busy, but we just keep asking our customers to be patient with us. Our demand is sky high.”

Both Jordan and Brown mentioned that the rise in demand has coincided with a supply chain disruption. Many bicycle parts are manufactured abroad, mostly in China and Taiwan. When COVID-19 initially hit, production there ceased.

Brown reflected, “I keep selling out and finding that it’s difficult to get certain items back in stock.”  Because of the disruption, he’s no longer swapping out a bad bike tire for a new one. “Right now, 26-inch bike tubes are sold out nationwide, which leaves me patching bicycle tires for the first time in 20 years.”

This wave of bicycling with limited inventory has also given way to a new kind of creativity. Brown mentioned he’s seeing less waste as people are repurposing bike parts to meet their needs. “I recently spoke with a customer who borrowed the tire off of his wife’s old bike to make do as we wait for new tires to restock. I’m also seeing people stuff 27-inch tubes in 26-inch tires. The demand plus disruption is forcing everyone to get creative.”

The uptick in sales appears not to have affected the pricier end of the bicycle market to the extent it has more affordable models. Tim Fry, owner of Grand Junction-based MRP, which produces high-end bike components, shared a recent industry survey that found almost 60% of high-end users have put their new bike purchase on hold due to the pandemic, and 20% of those have put their purchase on hold indefinitely.  “The high-end, passion-driven part of our industry is pretty resilient, but during economic downturns it is common to see people focus on smaller upgrade purchases versus complete bikes.  With that being said, we are still hearing that there are shortages within this segment as well, and that it will take a few months for the supply to get back in balance with the demand.”

Whether cycling is a lifelong passion or a newfound hobby, enthusiastic riders are contributing to a healthy Mesa County while simultaneously supporting local businesses. Cycling business owners only ask in return for an extra dose of patience while they do their best to handle the huge demand with limited supply during the new COVID-19 Bicycle Culture.

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