Bike boom continues as DC area moves toward reopening

In the middle of coronavirus-related measures, there has been big jump in bicycle sales in April. And D.C.-area bike shops have been struggling to keep up with the demand.

It’s not unusual to see a spike in sales as the weather warms up, but this is different, according to Laurie Lemieux, president and co-owner of Proteus Bicycles in College Park, Maryland.

“I’m working eight days a week right now,” she said. “I’m basically just going back and forth to work on my bike” all to keep up with the demand for sales and for service.

People who were already tired of being cooped up because of the stay-at-home orders imposed by the coronavirus pandemic were looking to get out of the house.

“They want to go around the neighborhood, they want to get outside,” Lemieux said, adding that “bicycling is a very empowering activity.”

Lots of people buying are either new to biking altogether or haven’t been on a bike in years.

“I get emails every day,” she said, mostly from riders looking for guidance on what type of bike to buy.

Lemieux said most were looking for recreational or hybrid bikes.

“We sold all the bikes that were under $500, then we sold all the bikes under $700,” and with those out of stock, Lemieux found that customers were increasingly willing to buy at a higher price point.

And color preferences went out the window. “Oh, they don’t care” she said, they just want to get on a bike. “Basically we’ll get a few at a time, and they’re gone within hours.”

Families are also buying bikes at an increasing rate. “I had one guy who bought six bikes from me in one afternoon. He was buying bikes for his four kids and he and his wife.”

It’s not just bike sales that have local shops backed up: A jump in requests for repairs and tuneups mean customers are having to wait, and bike shops, such as Lemieux’s, have had to prioritize.

Flats and emergency repairs come first, and tuneups come later. Lemieux said the shop will ask customers if they can wait if all they need are minor adjustments. “We don’t want to keep someone’s bikes for three weeks.”

Typically, requests for annual safety checks and tuneups increase in the spring. “Even in summertime, we try to do a 72-hour turnaround, and we’re not there. We’re just asking people to wait.”

Part of what motivated many people to take up biking was the drop in traffic volume caused by the regional shutdown, said Lemieux. And for others, the bike is an alternative to Metro. Some customers say they’d prefer not to get back on crowded Metro cars or buses.

People who might have been nervous about riding a bike found with fewer cars on the road, they felt more confident. “The streets are quiet now,” said Lemieux, so riders are more likely to get off their local trails and try out bike lanes and neighborhood streets. “But we need more infrastructure because the trails are crowded.”

As Maryland, D.C. and Virginia move toward easing the coronavirus restrictions that kept so many people at home, Lemieux said she hopes that those bikes do not end up gathering dust in garages.

“We just all have to keep riding and advocating for more infrastructure,” she said, referring to more separated bike lanes and trail extensions.

Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, or WABA, said there are current efforts to give people more outlets to ride bikes.

D.C. has created the “Slow Streets Initiative,” which cuts the speed limit to 15 miles per hour on 5 miles of neighborhood streets in the District. It’s a temporary program.

“Drivers can still use the street. They can still park on the street. Deliveries can still be made,” emergency vehicles can still get to homes on these streets, said Billing, “but it really is designed not for thru-traffic, but for local access.”

Billing also pointed out how area counties have closed off some segments of roads for recreational riding.

In Montgomery County, stretches of Sligo Creek Parkway added Fridays and Saturdays to the Sunday closures so that people could get out for walks and bike rides.

WABA has advocated for additional bike infrastructure for decades, and those efforts will continue. But at this point, Billing said, “We’re just kind of focused on the here and now and meeting the demand that’s out there and that we expect to continue throughout the summer.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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