Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Bike shops switch gears to meet demand during the coronavirus

Bronn James, who owns Freewheel Bicycle Shop in Newport News, said all the bikes in the shop are owned by someone else and are waiting for repairs. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Bronn James)
Bronn James, who owns Freewheel Bicycle Shop in Newport News, said all the bikes in the shop are owned by someone else and are waiting for repairs. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Bronn James)

Many have been venturing outdoors, be it for walks, jogs or just taking in a breathe of fresh air after being cooped up inside most of the time during the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

After all, we all need a little bit of exercise, right?

Another activity that’s seeing a resurgence in popularity is bike riding, and bicycle shops on the Peninsula are seeing an increase in sales and bike repairs these days.

“Well, so the shop is absolutely crazy,” said Bronn James, president of Freewheel Inc., a family-run business which owns Freewheel Bicycle Shop in Newport News. “Manufacturers who we actually order bikes from are out of stock so it’s been really, really hard to get bikes in to fit the needs of the rider.”

Even before the coronavirus, James said there was an increase in bicycles sales and repairs.

“It’s all repairs right now,” he added.

Most of his shop is now filled with bicycles waiting to be picked up or get repaired. The bikes for sale are placed outside the shop.

To keep up with the repairs, James started a night shift and hired four additional staff members. They do their best to disinfect common areas throughout the day — and night.

James said only one to two customers are allowed inside the shop at a time because the amount of bikes waiting for repairs has limited the walking space inside.

“Everything you see on the floor, on the tier is owned by somebody,” he said.

In terms of getting new bikes, most of the manufacturers have an online inventory list and a date when the bikes will be available and he is currently on a waiting list.

“Those dates are generally reliable, but those dates are not available right now,” he said. “They are waiting for the update themselves.”

As soon as new bikes come in, they are gone, James said.

The only bikes available for sale are worth thousands of dollars and the average rider or family doesn’t want to spend that much.

“Luckily we deal with both new and used bicycles,” he said.

Throughout the years James and his family have collected bicycles, storing them in a warehouse since 1995 and occasionally taking them out if they fit the customer’s needs.

Lately he has been pulling out six to 10 bikes each week, fixing them up on Monday and by Wednesday, they’re gone.

“A bicycle has a shelf life in my shop as low as 45 minuntes,” he said. ”If a bike stays in there more than 2 to 3 days, I’m usually surprised at this point.”

He normally stocks 80 bicycles in the used bike section of the shop, but now he has fewer than 20 bikes ready to sell.

“At this point everything is out of stock,” he said. “It’s a rough situation when you go to Walmart and their stock is pretty empty. Not only are bicycles completely out of stock but parts to repair bicycles are getting extremely low, too.”

James said he’s been fixing a lot of flats and selling spare tubes to riders. And while the tubes are still available, the saddle manufacturer they use is now out of stock, too.

Typically if parts are low, he’d take apart a new bicycle and use the new part on a refurbished bike and replace the other part later. Now, James said, he can’t pull the parts off them because he is unsure when he will be able to replace the part.

But James said he is thankful for the business and feels good when he drives around the neighborhood spotting bikes he sold or fixed.

“I’m actually excited and happy that we have so much business because that means there are so many people out there exercising,” he said. “We’re helping a lot more families going out there, getting out the house––fresh air.”

Barry Herneisey, president of Bikes Unlimited in Williamsburg, said business picks up anyway during the spring.

Most of the customers coming to the shop are new — whether they haven’t ridden their bike in years or are kids off from school.

“It seems like pandemics and $4 gas is good for the bike business,” Herneisey said his wife Jan tells him.

He’s also been busier with repairs, noting a lot of people are buying bikes online and putting them together.

Herneisey considers himself lucky. He stocked up on bikes for Christmas but didn’t sell much. Now he is just starting to run out of inventory.

“Everyone wants a $400 hybrid and I just don’t have them,” he said.

While he did get five bikes worth $1,200 the other day, they are not entry level bikes.

“I’ve had people coming, saying Target and Walmart are out of bikes,” he said. “There’s literally nothing on the shelves.”

He expects a new shipment of hybrids to come in a couple weeks.

Herneisey said he is happy the bike business was considered essential during the coronavirus.

Bikes that come in for repairs sit for a couple of days or Herneisey says if it’s a quick fix like a flat, he’ll work on the bike for 10 minutes while the customer waits.

“A lot my people, they can’t afford to drop it off,” he added. “That’s how they need to get around, that’s’ how they need to get home.”

He can do a couple tune-ups or bike check-ups in a day but customers who need a tune-up can’t make an appointment until at least mid-June.

The store’s hours also changed from closing at 5 to 6 p.m. — the extra hour is spent disinfecting and cleaning the shop.

“If I get exposed, I’d have to quarantine and close the store for two weeks,” Herneisey said.

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Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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