COVID-19 and the many safety guidelines set by the state Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have encouraged people to stay home, explore the outdoors and partake in healthy, positive forms of recreation.
Strong proof of this is the dramatic increase of bike sales at various area businesses, who are experiencing high volume of sales and the great demand for bikes while struggling with the task of keeping their inventory in sufficient supply.
Gabriel Fitzwater, general manager of Pathfinder, an outdoor equipment retailer in Morgantown, W.Va., said the business has experienced very strong sales over the past few months.
“Looking at our increase in bike sales, it is very obvious that people are wanting to get outdoors, they’re staying home and not going on vacation and they feel that riding bikes is a healthy and positive alternative,” he said.
Fitzwater said although the demand for bikes has significantly increased since the start of COVID-19, supply unfortunately has not been able to meet the demands.
“There is a nationwide shortage of bikes,” he said. “Many shops are running low on inventory or they are just completely out of stock. The demand has been great, and many businesses use vendors and distributors overseas, and right now the supply is low across the board.”
Chip Wamsley, owner of Wamsley Cycles, also in Morgantown, said the increase of demand and shortage of supply has resulted in “a perfect storm” for his business.
“Because of COVID, more and more people are invested in bikes, but unfortunately supply factories have been closed and bikes and parts are very difficult to get and have in stock here,” Wamsley said. “Sales have tripled, but product is very limited. We sold out quickly due to the much bigger demand and much smaller supply.”
Fitzwater and Wamsley said several customers are visiting their stores from many different locations, such as Washington, D.C. and Erie, and they are buying anything they can find.
“There’s no one particular bike that’s being asked for, the customers are taking whatever is available to them, everything across the board is being sold,” said Walmsley.
“Many of our customers have told us they cannot find bikes anywhere to purchase,” Fitzwater said. “We’ve had quite a few customers who said they don’t care what kind of bike they buy, they’ll get whatever they can grab.”
Fitzwater said the most commonly purchased bike has been the $400 to $800 recreation mountain or rail-trail bikes, although bikes of all types are being purchased. He added that there has been a tremendous demand for skateboards and kayak supplies as well.
Both businesses also repair bikes, and Fitzwater said they have experienced a significant increase in demand for repairs even though parts have also been in shorter supply because of the pandemic.
He added that inventory was solid in March, but as May rolled around the demand became much greater.
“This is typical as summer nears, but the issue became the shortage of supply as our increase in demand for bikes became significant, more than in past summer seasons,” he said. “It is absolute proof that people this summer are really anxious to get outdoors. And honestly, it means that more people are focusing on their health and if more people buy bikes it means there will most likely be more families riding and enjoying the outdoors together.”
Wamsley said the production of more bikes has started but it has been slow.
“Overseas shipping also continues to be a problem as well,” he added. “There is a worldwide demand for bikes right now. It’s going to be quite a while before we see a sense of ‘normal’ trickling back in. and it’s definitely attributed to COVID.”
With increases in bike sales comes increases in riders, and that has more than evident along the Sugarloaf mountain bike trails at Ohiopyle State Park.
Scott Bortree, president of the Ohiopyle Biking Club, said the organization’s members partake in a weekly bike ride along the park’s trails on Wednesdays, and he has seen an increase in trail riders this summer.
“Because of COVID-19 and the unexpected changes in everyday routines, people are realizing how easy, and how much fun, it can be to grab a bike, hit the trails, and explore and enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “Biking is so universally easy for everyone to enjoy. With social distancing being a priority, more and more people are looking toward the outdoors as positive recreation, and biking has become a much bigger deal.”
Bortree said the main function of the Ohiopyle Bikers Club – which currently lists 70 members, 25 to 30 who get together on a regular basis and ride trails – is build new bike trails at Ohiopyle. Currently, the club is working diligently on completing a single-track trail for mountain bikes starting at the very of Sugarloaf Mountain though the park.
“That project is about half done,” Bortree said. “The club has helped build close to 15 miles of mountain bike trails throughout the park, including the 3-mile Upper Canyon Edge trail, and also rebuild four different sections of the existing trail, another 2 to 3 miles of trail. That’s something we are very proud of.”
He added that more people from outside the area seem to be enjoying the trails as well.
“I have met a lot of people on the trails who have traveled far to enjoy the trails here,” he said. “And I’m seeing more families with kids riding bikes and enjoying the park, which is something I didn’t really see a lot of before. It’s nice to see more families spending time together, while engaging in a healthy activity.”
Bortree said he believes adding and improving bike trails throughout the park will only benefit the area.
“The club does this because we want to ride, and we want better trails for all riders to enjoy,” he said. Mountain biking brings in a huge amount of revenue here. I was talking to a rider from out of town who came here for one day, and he said after enjoying the trails he plans on staying longer next summer. That’s great business and great news for our area.
“We know enthusiasm for biking has increased at Ohiopyle, and we are excited about it,” he continued. “And we hope that that enthusiasm will continue to grow for years to come.”