Linnea Goderstad’s bicycle is her ticket to work, the grocery store, forays to see friends and family, and a way to exercise, too.
So when Gov. Tim Walz designated bike shops essential businesses in his stay-at-home COVID-19 order last week, the northeast Minneapolis resident and year-round bike commuter cheered. After all, bicycles are a form of transportation.
“If my bike were to break down and I didn’t have access to a bike shop, it would mean I lose a way to get around as well as an activity that is good for my physical and mental health, which is really important right now,” Goderstad said.
While Walz urged Minnesotans to stay home, he also has encouraged outdoor exercise as long as people keep their distance. And, as public transit systems in the Twin Cities pare service in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and passengers worry about keeping far enough apart on trains and buses, more essential trips will likely be made by bike.
Cities such as Seattle, Philadelphia and Denver see bike shops as essential concerns, as well.
“People still need to get around, and they may have no other choice than to get on a bike,” said Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based advocacy group.
Since Walz issued the order, some bike shops have reported an uptick in business, especially for hybrids and kids’ bikes.
Spring is already a busy season for bike shops, as winter-weary Minnesotans take to the streets and the state’s vaunted trails as warm weather approaches. Some retailers are operating on an appointment-only basis. Others remain open or ask customers to visit their websites.
Shared Nice Ride bikes are expected to hit the streets in April.
The $6 billion retail bike market has seen an increase in sales in recent years due to the growing popularity of electric bikes, according to industry sources. About half of the retail market is controlled by independent dealers, according to the NPD Group, a New York research firm.
At Twin Ports Cyclery in Duluth, more than a few people have walked through the door and asked: “Are you open?”
“People naturally assume everything is closed up,” said co-owner Denis Sauve. “But people have been bringing their bikes in.”
On Friday morning, a few drop-offs broke the stillness of the bikes and parts on display at the 45-year-old shop in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. In the basement, a backlog of bikes waited on racks for their turn in the stand. It’s slower than usual before the riding season ramps up, but there’s no sense in closing down, Sauve said.
“We keep working on bikes, because that’s what we do,” he said.
Sauve, 78, said they’ve been vigilant about cleaning and sanitizing and have put up signs at the entrance asking customers to stay 6 feet from each other, though most interactions with customers are quick drop-offs these days.
“I sprayed the bikes down, but not many people have been coming in looking at bikes,” his wife and co-owner, Lee Emanoff, said as she wiped the counter with sanitizer spray made by Duluth’s Vikre Distillery.
At Ski Hut in Duluth, hours have been tightened and sales are down a touch but business is going on as usual.
“We’re an essential component of the transportation industry,” said manager Dave Neustel. “We’ve got plenty of repairs to do.”
“It’s not like a ghost town around here, though traffic has definitely slowed down quite a bit,” he said. “There’s definitely people who want to be outside and want to get their kids to be outside.”
When things get back to normal, there’s one lesson the shop will keep applying, Neustel said: “We do have to lean more into our web presence.”
Some bike shops have opted to curb their business as the pandemic plays out.
“I have a fire hose in my face right now,” said Christopher Cross, a co-owner of the Hub Bike Co-op, which has three locations in Minneapolis. The employee-owned business has closed its doors to the public until at least Wednesday because of public health concerns. The shop isn’t accepting new repair jobs at the moment, but its website is available for orders with curbside pickup.
While Cross agreed that bike shops are essential, he said the Hub also must balance business against the need to keep employees healthy.
Still this week’s higher temperatures have attracted more bikers, especially on the Midtown Greenway, a popular 5.5-mile trail in south Minneapolis.
“Social distancing is pretty easy to do when you’re on a bike,” said Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition. Many cyclists appear to be using the trail to pick up restaurant takeout orders, he added.
Grilley, of the Bicycle Alliance, said he went for a ride on the Gateway Trail in the east metro at 5:30 p.m. one day last week.
“It was as busy as I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “Almost as busy as a Saturday in the spring.”