The Bicycling Boom: The wheels just keep on turning
For nearly two decades, Earl “Buck” Lynge had the same exercise routine: Go directly from work to the St. Pete YMCA, play a little half-court basketball, hit the weight room for some light lifting, maybe swim a few laps in the pool, spend a half-hour in the sauna, shower and go. It all took about two hours.
Last spring, Buck, like so many of us, saw his workout regimen completely upended in a matter of days. The Y was off limits, and even though the facility reopened several months ago, Buck, 67, has not felt comfortable returning. Last year, he also transitioned into working from his home in northwest St. Pete.
“I’m a single person and even though I’m kind of a homebody, I’m not going to hang around the house all day,” he says. “From an exercise standpoint, substituting for the Y was simple: Get on the bike and go.”
Buck says he cycles around 12 to 14 miles every day, riding at a brisk clip and mixing in sprints. He stops when something catches his interest, whether it’s to peruse a shop downtown or relax on the pier in Gulfport. He’s usually out about three hours.
Buck is part of a movement that has been rightfully coined a bicycle boom. It’s been primarily driven by the pandemic. Last year, as the outdoors became a recognized safe space, legions of people turned to cycling for exercise, fresh air and exploration.
The boom started quickly. In April 2020, sales of traditional bikes, parts, helmets, and other accessories surged 75 percent from the previous year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks consumer trends.
The bicycle boom quickly led to a bicycle shortage. The pandemic not only sharply increased demand but slowed the supply chain and production of parts. Mark Yeager, owner of St. Pete Bicycle and Fitness, has maintained stock throughout because, he says, his buyer aggressively sources bikes from as many distributors as possible.
The shortage has eased somewhat in ’21, and Yeager expects the market to return to normal in the summer. For the time being, though, he advises, “If you see a bike and you like it, buy it.”
While many reborn cyclists have simply put in more time, effort and miles on their existing bikes, some have gone all in with expensive performance models and embraced advanced tech to measure distance, performance, heart rate and myriad other data.
Strava has become the premier cycling app during the boom. It works with mobile devices to track and analyze a plethora of cycling performance metrics. Strava is also a social network for riders, allowing groups to compete virtually with each other by racing the same route and having times tracked and posted on the app. Basic Strava is free; a $5 monthly subscription unlocks more features.
Of course, cycling apparel is hot, too. A must-have for riders of high-performance road bikes are bib shorts, clingy one-pieces that go over the shoulders (reminiscent of high school wrestling trunks), with ass padding so riders can tolerate those thin, hard seats. From there, they can layer all manner of brightly colored shirts, jerseys, vests and jackets.
It goes on and on: $300 helmets to better protect your noggin; $265 sunglasses; polar-insulated water bottles, and a whole lot more. And let’s not forget shoes. Cyclists can easily spend more than $300 for a pair. Entry-level models go for about $100, and some are styled like sneakers.
Of course, cycling can be dirt cheap, too. Which brings us back to Buck Lynge, a ponytailed Deadhead and self-professed hippie. He bikes in the same stuff he once wore at the Y and sheepishly admits that he doesn’t own a helmet.
When asked how important his daily rides are to him, he pauses and says, “A 10 out of 10. I’m not out there trying to kill myself. I’m oxygenating the blood, getting my body moving, looking around, noticing, ‘Hey, that guy should trim his oak tree.’ There’s no better way to explore a city than on a bike. For me, cycling is a win, win, win.”