Chain reaction: Edmonton bike shops busier than ever during COVID-19 pandemic
Expect lineups and wait-lists for service, store owners say
Edmonton bicycle shop owners say they are busier than ever as stir-crazy customers rush to buy new bikes or have rusty rides repaired.
Lineups out the door and weeks-long waiting lists for repairs are now the norm at shops where staff try to process orders as quickly and as safely as they can.
The rush arrived in the last two weeks as the weather improved and Edmontonians — housebound for weeks by COVID-19 restrictions — started looking at their options for outdoor exercise.
"A few weeks ago, we were wondering how we were going to pay rent," said Andrew Phelps, co-owner of the Cranky's Bike Shop stores in Riverbend and St. Albert.
"Now, it's how can we answer 300 phone calls a day?"
Customers lined up outside Hardcore Bikes on Whyte Avenue on Tuesday, the busiest day the small store has ever seen.
High demand is normal in the spring, owner Mark Rumsey said, but his shop is used to seeing a spring wait list of about 10-days or two weeks. Now Hardcore Bikes has a wait-list four weeks long. The queues for service at both Cranky's Bike Shop locations are comparable.
More people buying entry-level bikes
Shop owners say sales of inexpensive bikes, entry-level road and mountain bikes, used bikes and children's bikes have increased as customers with little-to-no cycling experience decide to give it a try.
At Hardcore Bikes, children's bike sales have doubled.
"It feels like everybody's just antsy," said Mike Cotfas, who recently relocated his shop, Mike's Bikes and Beans, to a larger location on Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona.
"They want to be out of the house and be out by themselves," he said.
Taking precautions due to pandemic
Bike shops, which were deemed an essential service in Alberta last month, are in a precarious position.
Owners say they appreciate more business but worry about the health of their staff and the potential of contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
To sell more safely, shop staff are disinfecting bikes with rubbing alcohol, washing their hands dozens of times a day and banning customers from browsing.
At Millwoods Sports and Cycle, co-owner Kevin Chase said just one customer is allowed in the store at a time.
If helmets are handled but not purchased, staff at Hardcore Bikes quarantine them for three days in a storage room.
"I've been told by nurses that's probably overkill, but we're trying to err on the side of caution," Rumsey said.
The restrictions slow down the pace of transactions, but several owners said customers have been patient and understanding, waiting for up to half an hour in line and keeping a distance from staff and products.
Non-profit society sees more new cyclists
Bike Edmonton, formerly known as the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society, planned to move its north-side community bike workshop to a new downtown location in early April, but has delayed that opening due to the pandemic.
Just the non-profit society's south location remains open, and only for sales of bikes and parts by appointment.
Limiting traffic and offering more structured one-on-one service could be contributing to a shift in the shop's clientele, said executive director Chris Chan.
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On sunny spring days, the society's shops are packed with cyclists, mostly male, working on their own bikes.
But now that access is by appointment only, more women are visiting the shop to purchase new bikes and parts. The shop is also seeing more visitors who are new to cycling.
"It's a different kind of atmosphere and a different kind of interaction when you go into a shop that's just packed full and super hectic, versus booking an appointment and having one-on-one service," Chan said.
The society is considering continuing with an appointment model even after the pandemic ends.
When might bike boom end?
Shop owners say they have no idea when business might go back to normal.
"At this point, we can't even plan for what's going to happen," Phelps said.
In the meantime, Cotfas said he and his two employees are working overtime to finish repairs as quickly as possible.
"I'm fortunate that I love what I do," he said.