The afternoon rain let up somewhat just as Randy Craig was ending his day and getting ready to head home.
“I’m considered a bit of a weird guy,” chuckles Craig, who rides seven kilometres to his downtown job every day.
“I left super early this morning and rode along the waterfront, and you can actually see the kayakers and even the paddle boarders were out at that time of the morning,” he said.
A retired OPP investigator, Craig now works as a financial advisor and investment retirement specialist at Scotiabank’s Collier Street location in downtown Barrie. He figures riding his bike from his south-end home takes him about 20 minutes, faster than driving. He doesn’t ride too hard and on weekends he brings in the suits he’ll need for the week while at work.
But on his ride home Tuesday, in between spells of rain and the odd flash of lightning, he had a pretty good pace going along the southshore trail.
When the health pandemic hit, exercise options became limited, so cycling to work is providing him with a mode of transportation and it gives him a bit of daily exercise.
Although he’s noticed the number of people on bikes gradually increasing this spring, as a bike commuter in central Ontario, he’s somewhat of an outlier. When he worked at the OPP headquarters in Orillia, with its workforce of roughly 1,500 people, for instance, he would be one of only a dozen or so who rode in by bike.
Bike commuting still hasn’t caught on significantly in Barrie, but there is, without a doubt, a renewed interest in cycling overall that has spurred a surge in sales, reflecting a continent-wide trend.
“We’re just crazy, crazy busy,” said a representative from the Trek bike store on Dunlop Street.
“Bikes have been flying off the shelves,” Giant Barrie bike tech Kylie responded quickly by phone.
At Bikeland, Morgan Lemen has noticed the biggest increase has been with families coming in and buying bikes.
As families find themselves spending more time together, something more people have more of, they’re taking advantage of what’s close to home. Add in the fine weather and cycling together seems to be the sweet spot, he muses.
“They’ve been cooped up so long and now the weather is good,” he said. “Everyone wants to get outdoors.”
The surge he’s seen has been going on all season.
Earlier, during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic when very few ventured out of their homes Bikeland saw a big interest in online sales.
And people are buying from all over, some coming from the farthest reaches of southern Ontario for that specific model they can’t source anywhere else.
With the warm weather, the Hart Drive store is seeing even more traffic through its curbside pick-up operation.
The repair technicians are always busy this time of year, with typically week-long waits. Currently, says Lemen, a customer might wait up to two weeks to have their bike repaired.
He said the story has been the same right across the continent with the North American dealers group that he’s part of. The surge occurred earlier south of the border when those communities began experiencing the warmer weather.
While there are challenges with curbside sales and trying to meet the extra demand, Lemen isn’t complaining.
“It’s a good problem to have,” he said.
A bonus in many cities across the continent is that many roads are being designated for bike and pedestrian use only to accommodate pent-up demands and meet physical-distancing needs as many are trying to get out just to stretch their legs when exercise clubs and recreation centres are closed.
In Montreal, 327 kilometres of space on its city streets are being dedicated to pedestrians, cyclists and terrasses.
In Toronto, there have been calls to immediately install 40 kilometres of temporary bike lanes along the main subway lines and another 60 kilometres following busy surface transit routes.
In Barrie, a section of Lakeshore Drive was recently closed to vehicles. It’s just a tiny stretch, but for Craig it’s a delightful one.
“It’s a beautiful ride,” he said. “You start to see the routine down there, there’s certain people you pass in the morning. I see the GO train every morning at 7:10 pulling out of the station… it looks like a ghost train.”
And it’s catching on. Craig says he's seeing a gradual increase in the number of cyclists using that stretch of road.
“I think, going forward, my plan is to do it all year-round,” said Craig, who doesn’t mind donning another layer, or 10, during winters.But, in the interim, he could look forward to riding another section of roadway without interference from vehicles. Council is moving to closing Dunlop Street, between Mulcaster and Clapperton streets, to vehicles from June 15 to Oct. 15 this year.