When COVID-19 shutdowns cleared the streets across cities and created a lot of restless people, it drove a boom in biking. While this means a lot of new additions to the community of avid cyclists, some bike enthusiasts have created careers to go the distance in this industry.
Adam Sklar, who designs and builds custom, high-end bikes in Bozeman, Montana, started his own business eight years ago. Before COVID hit, he had a two-year wait list for his bikes and he had to stop taking new orders. Though even his business was not entirely unaffected by the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic brought about. With that rapid increase in bike sales from 2020, it has made it harder for Sklar to find and purchase all the parts he needs to finish his bikes. “I can build as many frames as I want, but getting parts is a little tricky these days,” he said. “So I have a lot of frames waiting for one or two parts right now, which can be a little frustrating.”
Shabazz Stuart is the CEO and Founder of Oonee - a company he started to tackle the lack of secure bike parking in New York City. “After having my bicycle stolen three times in five years,” he said, “I thought, what if we solve this problem for good?” Oonee builds and maintains customizable pods with secure bike and scooter parking. They have two pilot locations in New York City, and are hoping to work with local governments and communities to scale up and accommodate some of the infrastructure changes that the pandemic created in cities. For him though, bike culture isn’t only about people who cycle for recreation.
In cities like New York, a large part of the delivery ecosystem is driven by bikers. For those who are making a living delivering on bikes, having bike infrastructure is critical to them being able to do their jobs. “They keep our restaurants afloat, keep New Yorkers fed and they control traffic on the streets,” Stuart says. “Can you imagine if eighty thousand people who make between four and ten trips a day all delivered in cars instead of bikes?” He is hoping to see more recognition of the role that these workers play in New York City’s economy. “Biking culture is not just something that we use because we want to, because it's nice, because we want to get around and take in the air. It's something that people use for work. It's something that is critical.”
For now, Sklar has shortened his two-year wait list and is focusing on having less clients at a time so that he can spend more time working one-on-one with each person - something that he thinks is part of the appeal of his brand. “With COVID I did dial back on taking orders and I've come back in a more sustainable way for both of us.”
As the pandemic reimages the way many cities are using their streetscape, entrepreneurs like Stuart and Sklar are hoping to see further public investment in bikes and scooters and more opportunities for people to get out of cars. “If cities could decide to roll out outdoor dining programs in the blink of an eye, if people can change culture over the course of a few months,” then Stuart is hopeful that we will see a reset in how people look at urban life.