Thanks to COVID-19, the last month has been miserable for many local businesses. Not bicycle shops, though.
“We’re selling bikes like burritos,” says Nate Fitzgerald, a longtime employee of Rage Cycles in Scottsdale.
On a typical Tuesday, Rage Cycles sells anywhere from zero to three bikes.
“Yesterday, Tuesday, we couldn’t count how many bikes we sold,” Fitzgerald says. “We were like, did we sell seven, nine, 10?”
Bike shops are considered an essential business in Arizona, allowed to stay open under Governor Doug Ducey's stay-home order. And with limited options for exercise, recreation, and generally keeping sane, metro Phoenix residents are rediscovering their inner bicyclist — digging through their garages, dusting off their cruisers and their kids’ bicycles, and hitting the road. The paved trails alongside the canals that sprawl across the Valley are so popular these days that it’s sometimes hard to keep six feet away from other riders.
It’s not just Rage Cycles that’s swamped with customers. The Velo is a high-end bike shop in downtown Phoenix, but lately, it has had “a huge increase” in people who “just want to go out and pedal around and keep their sanity,” says Jace Kuyper, general manager. The shop has also sold bikes to local professional athletes looking to stay fit, he said.
At Grey Matter Family Bicycle Shop in Phoenix, business has quadrupled in the last month or so, said Mike Claffey, whose son David owns the shop. On the last weekend in March, it sold close to 30 bikes; before coronavirus, it would sell five or six bikes on a Saturday.
Phoenix New Times also reached out to Landis Cyclery, which operates three shops around the Valley, but it said it was too busy to talk. Asked if he had a few minutes to talk, the manager of Bicycle Ranch in Scottsdale said, “Absolutely not. Right now, we’re just so swamped,” and asked us to call back later.
Bike repairs are way up, too. The backlog of repairs on high-end wheels at Rage Cycles, typically no more than a few days, is now about two weeks, Fitzgerald says. The shop is prioritizing repairs for people who rely on their bicycles for transportation, he adds.
The Rusty Spoke, a volunteer-run community bicycle initiative in downtown Phoenix that teaches and helps people to repair their own bikes and sells parts at or below cost, closed for a few weeks in mid-March to sort things out after Ducey declared a state of emergency, but it is reopening this month. (Disclosure: I sometimes volunteer at The Rusty Spoke.) It serves many people who are homeless or don't have a lot of money.
“I thought about a lot of our customers ... they can’t afford to take their bike to a bike shop to get it repaired,” Spencer Dew, a volunteer there, said of the decision to reopen. “I really wanted us to be available.”
These shops have changed the way they operate as well. Some aren’t allowing customers into the shop at all, offering service at the door or from a table outside. Others are strictly limiting the number of people who can come in at a time. Some have reduced the hours they’re open to the public, to give staff time to work through backlogs of repairs. They’re frequently wiping down surfaces. And while they’re selling dozens of bikes, their sales of accessories and clothing — things that people buy when they can enter a shop and browse — have dropped off.
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The coronavirus shutdown has also put an end to social gatherings — the group rides and the happy hours that make bike shops hubs in their communities. Rage Cycles used to organize bike rides at least twice a month. It organized skills clinics and held an informal happy hour every Friday, Fitzgerald said. Those have ended.
“All the fun is canceled,” he sighed.
Velo used to host group rides on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Those have been replaced with virtual group rides, where people can ride "with" each other to the same backdrop. But to do that, you need a device that allows you to cycle in place at home.
At a minimum of $500, it’s “quite a spread,” Kuyper said. “It’s like a Peloton, but you put your own bike onto it.”