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Amid the pandemic and all the change that has come with it, there is a heartbeat in the mountain biking communities of British Columbia that belongs to the bike shops. Deemed an essential service, bike shops offering mechanical services have remained open through the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 restrictions; pivoting their policies, staffing, and service protocols on the fly.  

 

From using isopropyl alcohol to spray down every surface and bike that staff and customers come in contact with to temporarily suspending some services, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes. Cycle Therapy in Duncan has taken cues from other essential services and limited the number of customers in their store in conjunction with offering clear communications about how they are operating. “The most important changes taken in response to the pandemic have been to ensure the safety of our customers, staff, and community at large,” says Matt Grossnickle, Shop Manager. “It has been a very fluid situation with changes being made daily within our operating structure. Controlling how many customers access the store and how to serve them in a safe manner is paramount.  We have physical distancing stickers on the floor at the service and sales counters that keep customers two meters apart along with clear signage placed at the entrance to the store, as well as posted on our website and social media pages, of how we are operating. We are only allowing two customers in the store at the time - one in sales and one in service - and are doing a lot of sales over the phone, email, and social media.”

The Bicycle Café in Kamloops found a unique solution to the challenge of social distancing by moving their shop outside. “We are not allowing anyone into the shop anymore - staff only,” explains the owner, Cheryl Beattie. “We have created an outdoor sales area and we can bring things out to customers in the parking lot for added safety. It’s working well and keeping everyone safe.”

The focus in the shops has shifted mainly to mechanical services, especially as people are dusting off bikes that they previously didn’t have time to use. “We are really focusing our business on servicing bikes and have moved resources to mechanic services to stay ahead of our repair load,” says James Wilson, owner of Obsession Bikes in North Vancouver. “If a repair is less than 20 minutes, we do it on the spot and we ask that the customer waits outside. Our advice to everyone right now is to take care of your bike and be sure to get it fixed before it breaks down.” Booking appointments ahead of time allows the shops to schedule effectively and provide the best service in the safest way possible.

 

With a palpable shift towards shopping local – in an industry that was already very community-focused – it’s no surprise that support here is a two-way street. Not only, have mountain bikers looked for ways to spend money at their local bike shops during this time by taking advantage of opportunities to shop with curbside pick-up and delivery options – but the shops are also finding unique ways to stay engaged now that face-to-face interactions are not the norm. Susan Russell and Dave Sandsmark are the owners of Burnt Bikes in Burns Lake, by this time of year they are usually busy with their shuttle service in addition to their shop but with everything on hold, they’ve gotten creative with their outreach. “We decided to put out a daily challenge to the community to give them something to focus on. Such as bike skills, getting outside to explore, creating home bike obstacle courses, and checking out trails that are accessible. Our customers seem very positive, appreciative, and keen to get biking.” (Check out their Facebook page for the challenges. 

While much of this adaptability may seem effortless on the customer side of things, there is a lot of hard work and challenges going on behind the scenes. The Bicycle Café has had to deal with targeted theft that has resulted in both loss and damages. And despite staying open, all the shops are wrestling with lost income, layoffs, and a rapidly approaching summer season that is still full of uncertainty. And of course, there is the question of health, “In spite of being deemed an essential service,” says James Wilson, “it hasn’t reduced the stress of operating, as being open puts my staff at risk.”

In the face of these challenges there is a sense of comradery amongst these teams that are working so hard to support their communities. “Honestly just our ability to be able to work is a real spirit booster,” says Matt Grossnickle. And Cheryl Beattie confirms that what is keeping her team going is “the idea we are doing our best.” Of course, the tried and true signs of gratitude for a hard-working bike shop crew is still beer according to James Wilson, but he was quick to add that it’s only enjoyed after work!

“I certainly have realized over the past two weeks how much of a privilege it is to sell bikes for a living, especially during this global pandemic,” says Matt Grossnickle. “Many other small businesses are closed for the foreseeable future and many people have been laid off due to no fault of their own. To be able to get up and go to work at a job and provide a service that puts smiles on people’s faces is a true privilege and we don’t want to take it for granted at all.  We also want to thank our peers and other local bike shops that are figuring out new ways of doing business and sharing their methods.”

What the future holds is anyone’s guess at this point, but Susan Russell is optimistic, “Our store will have a different season, but we feel that we are providing a valuable service to the locals in the community” – and that is what is important.

 

As there is constantly new information about the pandemic and federal and provincial restrictions, please check with your local bike shop to find out what their current procedures are to manage the safety of their staff and customers.