Customers wait in line at American Cyclery in Haight-Ashbury. (Corey Browning/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco bike shops are booming during the pandemic

As popular routes swarm with cyclists, stores are having a hard time keeping up with demand

With gyms shuttered because of the global pandemic, streets slowed and weather warming, San Franciscans have turned en masse to cycling amid The City shutdown.

And as popular bike routes swarm with cyclists, bike shops are having a hard time keeping up with the demand.

“We’re basically selling bikes faster than we can build them,” said Bradley Woehl standing outside American Cyclery, a bike shop in the Haight-Ashbury he’s owned for 25 years.

After a three-month closure for seismic retrofitting earlier this year, he said he almost went out of business — but now sales are better than ever.

“Later today there will be a line around the corner,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have, we’re appreciative to have the demand. We’ve lived through world wars, pandemics, economic booms and busts, and people still want to ride bikes.”

Many other shops report similar surges.

Wiggle Bicycles in the Lower Haight is experiencing the most business it’s seen since opening in 2013, according to co-owner Garret Peters. Mike’s Bikes, a shop with 12 locations, 10 of which are in the Bay Area, has been overwhelmed with sales.

“You have parents trying to get their kids out, you have active cyclists with more time to ride, and then you have other active folks who are seeking some sort of exercise,” said Matt Adams, a co-owner of Mike’s Bikes.

Bike shops were added to the state’s list of essential businesses shortly after the shutdown was initiated in recognition of those who use bikes for essential travel. Though some shops opted to close, many have stayed open with reduced hours and altered services to allow for safety precautions.

May is National Bicycle Month, and another month of the shelter-in-place order is expected to bring out plenty of riders on city streets and paths. (Corey Browning/Special to S.F. Examiner)

And now booming sales and supply chain delays have sparked concern that bikes in some popular categories might run out completely. Mike’s Bikes and other shops report the biggest sales spikes in childrens bikes and “neighborhood bikes” designed for the casual rider.

Though Adams says the vendors he works with have been able to keep up with demand so far, there is fear for later in the summer.

“Riding a bike for exercise, for transportation, for mental health, it’s one of the few things that you’re allowed to do right now,” he said. “You can bike, you can hike, that’s about it.”

Adding to the allure, The City recently closed several popular bike routes to cars completely to allow cyclists, joggers and walkers more room to socially distance.

Thoroughfares in Golden Gate Park and John McLaren Park, Twin Peaks Boulevard and a large portion of the Great Highway are closed to cars. The Presidio has also closed a 4.5 mile loop within the park to cars on weekends.

Though these closures, part of The City’s slow streets program, are slated to reopen when the shutdown ends, some, like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are hoping to keep certain roads closed permanently.

“While we know this treatment is specific to helping us flatten the curve and practice safe social distancing, we believe that Slow Streets is a tool that broadly has a life beyond the public health order,” Melissa Lewis, the coalition’s spokesperson stated in an email.

The coalition is also pushing for more temporary closures in denser neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and SoMa.

A list of recommended safety precautions for folks biking amid the pandemic can be found on the coalition’s website.

cbrowning@sfexaminer.com

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