Sebastopol bike store picks up in popularity during pandemic
When a cyclist gets a flat tire on the Joe Rodota or West County trails, they don’t have to walk far to fix it.
The Sebastopol Bike Center, a small but mighty mom-and-pop bicycle shop in downtown Sebastopol, services all kinds of bicycles for all levels of cyclists. And the mechanics are busier than ever.
“During this pandemic, I swear, there must have been a point when everybody was looking out their window bored with nothing to do and somebody rode by on a bicycle because the next day they all came down to the bike shop,” said Denver Booker, who owns the store with his wife, Janet Ciel.
Bicycling picked up in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic amid shutdowns of playgrounds, schools, events and gatherings. With social distancing rules in place, it’s an outdoor activity that can still be enjoyed, especially in the scenic bike destination of Sonoma County.
The Sebastopol Bike Center is one of several local bike stores that have seen a surge in sales since March, when the county issued its first shelter-in-place health order.
Customers flocked to the Sebastopol store with bikes exhumed from storage in their garages and barns. One person even had an old, cobweb-covered bike stored under their deck for years, Booker said.
“They’ve watched everything they want to watch on Netflix and sitting on the couch all day is not healthy. Biking is fun and you can do it while being socially distant,” said Isaac Shirley, a bicycle mechanic hired this summer.
Independent bike shops in the U.S had a 20% increase in bike service and repair sales, according to March data by the NPD Group, a global market research firm.
Tubes, tires, saddles, water bottle holders and other bike parts have become harder to come by as manufacturers run out of items, something that Booker said has never happened before. The shop now services more vintage bikes that have older parts that aren’t readily available.
“The industry didn’t see that coming,” said Gino Aiello, a bike mechanic who’s worked at the shop for three years.
Although there’s been dips in sales from time to time, particularly during the last few wildfire seasons, sales increased in May and June this year at the Sebastopol Bike Center.
“This month is probably going to be smaller but just because there's a shortage of things to sell me and June things really took off. It'll be a better year financially,” said Booker, who started a business in 2011 renting high performance road bikes out of his Santa Rosa home.
The Sebastopol Bike Center was founded six years ago to move his Uber-bike rental business out of his house and to start a retail and service shop.
Booker suspended bicycle rentals at the start of the pandemic and the store mainly focuses on maintenance services and bicycle sales.
The shop allows only one customer in at a time. Anyone who wants to try on a helmet has to wear a shower cap. Sometimes there’s a line outside.
Craig O’Connor, owner of a software consulting firm in Sebastopol, became interested in mountain biking three year ago, after years of not riding a bike. He’s now a regular at the shop and credits the staff for helping him with bike set-up and maintenance.
“New mountain bikes are much more complicated than the older bicycles with all the suspensions and brakes,” said O’Connor, who rides a Santa Cruz 5010 mountain bike, which has a retail price of $4,099.
The mom-and-pop shop atmosphere is appealing to O’Connor, particularly the attention to detail the mechanics have when it comes to repairs. like the time staff worked with a manufacturer to get a replacement on a defective part.
O’Connor recalled when he sold his first mountain bike to a buyer off of Craigslist. The buyer was initially uncertain and didn’t know much about bikes, so O’Connor offered to take him to Sebastopol Bike Center to chat with the mechanics who had worked on the bike.
Booker and another mechanic spent 20 minutes assessing whether or not the buyer fit the bike correctly and answering all his questions.
“They go above and beyond,” O’Connor said of the shop’s mechanics.
Mechanics and customers describe the bicycle store as “homey” and a place that “caters to everything.”
“We help anybody,” said Aiello, a mechanic. “Flats, brakes, we’ve even worked on farm carts and strollers.”
Aiello joked that, before the pandemic, the prime location of the shop made it a resource to passerbys for directions, almost like a gas station. Tourists came for the bike rentals and compared the local scenery to France or Italy.
“All the road cycling around here is just amazing,” he said.
The shop’s website has recommended bike routes around Sonoma County, categorized into easy, moderate and hardcore categories.
“A lot of times people come into the shop don’t realize there’s a network of paths without mixing in traffic,” said Shirley.
There’s the family-friendly, flat route straight out of the shop onto the Joe Rodota Trail to Santa Rosa and back. The most popular moderately challenging route is 39 miles from Sebastopol to Windsor, which passes through scenic wine country along Martinelli Road.
For cyclists who enjoy climbing hills, there are seven suggested hardcore routes, including a 50-mile coastal route through Occidental, Duncans Mills and up Coleman Valley Road.
The routes listed all link to Ride With GPS, a cycling navigation website and app cyclists can use on smartphones mounted to their handlebars.
There are enough routes in Sonoma County that if you bike for a month straight you could see something different every day. An adventure at home for locals.
“For a lot of people it's a peace of mind, being outdoors. It's a sense of Freedom and floating,” he said. “Cycling is as close as you can get to flying without leaving the ground.”