A rush to ride: Valley cycling stores report run on bikes for exercise, escape

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  • Behind a burgeoning stack of work orders, mechanics Jacob Sheppard-Saidel, left, and Zach Mundt do tune-ups and repairs Friday at Laughing Dog Bicycles in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Josh Alstede, left, a mechanic at Highland Hardware and Bike Shop in Holyoke, helps customer Dane Kane, center, of Granby and his neighbor Joe Cerniawski, right, with a damaged wheel Friday at the shop on Hampden Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Bicycle mechanic Bob Kowalewski changes a rear brake cable on a child’s bike Friday in the shop on Pleasant Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Parker Ramspott, right, owner of Laughing Dog Bicycles in Amherst, helps customer Phyllis Labanowski of North Amherst schedule a tune-up Friday outside the shop on South Pleasant Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Rhys May of Northampton Bicycle walks a youth bike into the service area at the shop Friday, past an older Western Flyer three-speed that was also in for a tune-up. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Laughing Dog Bicycles mechanic Jacob Sheppard-Saidel trues a wheel Friday at the shop on South Pleasant Street in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bradford Smith, left, and Bob Kowalewski, mechanics at Northampton Bicycle, work on tuneups and upgrades Friday at the shop on Pleasant Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Customer Jeff Baker, center, of Leeds pays for a brake adjustment Friday at Northampton Bicycle as employee Rhys May, right, readies another bike for service at the shop on Pleasant Street. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2020 11:33:48 AM

Spring is usually a busy time for bike stores, as warmer weather beckons people outside and cyclists get their machines tuned up for the new riding season — or invest in a new bike.

But the outbreak of COVID-19 has added a new wrinkle to the picture. With most people stuck at home, and athletic fields, tennis courts, gyms and other places closed, many are longing for a safe way to exercise — and they’ve been snapping up lower-cost bicycles throughout the area.

At Northampton Bicycle, General Manager Leila Everett says the store has probably sold more children’s bikes this year “than the last three years combined,” while sales to adult riders of lower-end hybrid bikes — those roughly in the $450-$900 range — have also skyrocketed, pretty much cleaning out the store’s inventory on those models.

“It’s been crazy,” Everett said “You have a lot of people coming in, some who haven’t ridden a bike in years, saying ‘I need something to do, I want to exercise, I want a bike.’ ”

Karen Stefanik of Chicopee is just that sort of person. She and her husband, Craig, recently bought four hybrid bikes for themselves and their two sons, ages 14 and 11, so that they could do some family riding. With summer camps no longer an option for her boys, Stefanik says she was becoming a little frantic about finding some kind of activity — a safe one — they could all take part in.

“I haven’t been on a bike in 20 years,” she said. “But my kids were due for an upgrade in their bikes, and they were definitely on board when I pitched the idea to them.”

Stefanik said she and her husband, who occasionally rides a mountain bike, called a number of bike stores in the area but couldn’t find anything in their price range. But Northampton Bicycle had what they needed, and now she says she’s ready for rides in state parks, on bike trails and other locations: “Something we can all look forward to.”

Spring is always a busy time at the shop for bike repairs as well, Everett noted, but this year it’s busier than ever, with the store facing a two-week backlog on much of the work. “We’ve only been able to accommodate [storing] all those bikes because we’ve sold a lot more than usual, so we have space in our basement,” she said.

Much of the stepped-up service work, Everett said, appears to be from people with older bikes who haven’t ridden them in a while, but are now returning to them for exercise — and some psychological relief — during the pandemic.

“You have families who are all stuck at home, and some are looking to do something with their kids outside,” said Jacob Sheppard-Saidel, who works at Laughing Dog Bicycles in Amherst. “Biking together is a good option right now with so many places closed.”

At Laughing Dog, there’s also a longer backlog than usual for repairs, Sheppard-Saidel said, while the store’s lower-cost bicycles — hybrid models that are multipurpose machines for fitness, commuting and general recreational riding — have all been snapped up. More are expected in late June or by early July, he says, but right now the shop is primarily carrying more expensive — $1,000 and up — road, mountain and fat-tire bikes.

A national trend

None of this is happening in a vacuum. Nationwide, according to a number of reports, sales of commuter and fitness bikes have almost doubled from the same period last year, while demand for bicycle services have also increased. Sales of electric bikes have also jumped.

At the same time, disruptions in the global supply chain caused by the pandemic — including the closing earlier this year of factories in China where many bikes are made — have created shortages both in lower-cost bicycles and various bike components, from brake pads to air pumps.

Sheppard-Saidel says some of this may well be due to what he calls “panic buying” by some of the larger bike retailers in the U.S., who grabbed large amounts of inventory from suppliers when COVID-19 hit. “It’s left the smaller stores struggling to get some of these items,” he said.

Robert Margevicius, executive vice president of Specialized, one of the biggest bike companies in the U.S., recently told the New York Times that he’d never seen such demand for a broad range of bike products: “Everybody is scrambling to get more.”

Some feel they beat the worst of the rush by getting out ahead of the pandemic curve. Valley Bike and Ski Werks in Hadley, which carries several lines of Specialized brand bicycles, has been able to keep more of its lower-cost hybrid bikes in stock. Owner Charlie Canalizo said the store put in additional orders for those bikes early in spring, which has helped them keep pace with increased sales so far.

“We keep a pretty good inventory,” Canalizo said, though he added that delays in the supply chain mean 2021 model bikes, which normally would have been introduced by later this summer, will probably not arrive until late fall.

Joe Mai, owner of Joe’s Garage in Haydenville, suggests that the worst of the bike shortages may be found in more urban areas, where many people who normally get exercise by going to gyms have turned to bicycles instead.

“This is a pretty healthy area where a lot of people are already riding bikes,” Mai said, although he has also seen an increase in demand for lower-cost hybrids.

But, he noted, “I still have 40 bikes on the floor — just not any under $1,000.”

Bike store owners and staff don’t see the increased demand locally for bikes as something tied to people wanting to save money by cycling instead of driving a car. As Sheppard-Saidel puts it, someone who has lost a job because of the pandemic “probably has other things to be concerned about than buying a bike.”

But the net effect of having more people on two wheels is unquestionably a good thing, both he and Everett say, when you consider climate change as well as personal health. “I’m thrilled to see so many people turning to bicycles,” Everett said.

And perhaps the pandemic will help usher in some more lasting changes , with more people choosing to use a bicycle rather than a car or public transportation when the situation permits.

“That’s really the direction we need to go,” Sheppard-Saidel said, referring to the push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change. “That’s something the bicycle can do.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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