Thunder Bay

Cycling 'renaissance' here to stay as demand for bikes shows no signs of slowing down

It's been over a year since the pandemic triggered a bike boom across Canada, and Thunder Bay Ont.-based bike shops and organizations are still experiencing heightened demand one year later.

In the last year local cycling shops have had a hard time keeping bikes in stock

Community Spokes moved into its own space in the fall of 2020. Shop owner and operator Ian Cameron, right, says the high demand for bikes amid the pandemic has helped his business and community to grow. (Submitted by Ian Cameron)

It's been over a year since the pandemic triggered a bike boom across the country, and Thunder Bay, Ont., bike shops and cycling clubs are still experiencing heightened demand one year later.

For Ian Cameron, owner and operator of Community Spokes, the demand hasn't slowed since last spring, which has resulted in his business kicking into gear to meet the needs of the growing local cycling community.

"It's really amazing that I've had the high demand … I've been able to put that money into just hiring people and just building a strong team to be a part of," said Cameron in an interview with CBC Radio.

"So it's just kind of building that community. Not just with volunteers, as it used to be, now having a community of staff and volunteers, and yeah, so that's been a nice change for 2021 compared to 2020." 

Community Spokes specializes in building, selling and renting out used bikes, and offers a free do-it-yourself repair space where community members can access resources such as tools and the "know-how" of volunteers and staff.

An outdoor bike shop was just one of many adaptations Community Spokes made over the last year to keep up with the bike demand amid the pandemic. (Submitted by Ian Cameron)

In the last year, the shop has adapted its services to be more COVID-19 safe by starting initiatives like an outdoor bike shop. Cameron said soon Community Spokes will be also launching a web page with over 100 bikes for purchase.

"So that will at least quench the thirst for demand for probably about two seconds and then they will all be gone then we'll be in the same position we are now," he said with a laugh.

Cameron attributes the demand locally to an overall growing interest in the sport and culture of cycling, the need for safe and affordable transportation amid the pandemic, and also a greater appreciation for outdoor recreation.

He said the last year has made it clear to him the "biking renaissance" is just beginning, "especially in the recreational area, like mountain biking, road biking and biking on weekends. That is just exploding right now … that will only feed into more cycling in our personal lives, in our commutes, in our transportation, in our picking up our groceries, in our daily chores."

Pandemic cycling boom creates lasting bike shortage

1 year ago
Duration 2:10
Cycling has exploded in popularity during the pandemic and it has created a shortage in supplies — and not just for bikes, but also for their parts. The shortage is expected to last well into summer 2021.

Local cycling club hopes for growing membership 

Despite the boom in bike sales, The Thunder Bay Cycling Club (TBCC) has seen a decline in membership through the pandemic, largely due to the cancellation of popular group events.

"Due to the COVID restrictions and the direction from the Ontario Cycling Association, we weren't able to undertake our large group rides, in particular our women's rides, which is the largest portion of our membership," explained Stéphane Audet, president of TBCC.

While regular TBCC programming has halted, the club has been focusing on awareness and engagement of the different experiences available to cyclists in the city. Audet said the club is still promoting programming such as time trials, racing and Cyclo-cross.

Audet said while this past year has presented challenges for the club, he's hopeful the uptick in cycling and demand for bikes will result in a growing membership in the coming years.

"We certainly feel that once people have confidence that they'll actually be able to participate, the events will be taking place within the Thunder Bay Cycling Club, that people will be coming back and will be joining our membership again," said Audet.

The TBCC is working with the OCA to create a plan to return to regular events once the provincial COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Audet said the club will start with individual events, and will gradually work up to racing programs and group rides.