Queen frontman Freddie Mercury wrote “Bicycle Race” in France after watching the Tour de France ride past his hotel.
Bicycle shops around the country sold out of bells because fans bought them to ring at Queen shows, wherever they played. The lyrics contain social, political, and economic references, but the song is also about one’s desire to ride a bike.
Carroll countians seemingly understand that sentiment well, and local cycle shops have seen a major increase in sales and service during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brad White, the owner of White’s Bicycles in Westminster, said he’s never see anything like this in the 37 years he’s owned and operated his business.
“It’s one of those cases where it’s kind of a perfect storm scenario that happened as far as supply and demand,” White said. “We’re also seeing people from all walks of life wanting bicycles. … I’ve got a lot of people coming in and their kids have been cooped up for a month, a month and a half, two months and they want them out of the house … “
“It’s unheard of, really.”
The Washington Post reported a 50% increase in bicycle sales nationwide in March, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. There was a 59% climb in children’s bike sales compared with the same time last year and a 121% increase in adult leisure bike sales.
White’s business specializes in sales, repair work, and the restoration of old bicycles. He said this is peak season for bike sales with summer quickly approaching and it’s when many of these small, local businesses make the most money.
White closed the shop after Gov. Larry Hogan issued his stay at home order in March and only accepted requests for emergency bike repairs, but he re-opened three weeks later.
“I try to keep my store to a minimum crowd because it got real crowded a couple Saturdays ago where I had to tell customers to wait outside,” White said. “My competitor [Larry Black] is doing that, with curbside service, all that kind of stuff.”
Black has owned and operated Mount Airy Bicycles since 1991. The shop has remained open until directed to do otherwise, according to the company’s website. The shop has curbside service and parking lot assistance in addition to limited deliveries and pick-up availability. Repairs are done in the same day and bikes are required to be picked up as soon as they are finished being fixed.
When the pandemic hit, Black said he was afraid he would have to close the business, leaving people without their bicycles.
“Most of everything we do is outside, but people are allowed in the store in small crowds of four people,” Black said. “The biggest fear was closing the business and then I would have nothing to do. I would start digging out old bikes, find them a home and deliver them to people. Having Gov. Hogan and the Homeland Security declare this as an essential business was a good thing for us and it’s a good social distancing exercise.”
Black said business is up “two-fold," despite how often independent bicycle shops have suffered from loss of business in recent years. He referenced “seven-day weekends,” stimulus checks and a rush of procrastinators as three contributing factors to the increase in sales and service.
White said there have been shortages in supplies needed to repair bikes because a lot of the equipment is imported from China. The coronavirus pandemic originated with a cluster of suspected pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province of China, back in December.
“We have a thousand items on back order and we don’t know when we’ll get them with repairs running into a little bit of a wall,” White said. “Whereas, bikes are selling like hot cakes.”
Hannah Miller, a 2017 Liberty High School graduate, and her friend Emma Tilson, a 2019 McDonogh School grad, are college athletes who saw their seasons come to an abrupt halt due to the pandemic.
Miller said she and Tilson bought bikes from the Eldersburg Walmart together at the end of April in search of a new way to stay active. It took many calls to multiple Walmarts across the state before they found the specific beach cruisers they were looking for.
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Since making their purchases, the duo has been taking full advantage of their new method of transportation.
“Now that I have a bike, we made it a rule that we can’t drive to each other’s house,” Miller said. “We basically live two minutes from each other, but now we do it like when we were younger and bike to each other’s houses to work out. Then, we go for a bike ride around the area or in certain places.”
Miller said when they first got their bikes, they would spend about one-and-a-half to two hours riding on certain days, sometimes close to eight to 10 miles at a time.
For Tilson, it’s “old-fashioned fun.”
“I think it’s really important especially because we’re told to be inside and people take that as ‘Oh, sit on the couch and watch TV,’ so it’s good to get out,” Tilson said. “I noticed a lot more people walking and that’s great to see.