Bicycle Bob
Bob Zaratzian, owner of Bicycle Bob’s for 37 years, has seen bikes fly off the shelves during the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Scott Clark, the longtime owner of Main Street Cycles in Santa Maria, has seen bicycle booms in the past, but nothing like the one that’s going on now. 

The increase of riders on the road has risen dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, say area bike shop owners.

“This is the biggest boom I’ve seen in a while,” Clark said. “I’ve seen bike booms before over periods of time, but in this condensed short amount of time I’ve never seen anything like this in my career, and I’ve been doing this 40 years.”

Shops have been inundated with requests for repairs and customers looking to buy new bikes.

“We’re seeing pretty much everyone at this point, from hardcore cyclists to families, to a lot of older folks as well, coming in to get E-bikes (electric bikes) and that sort of thing,” said Matt Shearer, a salesperson at Bicycle Bob’s in Goleta.

“We have 650 bikes on back order and we’re running out of low- to mid-range-priced bicycles to sell,” he said. “We’re hoping to get a more of those in. The whole supply chain has been disrupted. We have a massive demand right now. It’s a new one for us.

“On one hand it’s great, we’ve doing a lot of business selling a lot of bikes. But we’re at the point now where we don’t have bikes for those who come by. We have the same conversation 20-30 times a day with people who are looking for an entry-level, hybrid-style bicycle. We just don’t have them at the moment.”

Clark, who also has customers on a waitlist for new bikes, attributed the backlog of orders to the pandemic.

“The world’s factories were shut down and, when the stay-in-place order hit and bike shops were deemed an essential business, all of a sudden the demand was turned on to a great degree but the manufacturing wasn’t,” he explained. “There was about a two-month gap between demand and manufacturing capability.”

Clark has been open throughout, even while making the necessary safety modifications in his store.

“I’ve been very blessed to be open,” he said.

Bicycle mechanic

The demand for repairs is so high, mechanics at Bicycle Bob’s are sometimes working on their usual days off.  (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Bicycle Bob’s in Goleta was closed for just two days after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the stay-at-home order in mid-March, said longtime shop owner Bob Zaratzian.

It’s a rare sight to see empty racks in Zaratzian’s store.

“We usually have every rack full, which is about 230 bikes on the floor assembled, and we have 140-150 bikes in boxes in the back, waiting to be built,” he said. “We’re down to 40 bikes (on display) and in the back stock we have four.

“We’re not alone. Most every bike shop I’ve heard of throughout the country is like this.”

Three mechanics came in on their days off to catch up on the high demand for bike repairs.

A bicycle business that has taken a hit during the pandemic is Bici Centro, the nonprofit do-it-yourself repair shop operated by the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.

Bici Centro staff teach riders how to repair their own bikes in the shop.

“We’re an educational-based organization,” said shop manager Michael Velasquez. “Since the COVID pandemic, we’ve been unable to do that type of work. In order to keep our organization afloat and keep staffing our mechanics, we’ve reverted to refurbishing donated bikes and selling them at an affordable price and on Craigslist.”

The refurbished bikes are selling like crazy.

“We are seeing an uptick in bicycle sales. We’ve sold over 60 bicycles in the past month. We sold out of our entire refurbished fleet of bikes,” Velasquez said. We’re probably fixing two-to-three bikes for sale each week, and before we even get to list them somebody calls for a bike and we sell it right away.”

While the sales have helped the organization financially, it is not the goal of Bici Centro, Velasquez pointed out.

“Our goal is to educate and help the community, and get people in tune with their bicycles and give the power back, so they can do their own repairs,” he explained.

“To be honest, we’re kind of triaging our program and trying to keep our mechanics paying their rent.”

He said the mechanics are handling simple repairs, but it’s taking around a week and half to two weeks to complete a job because of the high volume.

“Our doors have never been shut,” Velasquez said. “Hours worth of a mechanic guiding you is way more worth than the $5 we charge. You get the knowledge of your bicycle and get a sense of pride with your bicycle and feel more connected to it.”

He plans to create short videos on repairs for a YouTube channel. He’s already done Zoom classes in English and Spanish to educate people on riding safety,

Velasquez agreed the pandemic has generated a surge in bike riding.

He attributes it partly to people feeling uneasy about using public transportation and more people working from home. 

“The public probably doesn’t feel safe riding on a bus and being in confined spaces,” he said. “And, with the amount of people staying home, a bicycle is a great form of transportation and a great form of exercise.”

Shearer sees more people riding because it’s a form of exercise where people can keep distance from everyone else.

“A lot of people are digging out bikes that clearly haven’t been ridden in a long time,” Shearer said. “A lot of people are buying new ones and getting out there. Hopefully, they keep riding after this whole pandemic thing, too. We’ll see how that goes.”

Said Clark: “People want to get outside and explore the outdoors. A lot of them are off work and have nothing else to do, so they pull the bike out and go for a ride.”

Zaratzian said in his shop the customer demographic has changed. 

“”The real avid riders have become a smaller percentage than normal,” he said. “Our average customer now is a family-type of person looking for a way to get out and be with the family, get out and get some exercise.”

Even before the recent increase in ridership, the Santa Barbara area was recognized as a bike-friendly community.

On Tuesday, PeopleforBikes, a national bike advocacy organization, ranked Santa Barbara as the third best city for bicycling in the country.

San Luis Obispo was the top city and Madison, Wisconsin, came in second. Other top cities listed include Washington, D.C.; Missoula, Montana; Rogers, Arkansas; Fort Collins, Colorado; Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

Santa Barbara’s highest individual score was a 3.7 in acceleration — a community’s improvement in biking infrastructure and getting people to ride.

Shearer said the variety of cycling is the spice that makes Santa Barbara a top choice for riders. 

“For general bicycle riding, road biking, riding on the bike path, some cross country and mountain biking, it’s really, really good here,” he said. “Obviously, we have the climate for it year-round. 

“(The community) has one of the best bike path set-ups going cross town and good bike lines,” he added. “And, biking seems to be strongly represented.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.