Get a grip: cycling new go-to activity during pandemic

Cyclist and volunteer mechanic Ken Vandermeer assembles a new bike at The Bicycle Shop on Oct. 1. Keeping up with demand has been difficult this year, says owner Scott McPhee. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

With many sports shut down and fewer athletic activities on offer, local residents have found a different outlet – riding a bike.

This year people have pulled out their old bikes or bought new one and taken to the streets, bike lanes and trails in numbers not seen in decades.

“It’s the quickest I’ve ever sold that amount of bikes,” said Scott McPhee, owner of The Bicycle Shop on Front Street. “This was insane. I’ve never seen it before.”

Cycling is distanced and it’s outside, and thus has the blessing of health authorities.

“Everybody needs an outlet,” McPhee said. “The gyms were an outlet for people, but if they couldn’t do that, what could they do?”

Sarnia’s Blackwell Cycle bike shop was closed last week and staff unavailable for comment.

At Sport Chek, every adult bicycle it had sold out within two weeks of the Lambton Mall reopening, said hard goods sales manager Tanner Godwin.

Bells, tires, helmets and lights also flew off the shelves.

“A lot more adult-size bikes than children this year, and it’s usually the opposite. More 20-year-old and up were getting into biking.”

McPhee said his commuter bikes for “every day riders” disappeared first. He had a 400-unit shortfall because bike manufacturers simply couldn’t keep up with demand.

“I’m already pre-selling next year’s product,” he said. “So I’m a year ahead.”

This year’s Bluewater International Granfondo was cancelled because of the pandemic. But even a virtual cycling program it set up attracted 200 participants, said organizer Ken MacApline.

The program, which replaced 12-week group rides leading up to the August tour, had riders log their kilometres and track their progress in a fitness app, he said.

“There was a significant number who were talking about wiping off their 10- and 20-year-old bikes in the basement. People are home more and cycling has been something they’ve latched onto.”

Within the growing cycling community road safety has become “paramount,” MacApline added. Riders are tired of being “buzzed” by cars that pass too closely, and a new countywide initiative promoting cyclist safety is the works, he said.

The 2021 Bluewater Granfondo is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 1. More than 90% of those who registered for this year’s cancelled event have already secured a spot at next year’s ride.