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As Pandemic Continues, Bikes Are The New Toilet Paper: They're Hard To Find

Nick Swartsell
A MoBo volunteer explains options to two shoppers at the nonprofit's annual bike sale.

Saturdays are busy at Reser Bicycle in Newport. At any given time, there are two bikes up on the rack in for repairs. Customers trickle in and out, looking for gear or a new bike.

In fact, since the pandemic, more and more people are coming in for the latter, employee Gabe Robinson says.

"I can't put a number on it, but I would say on a typical Saturday that's the majority of people coming in, they're thinking, 'I want to get back on a bike; or get a new bike or upgrade from this old mid-90s bike,' that's the vast majority of people coming in on a Saturday," says Robinson.

Owner Jason Reser says when the pandemic hit, they had a slight stutter in sales, but it was short lived. By April of last year, it was hard to keep up with demand.

"It's really the first big jump that we've seen since the '70s for cycling and I think most outdoor activities have seen an uptick in recent years," says Reser.

Nationwide, bike sales are up. NPD Group, a market research company, reported a 121% increase in adult leisure bike sales in March of 2020.

But as customers hurry in looking for a new bike, they can hit a road bump, according to Robinson. Due to high demand during the pandemic, it's been tough to keep mid-level bikes in stock.

"We'll definitely have more of the high end stuff than the entry and mid-level stuff and then more of the outlier sizes, like your extra smalls and your extra larges, but for your average size, that's where it's going to be tough to find something," he says.

Customer Michael Edwards found himself in a tough spot when he went looking for a bike.

"They just are not out there," he says. "Actually I have had a bike hitch rack on order here over a year and the bikes are just as hard to find. For some reason because of the pandemic, everyone wants to ride a bike and my size and price range are hard to find and the manufacturers or importers are just sending out what they can."

Sydney Fisher was able to find what she was looking for online.

"I actually got it on Amazon, it was about 400 bucks so it was just a starter for a nice road bike," she says.

She assembled the teal colored road bike herself. Now she's brought it into Reser because she thinks she's having an issue with the brakes. It's going to see a lot of action. Fisher isn't new to cycling but has been biking more during the pandemic, riding 20 miles a day on the Little Miami bike trail. 

"I definitely am finding more time to do it, let's be honest," she says. "I'm doing it at least five times a week rather than three. It did increase drastically for me over the pandemic. Then again, what else are you going to do with your time? And it's a freedom thing, where you're doing it socially distanced and you have that freedom while you're still in captivity, you know what I mean?"

Where Cyclists Can Find An 'Abundance' Of Bikes

While Reser Bicycle can't always get every model of bike in stock, there's another organization across the river that's loaded with refurbished bikes for sale.

On a recent sunny Saturday, a line stretches around the block in Northside for MoBo's annual used bike sale.

MoBo isn't a bike shop. It's a nonprofit cooperative founded in 2007 where members pay a small annual fee for access to bike tools, parts and maintenance guidance. The spring bike sale is its big event.

It's even bigger this year due to the pandemic, longtime volunteer Katie Vogel says.

"We've seen bike shops not be able to keep bikes in stock," she says. "So our bike sale is not only our largest fundraiser for the year, it's also an opportunity to address the bicycle shortages we're seeing in regular bicycle stores."

The sale has drawn a wide variety of bike shoppers, from seasoned cyclists to budding enthusiasts just starting out.

Minnette, who asked us not to use her last name, is looking for a bike to ride with her kids, who have used their bikes to escape the monotony of being stuck at home during the pandemic.

"I grew up in the South," she says. "Our way to get out and get away from the farm was to go bike riding. We were always out on our bikes. I've noticed my daughters, just being stuck in the house all through the pandemic, as soon as they got their bikes serviced, they've not been home. They've just been riding their bikes. I was like, this is amazing and it's bringing back memories."

Marcus Donaldson, another bike sale customer, is a newer biker looking to level up to a nicer ride. He says he chose MoBo after searching in vain for a better bike at the beginning of the pandemic. He likes the organization's community focus and affordable prices.

"I've heard great things about MoBo," he says. "I've heard they foster biking community here, and I'm looking to tap into that."

MoBo volunteer Vogel says the bike sale isn’t the only opportunity for people in Greater Cincinnati to get a good used bike. The cooperative has a barn full of bikes free to members – they just need a little TLC.

"We are currently not accepting donations of bicycles because we have too many," she says. "So it's an abundance of riches here."

Vogel says that MoBo is working on selling bikes year round – they just want to see more people riding.

Selena has been working in local newsrooms since 2006.