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Business booming at reopened Sonoma County bike shops

It was yet another strange sign of the times: bike shops with yellow caution tape stretched across their entrances, masked customers standing in line to pick up “to-go” orders of tire tubes, helmets and gel-cushion seats.

Those Sonoma County specialty shops got the green light to pull down the caution tape and reopen their doors Monday.

The revised shelter-in-place directive late last week allowed them to resume operation, but the edict didn’t magically restore bike shops to their pre-coronavirus states. At the Bike Peddler on College Avenue in Santa Rosa, manager Chris Wells started off by allowing five people into the store at a time. One customer objected to waiting outside, and took his business elsewhere. “But for the most part, everyone’s been pretty civil,” Wells said.

That soft open meant the queues of customers outside the store were shorter, generally, than the lines encircling it during the lockdown. With gyms locked indefinitely, with municipal and regional parks closed until last week, many people have turned to cycling for fitness - both physical and mental. Since the mid-March quarantine was imposed, demand for bikes, bike parts and repairs has been “bonkers,” Wells said.

“People need to do something,” said Claire Fetrow, co-owner of the Hub Cyclery in Cotati, “and this is something they can do.”

That explained the lines of people outside her shop, looking to buy a new bike, or fix an old one. A woman recently showed up at the Hub with a vintage ride that needed a tuneup. It had been sitting in her garage for 25 years.

The lines outside Hub Cyclery won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Fetrow is in no rush to reopen her doors, relaxed shelter order or not. If she lets 50 people a day into the store, it’s difficult for her to keep up with disinfecting. Keeping customers outside, she said, “is safer for everybody.”

At the Spoke Folk Cyclery in Healdsburg, customers were allowed in a few at a time. Face coverings and physical distancing were required.

“People are just jonesing to get out,” owner Tony Pastene said. “They’ve been pulling bikes out of basements and garages.” The shop’s repair workload, he added, is “ridiculous.”

These shops aren’t just fixing bikes; they’re selling them at a surprising clip. At this time of high demand, however, supply is low.

“Our on-hand inventory is pretty well stripped,” said Charlie, who was working the sidewalk station in front of Mike’s Bikes in Petaluma. “Everyone’s buying bikes.”

The models most in demand, during the pandemic, are basic, entry-level, ride-to-town bikes, “anything with a flat handlebar,” said Pastene of Spoke Folk. Kids’ bikes, likewise, have practically been riding themselves out the door, with parents increasingly desperate to find ways to expend their children’s energy.

Norcal Bike Sport, two blocks east of its Santa Rosa sister store, Bike Peddler, caters to a more passionate, or at least a more affluent cyclist. “The truth is, we haven’t been selling many high-end bikes,” manager Chuck Fant said.

His shop’s more modestly priced rides, however, are going fast. Where his shop might sell “three Ferraris a day,” in ordinary times, Fant said, using a car metaphor, “now it’s like we’re selling 50 Kias a day.”

Stoked demand is colliding with reduced inventory. Before it arrived on these shores, the coronavirus ravaged Asia, where most bikes sold in America are made. That’s resulted in disrupted supply chains - and an unusually limited selection of bikes in area shops.

Electra makes popular cruiser bikes. In February, a representative of that company was urging Bike Peddler to stock up on its cruisers. While he did preorder a larger number of bikes than usual, many of them of are “on boats right now from China,” Wells said, “or stuck on a dock.”

Meanwhile, he’s found other suppliers to meet the needs of customers whom, as of Monday, were back in the shop.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ausmurph88

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