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Pandemic triggers surge in bicycle sales

Matthew Lane • May 17, 2020 at 11:09 AM

KINGSPORT — Adapting to life during a pandemic has forced people to change their habits: how they work, how they eat and how they interact with friends and family. It’s also causing people to change how they get exercise and enjoy the great outdoors.

For two local bicycle shop owners, that change has translated into a boon for their businesses, as people both young and old are rediscovering an early childhood pleasure: riding a bike.

“It’s been phenomenal and I’ve definitely seen an upturn in my business (since the shutdown),” said Larry Coomer, the owner of Larry’s Cycle Shop on East Center Street. “It’s twice, maybe three times as busy as it’s normally been.”

Anthony Williams, the co-owner of Reedy Creek Bicycles on Commerce Street, voices a similar comment.

“We’ve seen the demand rise drastically,” Williams said. “Usually we have plenty of the $400 to $900 bikes in stock. Now, we’re sold out. I’d say our services and sales have doubled, if not tripled.”

ESSENTIAL SERVICES

Unlike many other businesses across our region, Coomer and Williams did not have to shut down earlier this year due to COVID-19. Bicycle shops were deemed essential businesses under the governor’s mitigation plan.

As a result, both men have seen a healthy variety of folks coming into their stores: many families with first-time riders, elderly couples looking for new bikes, experienced riders spending a stimulus check on a high-end bike, or simply folks looking for an excuse to get some exercise in the cool spring weather.

That’s what brought 72-year-old Joe Rice down to the Kingsport Greenbelt last week. Rice, who used to ride mountain bikes in Johnson City and Kingsport, hadn’t ridden a bike in about three or four years, though he has recently started riding with his grandchildren.

“Because of the weather and I’ve been cooped up inside, I’m just out getting some exercise,” Rice said.

Kayla Evans, 21, was spotted riding her bike home from work last week in the Highland neighborhood, her attire complete with an Anime-style face mask, cat-eared headphones and other pop culture key chains. She said she doesn’t drive and prefers to ride her bike.

On the more serious end of the spectrum, Michael Watts, 62, went down to the Greenbelt to fine-tune his new BMC bike that he had recently purchased. Watts started riding about 12 years ago because of the health benefits, he’s upgraded bikes through the years and now it’s become his main hobby and passion.

Watts said he biked 7,000 miles last year.

BIKES “THE NEW TOILET PAPER”

“The person I actually bought this bike from said bicycles are the new toilet paper. Nobody has them,” Watts said. “He sold 65 bikes in two weeks, most under the $1,000 price point. A lot of new riders, people who are quarantined and out of work, are coming out to buy cheaper bikes to ride.”

Coomer and Williams both confirmed that bicycles — especially mid-range ones — are sold out in most places and are getting hard to find.

“With the shutdown in China for the whole month of February and then some manufacturers got caught in a bind, we’re having trouble getting ahold of bikes right now,” Coomer said.

Williams, who is usually 40 to 60 bikes deep in inventory, said he’s trying to keep up with demand and back-ordering bicycles as much as possible. Reedy Creek Bicycles is seeing a big demand for bikes in the $3,000 to $6,000 range.

“Not everybody is a walker or a runner, but they may want to ride bikes,” Williams said. “To see everybody coming back and finding out one of their first loves of riding a bike is pretty cool, even if it’s in the middle of a pandemic.”

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