Water bottle cages and inner tubes have been as hard to find as flour, pasta and loo roll during the coronavirus lockdown as demand for bikes and cycling accessories has soared across the UK.
Here in Bristol, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people of all ages out on their bikes. It has been a lovely upside during a very difficult time. But it means that new bikes – especially the most affordable – are in very short supply and repair shops have been overwhelmed with requests for services.
Rachel Dickinson from Bristol Cycling Campaign talks to three Bristol bike shops to find out how they have coped with the surge in demand during lockdown.
“It has been absolutely chaotic from the get-go”, says Matt Sully, owner of Sully Cycles on the Wells Road in Knowle. Known for being a fast-turnaround repair shop, Matt has had to work flat-out to try to keep up with demand.
“I am working 70 hours a week in the shop just to cut through the work plus another seven or eight hours on admin. In other words, I haven’t really slept properly for the past three months!”
Matt’s new bikes have flown out of the shop. “We’ve only got five bikes right now. Trying to get hold of stock – both bikes and accessories – has been really difficult. Water bottle cages are completely sold out and our sales of inner tubes have gone up 2000%. Keeping our repair stock up has been really challenging. And our April delivery of bikes for the summer never landed.”
It’s a similar story on Gloucester Road at Rollquick Bicycles. “It has been madness,” says manager Barney Smith. “In terms of servicing, we consistently have about 150 people in the virtual queue, which equates to a wait of a month and a half.”
Rollquick is operating an online booking system. “It has been very, very busy,” says Barney. “We make sure services aredone in a day to minimise the number of bikes in the shop at any one time. Luckily, we extended out into the back room before this all kicked off so we have got plenty of space.”
Rollquick sells a range of bikes but getting new stock has been a hugechallenge. “There are not many bikes out there and many companies are out of stock,” says Barney. “We had to look further afield and managed to buy some from France and America.”
“Most of our sales have been at the budget end, anything under £400 was snapped up immediately. We try to be an average joe – we’re never snobby – but now all we can get hold of are the really expensive bikes.”
There has also been a rise in demand for electric bikes and the Electric Bike Shop in Redland has been “exceptionally busy” says marketing manager Helen Gadbury.
E-bikes allow a lot of more people tocycle but they are not just for old people, says Helen. “They can be used by any age and for any purpose. They are great for commuters, you don’t have to have a shower when you get to work, and they really help with Bristol’s hills.”
Evidence of the surge in cycling is not just apparent in busy bike shops, it’s there to see on the streets of Bristol. “At the beginning of lockdown, I saw more bikes on the road than cars,” says Helen. “The empty roads have enabled people to cycle who might not have done so otherwise – people have realised how horrendous it is getting in a car.”
Cleaner air, less cars and endless sunny days have all helped to get more people out on their bikes. “It’s great to see everyone cycling,” says Barney at Rollquick. “You can just see the fitness of Bristol going up.”
“For me, I feel more comfortable going on a bike ride with friends than I would meeting them in a park because it is easier to socially distance. It’s also incredibly good for your mental health.”
There are a lot of reasons for the cycling surge, he says. “People don’t want to go on the bus and the roads are so empty. The weather has been incredible for months. And, with furlough, a lot of people have had time off.”
However, things have now moved on with lockdown easing and car levels back to normal; how can Bristol City Council encourage all these new cyclists to keep using their bikes?
It’s about confidence, says Matt. “The quiet roads – especially in the first weeksof lockdown – really helped new cyclists to get out on their bikes and build their confidence. It would be really good if more cycle lanes were built quickly to give people that confidence. But this could take time and the important thing is for people who have tried cycling during lockdown to keep doing it.”
Barney says: “I would like to see moredesignated cycle lanes, especially on busy roads and hills like Ashley Down Road. Even as a seasoned cyclist, I still find many cars get uncomfortably close.Cycle paths and lanes definitely help people feel less anxious about cycling.”
Helen adds: “I think much more practical thought needs to go into road design and there needs to be much more consultation with cyclists. I have seen changes to road layouts that have made it harder for cycling not easier.”
Let’s hope, for the sake of these busy bike shops and the health of our city, that the cycling surge continues.
To find out more about Bristol Cycling Campaign please visit bristolcycling.org.uk