The bollards lining Snow King Avenue went up about two months early back in mid-April, with the town reporting use of the bicycle lane up 166% this year over last.
It’s a trajectory that the eye test corroborates, not just on Snow King but on every inch of in-town bike path and trail around the valley.
If the ocular observation isn’t enough, take it from the folks who spend their workweeks fine-tuning those machines to keep the quarantined masses at peace on the paths.
At Wilson Backcountry Sports they’re servicing bicycles and selling them at perhaps the highest clip ever. Owner Andy Olpin said he’s taking appointments for servicing, but his waitlist is twice as long as it was this time a year ago.
“I feel bad for my customers who need a tune, but I can’t get them in for three weeks and that’s a drag,” he said. “But I suppose it’s a good problem to have, staying busy.”
Olpin said he had shut his shop down for the entirety of April, though in hindsight he wishes he hadn’t. Wilson Backcountry has been doing curbside business, though as restrictions from the state loosen he plans to adopt the one-in, one-out policy for perusing customers.
The one-in, one-out model has worked through the past two months at Hoff’s Bikesmith. It’s annual bike swap was canned, with tentative hopes to revive it later this summer. Still, business is booming between repairs and sales, even without the seasonal kick-off event.
“Across the board we’re seeing bikes that haven’t been ridden in 15 years getting pulled out of rafters and getting a facelift and a fresh tune,” manager Bryce Carroll said. “Then we’re also seeing people that are like, it’s just time for a new one and they’re diving into the sport wholeheartedly.”
The social distancing and limiting of customers in-shop for bike businesses isn’t so much a hurdle, but the demand is causing one. At The Hub, owner Hal Wheeler said affordable bikes or kids’ bikes are going the way of the jackalope: highly sought after but impossibly hard to find.
“One of the cool-not cool things is basically every one of my manufacturers are sold out of kids bikes,” Wheeler said. “Everything 24 inches and under is gone for the year, which is unheard of.”
Lower and moderately priced adult mountain bikes are drying up, too. Wheeler said it’s hard for him to get anything under $1,000 from the manufacturer, but he still has a good stock of bikes in the $1,500 to $2,000 range.
“Anything under $1,000 is almost impossible to get,” he said.
Olpin said that’s the story for bike shops coast to coast. Even looking at Giant’s manufacturer page for retailers, the $3,000 and under models are scarce.
“It’s one of the sports you can safely do and physically distance,” he said. “It created a demand that was unforeseen.”
It’s a positive, in that their industry is seeing a real boom while most businesses are left picking up the pieces after two months of trying to just stay afloat. But the quick spike could be leaving shops high and dry for the rest of the year when it comes to new whips.
“I would say one of the biggest concerns across the entire industry is [manufacturers] are all saying they’re almost out of stuff,” Carroll said. “So if you guys need stuff, order it now or forever hold your peace.”
In August 2019 JHCycling shuttered, turning the reins on local cycling races like the Cache Creek Mountain Bike Race to Wheeler and The Hub. Competitions across the board have largely been wiped out, but Wheeler said Monday the Cache Creek race is on, albeit in late summer this year. Originally slated to go off June 27, it received permission from the Forest Service to reschedule it for Sept. 2.
With ever-changing numbers on group sizes allowed by the state, exactly how that race will unfold is unknown, Wheeler said. But the plan is to go ahead, and possibly with a slew of new racers, considering all the first-time bike enthusiasts born to the coronavirus pandemic these past two months.
“There are cycling races taking place around the country, but it’s pretty unclear how to take safety measures when you’re racing,” Wheeler said. “Especially on the singletrack.”