How to Bike Shop in a Pandemic

You may not yet be able to bike to work, but that's all the more reason to embrace cycling

Buying a bicycle has always been a life-changing experience for many, but during the Covid-19 pandemic, it can bring a heightened sense of freedom and control to one’s life.

Lydia Felt was previously too terrified to ride a bicycle on roadways. She feared the idea of bicycling through city streets as she hadn’t ridden a bicycle since she was a kid growing up on the dirt roads of West Virginia.

“With all these cars off the road I felt less stressed about riding in the streets and decided to get a bicycle,” she said. “I work from home and would like to be able to get out of the house. I figured I could use this time to learn to navigate the streets and when this is all over I’m hoping I can continue to ride.”

Riding a bicycle is one of the few things we are allowed to do for both transportation and recreational purposes during these shelter-in-place orders. With less automotive traffic, the coronavirus is creating safer riding conditions and there has never been a better time to begin riding than now.

The following outline will help guide you through a successful bike-buying process.

Personal Research

You’ll want to start with a fair amount of online research. Begin thinking about where and how you plan to use your new bike, including details such as terrain and distance. The goal is to narrow down what type of bike you will want and what size your body requires.

To begin this research, start at your local bike-shop websites to see what brands of bicycles they offer. Then visit those specific brand’s websites for the full line of available models and their detailed product descriptions. A quick search will yield bicycle reviews for many popular models. Narrow your choice down to just a few models.

Many categories and subcategories of bicycles exist, but we will keep it simple here. There are road bikes (designed for roads and pavement), mountain bikes (designed for mountains and dirt trails), and hybrid bikes (designed for both mountains and roads, either dirt or pavement). The type of bicycle you will want depends on the surface you intend to ride on and the purpose of your bicycle trip.

There are different sizes of bicycles for different-sized people. Height, inseam and riding-style preference are the three basic factors you’ll want to pay attention to when deciding what size you need.Size charts are helpful, but they won’t determine your exact size. Factors including body proportions, riding preferences and differing bicycle styles can affect the size you need.

Shop Help

Gov. Gavin Newsom has now given sporting goods stores the go-ahead to begin reopening to the public with modifications in their business practices. Shops may ask you to make your purchase online and then to choose some kind of minimal-contact delivery method. Some bike shops may even offer to deliver the bicycle locally.

Be sure to review the bicycle return-and-exchange policy specifically, as it could differ from the non-bike-products policy. Oftentimes a bicycle can be exchanged for another bicycle so long as the purchased bike has zero wear and can be sold as new.

Bicycles inside a shop get test ridden and sold as new, so be sure about the specific return-policy details.

Once you have read through the coronavirus-specific guidelines and have picked out what bicycles you are interested in, reach out to the shop with a phone call to get your final questions answered. There may also be a chat option on their website, if you prefer.

Test Ride

You may not be able to test ride the bicycle before you buy it. If you are able to test ride it, you will most likely have to go through extra safety precautions such as practicing social distancing and waiting for bikes to be cleaned in between rides.

When planning to test ride a bike at a shop make sure you go prepared. Allow enough time to try multiple bikes without being rushed, wear the same or similar clothing to what you plan to wear when you are out riding your new bike and please be respectful of the other customers and shop employees you engage with along the way.

Buy With Care

Now that you have done all the hard work, hopefully the easy part is forking out the money. Feel free to sleep on it or make your decision from home. Just be sure to complete your purchase from the local bicycle retailer that provided you the best service and made sure you got what you needed. Once you buy a bike it is going to be an ongoing relationship with the shop to continue to maintain the bike.

Bikes are just like cars that require regular on-going maintenance and replacement of parts that wear down. By building that relationship early on in your bike buying journey you can begin to see how you can expect their customer service to be over time. Once your bike does break down or is in need of some replacement tires, you’ll want to already have that trust in your local shop to always take care of you.

For Lydia, she was thorough in her research and worked closely with the shop using safe social distancing precautions throughout her entire shopping process.

She even got helpful recommendations over the phone like which specific lock would work best to keep her bike safe. Now she is free to take back the streets a ride a bicycle into the next chapter of her life.

If done correctly, buying a bicycle can be an enjoyable process giving you a newfound sense of freedom and control during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Brandon Alvarado is a bike mechanic, cycling instructor, and bicycle transit activist. 


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