By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Ever since the pandemic created stay-at-home recommendations and closed shops, theaters, gyms and restaurants, looking for recreation can become very limited and boring.
Discovering bicycle rides, with full protective gear, turns out to be fully compliant with social-distancing guidelines: I go for long stretches speaking to no one, touching nothing but the bike, and getting close to no one, even when passing other bikers. My usual ride has been over the East River bridges to Brooklyn and Queens and back, or around the 9/11 Memorial-Battery Park greenway, or up to Central Park.
With more time for these outings, I challenged myself to go on longer rides. One cool sunny day, I determined to complete the circumference of Manhattan Island, about 33 miles in four hours. Approximately 75 percent of Manhattan’s waterfront provides bike paths or greenway lanes; the other 25 percent is city streets and stoplights. This means that leaving the shoreline route is an uphill climb; in some places, like the George Washington Bridge or the Highbridge Park areas, the hills are as high as 10-story buildings!
Several such long rides, and longer ones deeper into Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and even Staten Island (masks are required on the ferry, though it’s almost empty in both directions!), really felt rewarding, and I looked forward to more.
Then in early May, on a mid-day ride up to Central Park, I stopped on Eighth Avenue to check out a green grocer cart on the sidewalk; the carts had disappeared in my neighborhood, so I took notice of this one. I leaned my bike against a post so I could look at the produce, turning my back but a moment, and when I turned to go back to the bike it was gone, nowhere in sight. Just like that, I was deprived of my reliable transportation (I was reminded of the wild west, where horse thievery was a capital crime!).
Thus began my exposure to one more side-effect of the pandemic—the insane demand for bicycles! I immediately set about shopping for second-hand bikes, hoping for a quick replacement. First, I stopped at local bike shops, but all they had were their used rental bikes, bare bones. I soon discovered, even on Craigslist online, the prices for lesser bikes would add up to the cost of a new one if I added fenders and backrack to match my old Trek bike. (Speaking of online shopping, how would I know if those offerings were not stolen as well?)
So, the decision was made to look for a new bike, but not too fancy since I didn’t want it to attract too much attention. Once again I made the rounds of my local bike shops: Waterfront Bikes, Echelon Bikes, Bicycle Habitat, Trek Bikes, Specialized Bikes.
Enter the world of Supply and Demand! The supply chain is all centered in China, even for American manufacturers like Trek, Specialized, and Jamis, so you can guess that those factories have been shut down for awhile! And the demand? I confirmed over and over that it was “through the roof!” That makes for a very difficult market. Shops can’t get deliveries, warehouse are running out of every style, prices are going up. Though the bike shops are labeled “essential businesses” and are open, they are all very cramped, packed with bikes and parts, so only one or two people at a time can enter, slowing any service you can get. Lines form quickly.
When I got my chance, I ordered from the local dealer’s in-store catalog for the perfect, in-stock (at the warehouse) American manufacturer bike, promised to arrive and be assembled for me in two or three days tops. I was thrilled!
Two weeks later, despite my repeated calls, visits, and pleading, the dealer has yet to receive delivery and the warehouse is too busy to return calls and can’t be certain when it would ship!
I’m using the heavy Citi Bikes, but just for short rides.
Oh well, I am thankful I can breathe and still enjoy the fresh breeze as I ride.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist.