Gear

VN Awards: Bike shops keep us riding, despite global shortages

Reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle was An Absolute Good Thing in 2021.

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Most years, we give out tech awards to the fastest and lightest this, or the most aero and shiniest that. And 2021 certainly saw plenty of great bikes released on the world stage. But you know what the absolute best bike is? One that you can ride today.

As the global bike shortage from COVID-19 bludgeoned the new-bike dreams of thousands of riders around the country, many good bike shops were able to keep scores of people riding, by cobbling together new and refurbished bikes through creativity and resourcefulness, or by giving a bit of mechanical love and care to the bikes many riders already owned.

Reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle was An Absolute Good Thing in 2021, and for that, we tip our cycling cap to all the hardworking service bike shops out there.

“Just get the job done”

At N+1 Cyclery in Framingham, Massachusetts, repairs were up by 200 percent this year, said manager and head mechanic Francisco Cornelio.

“As people can’t find bikes, they are clearing out their basements, sheds, and garages, or they pull out their old bikes or get bikes from friends and family and try to fix them,” Cornelio said. “It’s a better way than before, when the attitude was just put them on the metal pile and get a new bike.”

Longtime cyclocross racer Erik Tonkin said his Sellwood Cycle Repair shop in Portland, Oregon, was prepared for the shortage because his shop has done consignment and repair for nearly 30 years.

“We were able to accommodate the high demand for repairs, I’m not going to say easily, but we were well-positioned,” Tonkin said. “We weren’t telling folks ‘two to eight weeks’ like some shops were. We made an increased effort to save used parts and have them really well organized to quickly access for repairs or getting consignment ready.”

Tonkin said having employees empowered to solve problems made a difference, too, rather than surrendering when the standard bike and parts suppliers were out of stock.

“I kept noticing all these new dealer accounts, as my staff was buying a part on eBay here and there, just doing whatever it takes to get a bike built or serviced,” he said. “We have just been taking it as it comes. They can’t get the part from a traditional supplier, so they are just doing it. That was fun to witness.”

“The flexibility of staff to think on their feet, just immediately shifting to whatever fills the gap, instead of just being really bummed out that you can’t get this one pedal that you want. Just get something that gets the job done. Half the time this year I was looking at things I had never seen before.”

“An essential part of the community”

At Moore’s Bike Shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, shop founder James Moore said he and his family and staff “truly felt like we were an essential part of the community” by reviving scores of used bikes the last two years.

In March of 2020, as Moore saw a shutdown coming, he and his daughter ordered as many bikes as they could cram into their shop. And then as businesses steadily closed, Moore asked the town’s mayor to allow the shop to remain open.

“I didn’t ask for an exception for transportation, but for recreation,” Moore said. “Our parks were closed. Our zoo was closed. But we had bike paths.”

Moving used bikes and doing agile repair meant steady business. With three generations of family in the building, Moore was cautious with COVID-19 precautions, keeping the bikes out in the parking lot and doing transactions through a small cutout in the wall.

Whenever a customer came to his shop, he would often surprise them by asking what bikes they already had in the house, and offering to buy old bikes from them.

“They would say, ‘oh, you wouldn’t be interested,’ and I would say, ‘oh, yes we would,’” Moore said.

Much like Tonkin’s crew, Moore and his staff would strip parts off most anything, then organize them, and use them to rebuild other bikes. Moore went so far as to do billboard advertising, asking people to come sell them their “pre-loved bicycles.”

“It was amazing to me how many people pulled up with bikes, and didn’t want anything for them. They were just happy to have someone be able to put them to use,” he said, adding that it takes about the same amount of time to refurbish an old bike as to build a new one.

“The best and busiest times”

At Mt. Airy Bicycle and College Park Bicycle in Maryland, owner Larry Black said the COVID-19 crisis turned 2020 and 2021 into two of the best years in 42 seasons of business. Black had kept a stockpile of old steel bikes in a barn, and those quickly became hot commodities.

“While the sickness and deaths that have stemmed from the pandemic are heartfelt and tragic, from the day our governor declared us essential, we have been in a surge like never before,” Black said.

Last year Black was preparing to temporarily shut down his shops.

“On the afternoon of the day we were supposed to shutter at 5, I got a call from our mayor. He had been in contact with officials from Homeland and other agencies campaigning to get bike shops declared essential. He was successful and his actions reverberated nationwide.”

“Suffice to say the place looks like it’s back in the ’70s thanks to my 50-year hoard of worthy bikes that are selling as fast as we can give them a tune-up and a blessing,” Black said. “We are making more friends than ever as we get more butts on bikes.”

“Gotta say,” he said, “these are the best and busiest times in my career.”