BOISE — 2020 has been a bad year for nearly everything else, but bicycles are having a moment.
Across the country, bicycle retailers and small shops are reporting record sales and an unprecedented demand while people are looking for a way to get out of the house safely during the pandemic. Suppliers are struggling to keep up with the unprecedented demand and bikes, both used and new, are selling out in stores across the country.
Boise, already a bike-friendly city, has seen the same spike as the rest of the country. Tyler Stellrecht, owner and founder of Boise Gear Collective on Capitol Boulevard, described the surge in customers as “complete and utter insanity.”
“There are no more bikes to be had in the country,” he said. “I just got off my rep and they just had a container get off the ship and I was able to get 13 bikes. Every time a container comes into the port they’re gone, like, ‘Boom, see ya.’”
The racks in his store are riddled with with empty slots due to low inventory and his staff has hardly had the time to build the bikes fast enough to get them out on the rack. He said the combination of the slowing manufacturing supply chains to reduce spread of the virus combined with the pent-up desire to get outside during quarantine has created an unprecedented boom in the market.
Sales of all types of bicycles had double-digit gains in March, according to market research company N.P.D. Group. Sales of leisure bikes jumped 121% during that time period, and bike sales overall doubled over March 2019.
Stellrecht said because biking was one of the few activities available during the stay-at-home orders and lots of people were able to spend their $1,200 stimulus checks from the CARES Act, he’s had dozens of customers come in looking for a bike they can buy with the federal cash.
Bikes are not the only thing in short supply, either.
“Basically bike parts have become the new toilet paper,” Stellrecht said. “Trying to get our hands on stuff like chains, bottom brackets and those little maintenance parts we need to service people’s bikes, everything is back ordered now for the next couple of months. It’s like all of the stock has been bought up.”
In the past year, Boise City Council has started ramping up efforts to decrease the number of single car trips per resident, per day in order to reduce congestion and build a more sustainable city. Joe Jaszewski, a member of the Ada County Highway District’s pedestrian advisory group, said more bicycles flying off the shelves and the rise of remote work could lead to more people biking for more than just recreation.
“I think this time period could be the catalyst for a lot of people to try utilitarian biking,” he said. “They might not have tried it in the past because driving is so dang easy around here and there wasn’t a real need to get around by bike, but obviously people working from home a lot more now there might be some opportunities for people to utilize bikes for those trips that are under two miles.”
Purchasing personal bicycles to ride has been in high demand, but Boise Green Bike, the city’s bike share, has been slowly climbing its ridership up from a slump after all of its bikes were pulled from the streets during the stay-at-home order. Boise Green Bike Executive Director Dave Fotsch said when the bikes first returned on May 4 the system was only seeing between 10 and 20 rides per day, but now that the weather has warmed up and the rain has slowed down ridership has increased.
“When the weather is sunny and nice, more people want to ride our bikes, but if it’s cold and rainy they don’t want to,” he said. “It’s been that same way for the entire five years we’ve been in operation.”
Roughly a third of the bikes are sanitized each day, and riders are encouraged to travel with hand sanitizer to use before and after riding, but because the bike share stations are not monitored he is unsure how well this guidance is being followed.
The system is currently on the hunt for a new title sponsor after SelectHealth and St. Luke’s were unable to come to an agreement with the system, which will transition to electric bicycles in next spring.
E-scooters have also returned to the streets on May 18, but ridership remains lower than this time last year. From the day the scooters returned to June 2 there were only 4,869 total rides in Boise, compared to 26,236 in the same time period last year, according to data tracked by the city of Boise.