May is Bike Month in Austin, and usually the time for the city’s annual Bike to Work Day. This year, Bike Month celebrations looked different due to the coronavirus pandemic—Austin Transportation Department promoted virtual events and safety tips, and the official Bike to Work Day was postponed to December—but local bike shops and cycling enthusiasts still had a busy month.

According to Brad Wimberly, owner at Southwest Austin’s Bikealot, many Austinites have turned to cycling while social distancing measures keep them cooped up and away from gyms and other usual recreational activities.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand overall, and an increase in phone calls from people looking to restore old bikes,” Wimberly said. “So many people are too busy with their jobs to be able to get out and enjoy them under ordinary circumstances. A lot of people found themselves with time, and looking for healthy things to do to get out of the house and exercise.”

Similarly, Velorangutan, a bike shop off Ben White Blvd., saw a surge of clients looking to repair neglected bikes, increasing calls to the shop’s small repair service.

“When the shutdown happened, apparently everybody pulled their bikes out of the garage and started biking again,” Velorangutan owner Wes Hayslip said.

In fact, demand for bikes during the pandemic resulted in something of a national bicycle shortage, with manufacturers running out of popular affordable bike models, according to Hayslip.

“It’s almost like bikes became the new toilet paper,” he said.

Increased demand for bikes and bike services have not kept Velorangutan or Bikealot from feeling negative business effects during the pandemic, however. Both Hayslip and Wimberly chose to keep their facilities closed to the public, despite being considered essential businesses.

In lieu of having customers visit Bikealot’s showroom, Wimberly and his fiancee, Jeni Lyon, revamped the shop’s website so customers could view inventory and submit orders online, and also increased business via phone and made service available outside the Bikealot’s building. However, Wimberly said closing the showroom has still taken its toll.

“The extra precautions we are taking are keeping us busier doing less,” he said. “Even though our decision to close the showroom has made sales and service more difficult we felt it was a necessary step toward doing everything possible to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

At Velorangutan—which specializes in mountain biking, as well as motorcycling at Motorangutan, the other sphere of Hayslip’s business—similar adjustments have been made, including outdoor and curbside service. Hayslip said he has actually seen improved business on the mountain biking side of his business, but his motorcycle sales and services have declined. Still, he believes closing his shop to foot traffic was the right choice.

“I decided my employees’ health was worth a lot more than making a few dollars,” Hayslip said.

Hayslip said he remains gratified for the current burst of enthusiasm for cycling in Austin, and hopes the “boom” will continue. Wimberly also feels hope that the people will have a heightened appreciation for the activity as COVID-19 eventually tapers off.

“Hopefully this new joy of riding will continue to keep people aware of the possibility of getting people around town on bicycles,” he said.

“One thing for sure,” Wimberly added, “is that this is no ordinary Bike Month!”

Editor's note: The attribution of several quotes in this article have been clarified as of 5:21 p.m., May 28.