This Coronavirus pandemic sucks on so many levels, from the hideous death toll to the life-shaking job losses. One beacon of light through the whole horrific scheisse-show has been our primal need to put the body in motion. To exercise. The kyboshing of organised sports around the globe has only accentuated that need and seen clubs, shops and others improvising to keep the sweet sporting juices flowing.
Exercise has been a crutch for the already athletic, and something the normally sedentary have turned to in droves to boost physical, mental and even spiritual wellbeing in dark times. Hate to sound trite but the Coronavirus has provoked an exercise boom, and as activities that can be done solo, running and cycling are at the vanguard.
City bike rental schemes have seen record demand and bike shops across the world are in the midst of a mini-boom despite lockdown-forced closures for varying periods of time depending on the country.
Those who have for years called for automobile-free urban utopias have cheered as vehicle journeys have been cut in a drastically checked economy and cycling has flourished. Check this video of London the other day.
This is astounding. Certainly blows away the ‘people here won’t ride bikes’ argument.
There is absolutely no reason this can’t be so in other major cities across the UK. If we choose to enable it. And right now is the time to do so. There will never be a more appropriate time. https://t.co/xey1o5xv84
— Chris Boardman (@Chris_Boardman) May 25, 2020
Exercising lockdown limits
The importance of exercise has not been lost on governments – outdoor exercise has usually been sanctioned as a vital activity for the health of the general population, if with limits or short-term prohibitions during severe lockdowns in hard-hit countries like France, Italy and Spain where only food or drug expeditions were permitted.
In the UK, current National Health Service (NHS) advice about social distancing cites exercise/time outdoors as one of only four “specific reasons to leave your home”, the others being work, if you can’t work from home; shopping for essentials like food/medicine and medical reasons like donating blood, escaping harm or providing care for a vulnerable person.
‘The power of the bicycle…’
Sales are through the roof at UK-based bike shop chain, Rutland Cycling, which has pushed out plenty of blog content from its #TeamRutland Ambassadors exploring “the power of the bicycle to boost your mental and physical health”.
“Lockdown riding has been strange for me,” relayed Ambassador Josh Wallis. “Riding my bike has been the only pleasure to enjoy outside of regular trips to the fridge. I’ve used this period to just enjoy riding my bike and the freedom it brings.”
Rutland Cycling said the lockdown had driven bike, accessories and repair revenues up 125% across its 14 stores and online.
“While we’ve taken the decision to keep some of our stores closed to keep our staff safe, we’ve seen online orders jump dramatically,” marketing manager David Hicks told The Draft.
“Those stores that have remained open have been offering solely workshop services and have been booked out throughout the last few weeks. We’re pleased to have been offering free bike safety checks and labour to key workers too, to keep them moving to work.”
Rutland also donated 50 bikes to the Leicester City Council to distribute to key workers for essential travel.
Hicks said while Rutland caters to all cycling levels “from first kid’s bikes up to elite racing cyclists” the pandemic had provoked “a large uptick in sub-£1k bike.”
“That has predominantly been hardtail mountain bikes or hybrids as people look to the bike to for regular exercise, or to ride with family. We’ve also seen a lot of higher value bikes too – people making the most of the free time I guess!”
“As more and more people head back to work, we’re expecting to see an increase in electric hybrids as people switch to the bike for transport rather than risk public transport.”
Demand surges, supply strains.
Where I live in Berlin, bike shops were one of the few retail outlets outside supermarkets deemed essential by the city, even during the most stringent phase of the lockdown. While limited by capacity restrictions and broader social distancing behavioural guidelines, the shops spoken to by The Draft all reported surges in demand be it for new bikes, used bikes, rentals, accessories or repairs. Those with e-commerce set-ups reported a similar surge in demand.
“We definitely have an increasing demand on bikes,” said Stefan Schott, owner and founder of popular berlin bike shop and bike maker, 8bar.
“Every bike we built as a show bike got sold immediately, that’s why we had to stop doing rentals.”
Like many bike shops and manufacturers, 8bar is battling to meet demand as it faces lengthy pandemic-caused delays in shipping in frames and parts, usually from Asia.
Cycling communities adapt to COVID
Not all bike-based operations have fared equally well however. Dave Welch, the founder of Girona Bike Breaks in northern Spain, said his bike touring business and bike shop that is a hub in the thriving Girona cycling community had been hit hard by the strict Spanish lockdown which even prevented outdoors exercise from March 14.
Online sales of specialty items like ex-pro team kit has skyrocketed, but the lockdown – which he incidentally supports – closeted his core 300-strong rental bike fleet as bike tours were canned at a typical seasonal high-time. The popular weeklong Girona Cycling Festival Welch and his team organise annually had to be shifted from May to October.
“It’s never been a super serious race event, it’s been competitive, but we expect this year it will just be an awesome celebration of people enjoying riding their bikes together,” Welch told us. “It will be a proper festival of cycling. It’s gonna be a blast!”
“The good thing is that things are moving in the right direction. We can ride now. Shops and bar terraces are opening. Soon we will be able to travel. Hope is coming back.”
Other shops that also function as the hub for large rider communities like Standert Bicycles in Berlin have innovated by challenging riders to tackle designated Strava segments with prizes going to Leaderboard frontrunners over a period of weeks.
Manning Knight Riders, a cycling club in Perth, western Australia, introduced a handicap system for its weekly river-to-coast rides to adapt to the local lockdown which prohibited group rides. Results were studiously plugged into a spreadsheet and debated on the club chat room with results dictating the next week’s handicap start times. The club’s traditional post-ride craft beer tasting and ride debriefing shifted to Zoom and so the club rolled on.
“There was a drop in kilometres from most for a few weeks but the idea of still being out there together, while not actually together, was a real motivator for most,” said club member Darryl Roberts.
Activity trackers and virtual trainers like Strava ad Zwift have also been busy innovating with segment challenges and virtual races and so on to keep legs turning both in and outdoors.
“We have definitely seen a significant rise in activity uploads and new users,” said Dillon Clapp, worldwide marketing manager at cycling apparel brand and GPS maker, Lezyne.
Strava noted COVID-19 had forced a rethink, compelling it to repackage its offerings to give more to its subscribers and less to those who use the app for free.
In a letter to Strava users the San Francisco operation said the pandemic had inspired “introspection and focus” leading it to “rededicating Strava to our community.”
That meant “51 athlete-facing improvements already in 2020” that included map and route improvements and the removal of ‘sponsored integrations’ from activity feeds.
Despite the fact Strava is not yet profitable, it emphasised its free version was not in jeopardy as it recognised “there are athletes struggling to make ends meet and that the free version of Strava must remain high quality and useful.”