The coronavirus pandemic has created a boom in bicycle sales not seen in decades. With people locked out of gyms, commuters fearful of public transit and children going stir crazy inside their homes during shelter-in-place, many have turned to bicycles.
Over the past two months, bicycle sales saw their biggest spike in the U.S. since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Sales of adult leisure bikes tripled in April while overall U.S. bike sales, including children’s’ and electric-assist bicycles, doubled from the year before,
Vacaville is experiencing the same. said Ray Posey, owner of Ray’s Cycle on Main Street, which has been around for 49 years.
“We’re tracking at about 35 percent over seasonal sales,” he said. “We were loaded to the gills with new bikes, but then all of a sudden we got slammed on repairs. When COVID first kicked off, all kinds of bikes came out of hiding, bikes that haven’t seen daylight in 30 years.”
Posey had 500 bikes in stock in March. Recently he had just 43, less than a week’s worth of inventory at this time of year.
“Our wave started a little bit later,” he said. “The box stores ran out of bikes. That’s when we started noticing it. Now my supply chain is empty… Everybody wants a beach cruiser. We ran out of those first. Then we ran out of mountain bikes. Then we ran out of hybrids.”
If you can find a new or used bicycle, or if you are dusting off your old one to take it out on the road again, here are some tips from long-time cyclist and mountain biker Bill Marlin of Vacaville.
“Mostly for the beginners the first thing I tell them right up front is that they go to their doctor and make sure they are physically fit to be able to do this,” he said. “This isn’t a five-second workout… If you have high blood pressure or an existing heart condition in your family, cycling is probably not the sport for you.”
He recommends flat handlebars, like on a mountain bike, rather than the drop bars of a racing bike.
“A flat bar is much easier,” he said. “The drop bars drop you down about another six inches lower. You’re more upright in your riding (with flat handlebars).”
And racing bikes are expensive.
“You don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive bike,” said Marlin. “I know there are a lot of people who go, ‘Oh look at that one, that one’s something.’ It’s not going to make you any faster. It’s all about the motor.”
The motor is you, the rider. And there are things you can do to make sure your motor is at its best when you mount your bike.
One is to drink plenty of water before, during and after your ride. What you eat is also important.
“If you really want to get into it, you’re probably going to have to change your diet a bit,” said Marlin. “You are going to want to eat stuff that’s got protein in it with a little bit of carbohydrates.”
Marlin also advises beginners or those just returning to bicycling to start out slowly.
“You don’t have to go out and ride big miles right off the get-go because you hear that all these other people do it,” he advised. “Increase it a little bit, don’t take big steps. Don’t expect big gains. Maybe at the very beginning you are going to see big gains. But once you are riding you hit plateaus where you don’t see any improvement.”
Plateaus can be discouraging, Marlin acknowledged, but one must plow through them.
“If you do ride and you have disappointments, you have to have the tenacity to continue,” he said. “A lot of people get a little discouraged and they put it off. The hardest part about riding is actually throwing your leg over the thing and getting in the saddle and starting to pedal.”
Marlin uses a paper log (he has a GPS tracker as well) to record the miles and times of each ride so he can mark his progress and improvement.
Planning your ride is important.
“Don’t take off on a ride where you don’t know what to expect,” he said.
Consider the weather.
“On a super hot day, I’m not going to go out and hammer as hard as I can,” he said. “It’s what I call a survivor ride, where it’s more important for me to get hydrated and stay hydrated and complete the ride than to go out and see if I can set new times.”
He also considers the wind.
“If it’s really windy out of the north, and I want to go north, I’ll ride up Pleasants Valley Road because the trees shelter that road pretty good from stuff,” he said.
Take traffic patterns into account.
“On Pleasants Valley Road you are going to have traffic going all the way from the north side of Pleasants Valley heading south in the morning,” he noted. “All those folks are heading to work or going to the store or heading into town. If you plan your ride so you’re heading north when they are going south, all you have is vehicles that are approaching you, not so many from the rear. And then reverse it in the afternoon. They’re going to be coming home, so I want to be heading south on Pleasants Valley Road in the afternoon.”
Marlin recommended bringing some nutrition with you. Protein bars are good. Bananas help prevent cramping, as do foods rich in calcium.
It is important to stretch before you ride. Marlin spends 30 minutes stretching his hamstrings, quads, calves and Achilles tendons.
Dress properly for riding.
“I probably wear the brightest, loudest clothes you could ever want to wear,” said Marlin. “That is just so people can see me from a pretty good distance. And then I run lights on my bike. Even though it’s in the middle of the day, the lights are so bright that people can see me.”
Marlin gave other clothing tips.
“Make sure you have a really good helmet. I recommend to always wear gloves,” he said. “If you do fall off the bike, you’re not going to lose layers of skin off the palms of your hand breaking your fall. You’re going to tear up a pair of gloves and you’re ready to go again.”
He covers as much of his body as possible to prevent sun exposure and uses sunscreen on those parts that are still exposed.
Make sure your eyes are protected from bees and other insects.
“Most sunglasses work,” said Marlin. “You want a pair of sunglasses that sits far enough off the bridge of your nose or away from your face so that when you do sweat you’re not showering the inside of those sunglasses with sweat. I wear these really narrow micro headbands. It’s a gutter. I put it on my head right above my eyebrows and any sweat that’s going to run off my head follows the edge of that. It allows the wind to push the sweat off to both sides of my face.”
In the winter Marlin uses a neck gaiter which he instead pulls down over his head and ears to stay warm. He also uses a black helmet to absorb heat, while in the summer he uses a white helmet to reflect the rays.
He noted that riders need to consider how much daylight is left when planning a ride. For many adults, the only time they can ride is when they get home from work. They need to consider when the sun will be going down so they can get home before that, as riding in the dark affects depth perception and overall safety.
Marlin does not wear a face mask when he rides.
“One of the formulas that I use in hydraulics and pneumatics is ‘the more you flow, the more you go,’” said Marlin, who does some bike repairs in his spare time. “And that works with the human body too. The more air I can breathe in and control how I breathe it out, the better I’m going to go. But I will say this: The mask will protect you from having a yellowjacket fly in your mouth because you’re panting so hard.”
Health officials urge bicyclists to ride solo during the pandemic rather than in groups. That is something Marlin was already practicing 90 percent of the time, in part because it’s easy to cause accidents with other riders in a group.
Once you’re on the road, listen to your body.
“If you’re having a muscle problem or something like that, take a day or two off,” said Marlin. “It’s not paramount that you have to do that every day. It’s okay to skip a day here and there and let your body heal up.”
Despite all the preparation and precautions involved in bicycling, Marlin still loves it.
“For me it’s almost been like flying,” he said. “You’ve got that wind in your face, there is no other sound out there but you huffing and puffing. And it’s a great way to get rid of stress.”
Here are some FAQs courtesy of CalBike.org about bicycling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Can I ride outside during a shelter-in-place mandate?
Yes! Bicycling for exercise and to travel to essential activities are permitted in every county in California under current versions of the stay home order.
Where can I get my bike fixed?
At your bike shop (probably). Bicycle repair services are designated as essential businesses.
Where can I get a used bike for cheap or free?
The sudden surge in demand for bikes for essential travel has sparked Californians into action. New platforms are springing up to connect people with extra bikes with those who need them.
Where can I get a new bike?
You can buy a bike from an online retailer and have it delivered, but we recommend test riding a bike before committing to it and developing a relationship with your local bike shop in the process.
How do I bike responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ride alone or only with people you’re quarantined with. Maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others you pass on the road. Avoid following closely behind other riders. Do not go on any organized group rides.