‘Let’s hope the industry can come out the other side’: How bike shops are handling the coronavirus crisis

Classed as essential businesses, bike shops are making some big changes to keep the wheels turning

(Image credit: chris catchpole)

As the high streets went into lockdown last month, the government made the welcome announcement that bike shops were classed as essential retailers.

With public transport reduced and many people still needing to get to work or ride their bike for exercise, local bike shops have been keeping their doors open to support cyclists.

But how are they dealing with the coronavirus crisis?

“In my opinion, it’s correct that bike shops at the moment are essential,” said Gary Blackett, who runs Cycle Honiton with his wife Suzi, based in the East Devon town of Honiton.

“Not only for essential workers to get to work but for the physical and mental health of the nation. There will be many people that need a bike to get out in the fresh air and not all of them will be able to fix their bike to be able to get out and ride.

“I do think it’s down to each individual shop to decide if they want to open and no shop owner should feel pressured to open.”

Gary and Suzi are now working behind closed doors, as they are only carrying out repairs by booking and are accepting payment over the phone to avoid all avoidable contact.

All bikes are then cleaned with anti-bacterial spray before being returned to the customers.

But even working with reduced hours, Cycle Honiton is still helping to keep those on the front-lines of the coronavirus by offering priority to NHS staff.

Gary said: “Basically as a goodwill gesture to help the people that are doing the most for us as a nation to save the most vulnerable in our communities.

“If we can help in a very small way by fixing their bike, then we will.”

Paul Drake from Maison du Velo in Reigate, Surrey says the team there are also adjusting to the bizarre circumstance shops are facing: “Nearly everything has changed drastically.

“Obviously our number one priority is doing everything we can to limit the spread of the virus and protect our customers. We’ve completely overhauled the way we operate day to day so that servicing, purchasing and advising is all done with zero contact. The key thing for us is just remaining flexible and adaptable; balancing this social responsibility with the needs of our customers (who we want to keep healthy and mobile) and the business itself.”

But how do these two shops think the Covid-19 pandemic will affect bike shops in the long term?

“I don’t have a crystal ball to tell us what the impact of pandemic will be on the wider economy,” Paul said, “But I think it’s clear there will be some tough times ahead for many. The optimist in me looks at the number of customers reaching out and supporting us and thinks that, as long as we can survive this period, those businesses with a strong community around them could ultimately emerge even stronger.

“The lockdown can highlight just what cycling means to so many so. It may have to lay dormant for a while but the desire to get out on your bike won’t disappear, and could be even greater when this crisis eventually passes.”

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Gary added: “For your standard bike shop this is not good for business as we should now be preparing for the Easter push that would lead us into summer and that will not happen this year.

“I hope for cyclists that it encourages people to get out on bikes and that they stay riding into the future and don’t go straight back to their car.

“I also hope that cyclists in general start to realise their local bike shop is a vital part of the community not only now but in the future!”

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.