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A Pandemic Biking Boom Is Happening In Ohio, But Will It Last?

A person bikes on the Olentangy River Trail on March 31, 2020.
Micki Hernandez
A person bikes on the Olentangy River Trail on March 31, 2020.

If you've had trouble buying a bike lately, you aren't alone. Entry level to mid-range bikes are in short supply because of issues related to the pandemic, as an increasing number of people take to local bike trails for exercise.

Standing on the Purple People Bridge for a September 25 cycling event, Breakfast on the Bridge, Fifty West Cycling owner David Ariosa said the shortages are almost across the board.

"Everything that has to do with cycling right now: bikes, inner tubes and pedals," he says.

J.B. Hutton, who owns West Chester Cyclery, is also seeing shortages. He's repairing people's old bikes since riders can't get new ones.

"When all this started back in the spring, everybody was stuck at home and wanted to get out and ride, and everybody bought bikes," he says. 

Hutton looks for the surge in riding to continue into the fall. Ariosa says the supply shortage should gradually improve.

Cincinnati is echoing a national trend where bike sales are up in the double and triple digits. Axios reports sales of mountain bikes are up 150% and leisure bike sales are up 203%.

Seasoned cyclists in Cincinnati are noticing fewer riders on the road but more on trails. Madeira's Chan Stevens is a regular bike commuter, but because of COVID-19 is working from home.

"I'm extreme, so I'm not going to suggest that any of your users go this far, but I basically eliminated the use of a car entirely," Stevens says. "Everywhere I go is either bike, Uber, or wife, in that priority."

Stevens has some cool gear, including a seat with radar to alert him to rear traffic and a helmet that lights up when he brakes and flashes turn signals. Even with the right gear, he's been hit twice and cautions motorists to yield to cyclists.

"'Your' roads are actually 'our' roads, funded by 'our' income taxes and not your gas taxes," Stevens says. "And in fact, the first paved roads in America were through the efforts of a bicyclist union, not for cars."

Steve Magas is known as "the bike lawyer," and runs theFatal Crash Project, which tracks every deadly bike accident in the state.

"Ohio has always been a very safe place to ride, but we've seen an uptick in the last decade in those numbers really ticking up in the state and nationally," Magas says.

Magas blames cell phones and social media for the distraction. But he tries to be positive and is enthusiastic at how the pandemic has increased interest in cycling.

"To me, this pandemic has been hugely positive in that people are sort of rediscovering the joys of their neighborhood, walking around, the joys of getting on a bike and things like that," Magas says. "Bike riding is way up and it's fun!"

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.