Bikes still flying off the racks as cycling numbers remain high across city

Tony Scarselli, owner of Atlantic Bicycles in Boerum Hill.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

New York City bicycle shops continue to face a strong demand for bikes and repairs as pandemic supply chain issues persist and the number of cyclists remains high in the Five Boroughs.

“Every bike we get goes,” said Michael Gonzalez, a manager at Astoria Bike Stop in Queens. “And we can’t get new bikes until February 2022.”

Gonzalez has seen locals continue to bring in two-wheelers they got bought or fixed up during the pandemic bike boom, when New Yorkers avoided public transportation for fear of catching COVID-19 and opted for bicycles en masse instead.

Services like tuneups have had wait times of up to three weeks this spring, the Queens mechanic said. 

“We’re totally backed up I’ve had so many people coming in,” he said.

At Toga Bikes on the Upper West Side, manager Hobie Estrella said the recent demand for bikes and fixes has been “overwhelming.”

“A lot of people bringing their bikes out of the woodwork,” said Estrella. “A month ago we couldn’t take any work orders for repairs, there was a two-week wait — with four mechanics.”

The large amount of repair services have kept some shops in business, according to one longtime Brooklyn cycle fixer, as they had to pull the brakes on bike sales due to the shortages, especially from East Asian supplier countries like China.

“I had a horrible May if it wasn’t for repairs,” said Tony Scarselli, the owner of Atlantic Bicycles in Boerum Hill.

The store got less than 20 bikes this year, compared to around 200 in prior years, but repairs alone don’t bring in the kind of cash that sales do, according to Scarselli.

“How many flats can I do for $25,” he said.

More the surge of cycling last year, 25,000 people pedaled over the city’s four East River Bridges on an average weekday from July through October, a 21% bump compared to the same time in 2019, according to data from the Department of Transportation.

Subway ridership plummeted 90% during the spring of 2020, and numbers have since crept back up to around half of pre-pandemic figures in June, hovering around 2.3 million average daily riders in July so far, excluding the Fourth of July weekend. 

The preliminary bike counts for this year are more mixed, with DOT’s June numbers still showing a slight increase of cyclists crossing the bridges weekdays, but a dip on weekends.

There were 22,580 riders crossing the East River spans on an average non-holiday weekday this June, compared to 21,675 last year, up 4%. On days without rain, the growth was 11%, up to 25,431 cyclists on an average dry day. However, the weekends saw a similar dip of 11 percent.

A Manhattan bike store owner doubted that the bike boom will surge again this year, saying that the low supplies make it look like demand is going up. 

“The demand appears to be inflated,” said Andrew Crooks, owner of NYC Velo in the East Village. “24 months ago, a person [looking to buy a bike] called two-three bike shops, now they’re calling 25-30.”

But the store owners believe that even after the numbers level out, more people will stick to bicycles, and they hope the city will expand bike-friendly infrastructure in response, such as the new Brooklyn Bridge bike lane slated to open this fall.

“We have some people saying they’ll never get on a bus again, they say they enjoy riding the bikes,” said Estrella, of Astoria Bike Stop.

This story first appeared on AMNY.com.