The News-Press, July 2, 2020
by Ken Gooderham
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic pop up in the most unusual places.
Take cycling… which many people have, discovering that riding a bike combines exercise, transportation and social distancing in a tidy little package. The fact that it also gets you out of the house and helps elevate your spirits - both things we all need during the age of Covid - is just a little extra incentive.
However, no one expected a pandemic would boost biking to the degree it has… which means bike shops are busy and bike supplies can be low.
Checking out the websites for local bike shops, most are ready and willing to sell to you or serve you – but most also include the caveat that inventories are down and parts might be more difficult to find. Reports are similar from the big-box stores, meaning it’s an industry-wide issue.
If you don’t already have a bike, then procuring one might take a little work (or flexibility). Discuss your needs and plans with your local bike shop staff and they probably can find you what you need with a little initiative or ingenuity. They can also help fit you to your new ride (recommended if you’re serious about this), hook you up with the other items you’ll need to make riding safe and enjoyable, and show you how to take care of your new mode of transportation.
If a bike doesn’t have to be new (just new to you), that opens up some options. Check online or on websites for local bike clubs to see anything is for sale, or try one of the buying apps to see what’s available. Also decide what condition you expect a bike to be in order to buy it – absolutely perfect, needs minor repairs or requires serious overhaul – and adjust your pedaling pursuits accordingly.
Many people have bikes but they may have not ridden it in quite some time… meaning a tune-up and other touches are in order. Once again, local shops are sometimes seeing longer wait times on service, driven by both demand (for repairs) and supply (for parts). This is an easier problem for many shops to fix, since working longer days and adding some skilled wrenchers (both welcome in our current economic doldrums) is easier to do than to ramp up manufacturing and assembly.
If you live in one of 31 communities in Lee or Collier counties, you also have the option of having service come to you via Florida Bike Medic. They schedule service days and accept appointments for a range of repairs… and all you have to do is bring them your bike (usually at the community center) and pay your bill. Details at floridabikemedic.com.
Of course, you always have the choice of doing your own repairs… a good option for the handy (and hearty) as long as you know your limits. It’s always wise to know how to do some simple fixes – repair flats, change tires, adjust brakes, etc. – especially if you like to ride far afield where mechanics are few and far between. But there are some repairs that warrant more skill than basic tools and a YouTube video can generate. Save those for the experts, and you’ll both be happy.
You can always buy your own parts and bring them to your favorite shop to install, a good workaround when supply lines are tight. But ask if that’s OK first before just showing up, and expect to pay a small fee on top of the usual charge for not buying things from the shop itself.
Another front where the pandemic has meant inroads for cycling is… roads. Major cities (more often in Europe than here) are seeing the rise in riding as an excuse to expand bike routes and convert some road spaces into bike lanes. That’s cutting in to center-city car congestion as well as recognizing the bike boom, so a win-win if you like cycling and cleaner air.
Will we see a similar rise in facilities locally? Doubtful, both because the car culture is too entrenched and because mass-transit alternatives are not in place to make fewer cars more likely.
We do hope local officials see the ridership rise as validation for whatever efforts in the past have resulted in improved bike facilities throughout Southwest Florida… and, perhaps, motivation to stay the course if not expand the two-wheeled options locally.
It should not take a pandemic to push more people into cycling, but if that’s the result the least we can do is keep expanding the bike lanes and paths to make it easier and safer to leave the car at home.
Ready to ride or run?Nothing new on the race calendars, just virtual events and the promise of racing to return come the fall (Covid willing). Keep checking the usual websites for updates… be prepared to sign up, but also be prepared to deal with postponements if the rules on gatherings don’t change.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RIDE:Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.
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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at www.BikeWalkLee.org.