Area shops are seeing more business as gas prices soar, although fitness is still the main reason why people ride bikes.
Victor Gaspar lives about 10 miles from his Trailblazers Bike and Sport Shop, and he bikes to work at his Victor store four or five days a week.
Based on sales at his shop and at shops in Canandaigua and Rochester, Gaspar may have more company on the road.
Many of Gaspar’s customers say they are planning to pedal to work more often, whether to squeeze a little more exercise into a busy day or to beat steadily rising gas prices.
“Last year we had one person come in specifically to ride their bike to work,” Gaspar said. “This year we’ve already had 30 people come in to purchase a bike saying, ‘I’m buying to ride to work.’ It’s growing by leaps and bounds.”
This trend has nowhere to go but up, as one-half of one percent of Americans ride their bikes to work, according to the League of American Bicyclists. Efforts like the organization’s Bike-to-Work Week (May 12 to May 16) and Bike-to-Work Day (May 16) may help.
A Web site is even dedicated to bike commuters, at commutebybike.com, which offers articles ranging from “A Guide to a Simple Bike Commute” to “How to react to aggressive or angry drivers.”
Andy Thomson, manager at RV&E Bike and Skate Shop in Canandaigua, said he will ride his bike to work when he can; however, since he lives in 20 or so miles away in Fairport, it won’t be every day. He works about nine hours day, and the additional three hours for the commute (about 40 miles total) would take time away from seeing his wife.
“If I lived 10 miles away, it would be a different story — I would ride in every day,” Thomson said.
Bob Virkler, of Canandaigua, who has been riding his bicycle for 30 or more years, tries to ride whenever possible, though his 20-mile work commute to North Main Lumber in Geneva is too far for him to pedal. He and his wife own two four-cylinder vehicles, a small SUV and a Mazda Protege, the latter of which they take when traveling together.
“If I am going somewhere that is four or five miles away, I will use my bicycle because it doesn’t use any energy or pollute,” Virkler said. “I sort of started riding in response to the fuel crisis in the 1970s. It’s not really about gas prices now, though. I still drive when I need to, but if I can use the bicycle I do.”
Bicycling is more than just finding a cheap way to go to work. It’s also about finding a healthier lifestyle.
“The media has been pounding into everyone’s heads about how unhealthy Americans are, so people are thinking, ‘What can I do to curtail this?’” Gaspar said. “Children’s bike sales are going up too; parents are being told to get their kids outside. (Kids) need to be active — the obesity rate (in children) is scary.”
Virkler feels most who pedal are doing it because they enjoy the exercise more than just the savings at the pump.
“I like the bike for exercise and can have that benefit while I get to where I am going,” he said. “I still think the only people who will commute by bicycle are those who truly enjoy riding.”
Whatever the reasons, bicycling is big business.
About 18 million bicycles have been sold annually in the United States over the past few years, accounting for about $6 billion in annual sales, said Fred Clements, executive director for the National Bicycle Dealers Association in Costa Mesa, Calif.
An adult hybrid bike — used for road and off-road surfaces — usually ranges from $350 to $600. Children’s bikes can range from $70 for a 12-inch to just under $400 for a 24-inch model.
The price of bicycles has gone up slightly however, due to increased shipping costs and the higher cost of tires and inner tubes. When ordering bikes, RV&E tries to order enough so that manufacturers will cover the cost of shipping, which is about $30 per bike.
Gaspar said there has also been more service work on older bikes; customers are bringing in bikes they haven’t used in years and are trying to get them fixed up, he said.
With all of the riders using the roads, many communities — including Canandaigua — could be more bicycle-friendly, Virkler said.
“It mostly involves making wider shoulders on the roads, and people being more aware of us (out on the roads),” he said. “I’ve seen cars pass a cyclist out in traffic and then cut them off to make a right turn.”
If fitness and the economy aren’t enough to make a bicyclist hit the road more often, Andy August, owner of Park Ave Bike Shops in Rochester and Henrietta, offers an incentive to his employees if they ride to work: money.
“If they ride to work, my employees receive a (monetary) bonus depending on the length of their commute,” August said, adding that the farthest distance was five or six miles from the store.
August said he has seen a lot more interest in commuting by bike, and thinks it will continue — especially if gas stays over $4 a gallon.
“You’re going to see a lot more alternative ways to save energy — biking uses none except for your own,” August said. “The rising price of fuel isn’t really good for the economy, but it’s pushing for a more healthy (way of transportation); people are going to start thinking about bikes more.”
Kelli O’Brien can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 272, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.