As stay-at-home orders keep residents away from public parks and beaches, many turn to bicycling
San Diego bike shop owners are seeing an unprecedented uptick in business as residents looking to stay active amid stay-at-home orders are suddenly yearning to pedal around their neighborhoods.
“I’ve never sold more bikes in my life,” said shop owner Dan Zapkowski, who runs Pacific Beach Bikes on Grand Avenue.
It began in mid-March, he said, when the stay-home-order was issued. Public recreation spaces closed shortly after, and customers started streaming in the doors — families, couples, individuals. Residents who might normally pack up baseball gloves or volleyballs and head to the beach or park were looking for alternatives to stay active.
“People just want to get outside and get exercise, and really the only options are to walk, run or ride a bicycle,” Zapkowski said.
Bike shops all over San Diego — a group considered “essential businesses” during the COVID-19 pandemic — said they’ve experienced similar leaps in sales.
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook with people asking about buying bikes,” said Chuck Cofer, owner of Adams Avenue Bicycles in Normal Heights. Cofer said he’s personally seen more sales from people hauling out their old bikes from storage, and having them fixed up or repaired than from new bike sales.
The boost in interest is putting some strain on both the supply chain and the business owners, however.
Bike makers and suppliers overwhelmed
Bicycle makers are running low on inventory, making it difficult to receive new shipments of bikes for pining customers in a timely manner.
“A lot of companies are selling out on bikes,” Zapkowski said. “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.”
Some Southern California brands are feeling the squeeze. Sixthreezero, a popular Los Angeles maker of beach cruisers, reported an “extreme increase in demand” for its bikes. The company put a freeze on its sales from April 17 to May 1, hoping to catch up on orders it’s already received.
“We are doing our best to navigate this unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime event that has put unforeseen pressure on our systems,” wrote CEO Dustin Gyger in a statement on its website. “We promise, every bike, every accessory, and every warranty part will get shipped.” Eventually.
In a pre-recorded message on the company’s phone system, Sixthreezero informs customers that its warehouses are “working under severe restrictions on manpower to maintain a safe and responsible work environment.” As a result, shipment time has slowed to about two weeks from start to finish.
Joining Sixthreezero in the freeze is Los Angeles bike maker Pure Cycles, which has closed its store and warehouse — and disabled its normal website — during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s asking customers to sign up for an email update, which will alert them when the company is ready to reopen.
Selling bikes is hard to do with social distancing
Many bike shops around San Diego are putting measures in place to keep their workers and customers safe while continuing to meet local demand. Pacific Beach Bike Shop on Garnet Avenue is limiting customers to one at a time inside its small storefront. Once inside, arrows on the floor indicate a one-way path.
Cofer, the Adams Avenue Bicycles owner, said he’s struggled to know exactly how he should operate. Bicycle shops are considered essential businesses because people rely on bikes for commutes, and therefore need maintenance and repair as much as car owners need auto shops.
“But is the recreational part of our business essential, or am I only supposed to be servicing bikes for commuters with a flat tire? Are we responsible for drawing a line for types of transactions?” Cofer said.
So far, he’s tried to keep foot traffic out of his shop by prescreening interested buyers over the phone before they visit the store.
“People shop bikes harder than they shop cars,” Cofer said, laughing. The process involves a lot of face-to-face interaction and can take an hour or more. Beyond cleaning, he’s also wondered if he should take extra measures to keep his bikes germ-free.
“We’ve seriously considered putting Saran wrap on the handlebars,” Cofer said.
But will the uptick in business last much longer? Zapkowski said that’s been on his mind all month.
“Are we introducing more cyclists into the cyclist community? Or are gym people just buying these temporarily, with plans to sell them when the gym is back up?” Zapkowski said.
He hopes it’s the former. Stationary bikes inside gyms are way less fun.
“You can get your cardio in with a nice leisure cruise around the bay,” he said.
Well, not while bayside paths are still closed down. Maybe one day.