A striking number of Western New Yorkers have taken two routes toward wellness during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Walking climbed 500% from March through May, bicycle riding ballooned by 3000%, and both activities continue at higher levels, according to the Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.
“People are looking for things to do and they have more time on their hands,” said Justin Booth, executive director of GObike Buffalo, the largest biking advocacy group in the region. “Lots of people have picked up and dusted off that bike in the basement or tried to get a new one. I ride on a regular basis and even I've put on more miles this year than I have in several years.”
Two of the most accessible and least expensive physical activities have shouldered a larger load preserving health while fitness centers remain closed and Covid-19 stress lingers.
Not that more biking hasn’t come with its own challenges.
The pandemic spawned an unprecedented run on bikes and the parts that keep them moving. Many who haven’t used theirs in years lament their state of disrepair. Bike shops across the country struggle to replace inventory and have told customers it likely will take two weeks or more before they can get customers onto a working bicycle.
“It's a good challenge to have and we're working on adjusting,” Booth said.
He and other GObike leaders shared options, as well as tips.
Finding a bike
Slow Roll Buffalo got off the ground this week halfway through its planned 2020 summer season, as riders braced themselves against Covid-19 and set out from Babeville on Delaware Avenue.
High demand and stretched international supply chains have limited availability of bikes, as well as many parts needed for repairs.
Booth is among those who feel the pain. He recently wanted to buy two bike tires at a city bike shop and had to settle for one.
Bike shop workers across the region have told customers they hope shipments will arrive in greater numbers later this month or in September.
That has forced many customers to look online and discover a similar scenario.
Used bikes are another possibility. GObike sold 120 refurbished bikes at its Colvin Avenue workshop all of last year, compared with 185 so far during 2020.
“Every Friday, we try to post bikes,” workshop director Stacy Sauvageau said. “Because we're doing a million other things during the week, too, we probably get about a dozen up every Friday and they're always gone by Sunday.”
The bikes cost $100 to $250, depending on type, size and features. The nonprofit also provides some of its restored bikes free to those without means to buy one.
Get ready to ride
You need more than a bike before you hit the road.
That includes a pump and folding tool with hex keys, one or two inner tubes, lubricant, a rag, and an attachable pouch or cargo bag. A water bottle holder and water are important, as is a cellphone.
Before you roll off, run through an ABC quick check to assure your bike is in working order, said Adam Ianni, education director and one of four GObike employees who helps repair bikes and mind the workshop.
A is for air. Check your tire pressure – and pump up tires even if you haven’t ridden your bike in a while and they look flat. Tire tubes are made with a porous butenal rubber and expel air over time.
B is for brakes. Grab and squeeze both brake handles and try rock the bike back and forth. The bike tires shouldn't move.
C is for chain, crank and cassette, which make up your drive train. Shift gears, one at a time, when you start your ride to make sure all the parts are moving smoothly.
Also make sure the wheels are fastened properly onto the frame.
“If you do these things combined, you can get some good exercise,” Ianni said.
Rules of the road
“Fundamentally, as a person on a bicycle, you have the same rights and responsibilities as any other road user,” Ianni said. “That will inform all your decisions as a bike rider. Traffic signals, traffic signs, road markings, all these things apply to you.”
They also apply to motorists. Bikers often share stories of drivers who yell at bicyclists in the street to move onto the sidewalk, Booth said. That would endanger pedestrians, he said, and is illegal in Buffalo for any biker over age 13.
The activist history tours start at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Those younger than age 14 are required to wear bike helmets and Ianni recommended riders of all ages do so. Bikers also should ride with the flow of traffic, be predictable in their movements and try to anticipate potential collisions with motorists, pedestrians and other bicyclists.
That involves planning destinations and keeping on bike paths and low-traffic roadways when possible, he said.
Those riding for fun and fitness have a plethora of safe routes to travel in the region, including the Niagara River Greenway Trail, Erie Canalway Trail and bike paths that traverse most towns and cities. The Buffalo Outer Harbor and new Pennsy Trail in Salamanca are among trails Booth recommended.
Motorists can protect biker safety by remembering that those who bike do so for many reasons, including the inability to afford a car. Among helpful steps: refrain from stopping in a bike lane to park or drop off goods or passengers.
“It's all about being respectful to your fellow citizens on the roadway,” Booth said.
Call your bike shop if you need repairs. Most are scheduling them out a week or two as they work to meet demand. Some also are limiting the number of customers inside the shop or, as is the case at the GObike workshop, meeting them outside.
Sauvageau and Ianni, who are married, are among two couples who spend most of their weekdays in the 600-square-foot workshop, though bike parts and bikes in various states of disrepair fill many of the GObike quarters that once served as police precinct.
The staff used to run three weekly sessions helping GObike members fix their bikes at workshop repair bays.
“Starting in March, when we closed down for the pandemic, we basically just kind of started operating like a normal retail bike shop,” Sauvageau said.
GObike also has do-it-yourself bike repair videos at vimeo.com/gobikebuffalo.
Schedule a repair appointment, buy a bike or make arrangements to donate one through the workshop website at gobike-buffalo.square.site or by calling 320-0193. Donate a bike by leaving it in the rack outside the workshop; the nonprofit is fine if someone who needs one takes it before they have a chance to refurbish it.
Many bike shops rent bikes, but their supplies have been limited during the pandemic. GObike Buffalo has a link to other rental prospects on its website.
Two regional health insurers also help boost the supply.
Reddy Bike, a nonprofit in partnership with Independent Health, currently offers an annual membership discount with 1-cent-a-minute rentals.
BlueCross BlueShield Blue Bikes at Canalside are available all this summer from 11a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sundays, and are sanitized between each use.
BlueCross BlueShield members have access for the first hour for free. It costs $1 for the first hour otherwise. Every additional hour cost $5 or it’s $15 for the full day.
If you can, enjoy some rides in coming months, stay safe and boost your health.
If not, put on a comfortable pair of shoes and go for a walk.