The Bike Boom

Cycling Industry Skyrockets During Pandemic

Story by Michael Seguin

Many, many industries have been suffering right now underneath the oppressive heel of the novel coronavirus.

However, one industry has been soaring ahead of the others: the bicycle industry.

In the last few months, swarms of cyclists have taken to the streets, taking advantage of the summer weather to enjoy both the sights and sounds of Windsor and Essex County and the undeniable thrill that comes with biking.

“There’s a feeling of freedom that comes with biking,” Executive Director of the Bike Kitchen Lori Newton explains. “The feeling of the wind against your face. The adventurousness of going out on a bicycle and truly not knowing where you’re going to end up.”

“I live out on a bike lane,” Mark Long, the Co-Owner of Infinity Cycles, explains. “And I see, literally, hundreds of people riding by each day. Families. Kids. Groups of teenagers that probably haven’t been on a bike in a long time! That’s the amazing part to me. We’re seeing a throwback to these family activities and exercise. And we’re seeing that sort of mobility with the younger crowd.”

The interior of Infinity Cycle co-owned by Mark Long.

The industry, Mark confesses, has not experienced such staggering growth in decades.

“The last time there was a bike boom this big was when the mountain bike first hit the market in the 1970s,” Mark states. “But what they’re saying now is that this boom was brought on by the virus, and what industry leaders are looking at now is electric assist bikes. They feel that that’s going to carry us through this boom right now. But when you look at it, everything from kids bikes to mountain bikes to road bikes is sold out.”

“The growth of cycling and number of people who are cycling is huge,” Lori states. “There’s a man in my neighbourhood who started his own bike ride on Monday nights. He’s a lovely man. And within a couple weeks he accumulated, I don’t know, a dozen people out riding with him. People really want to ride. People want to learn how to ride—more so now than ever.”

Katherine Wilson, the Active Transportation Coordinator at the County of Essex, explains that this bike boom is part of a longstanding desire to make Windsor and Essex County more connected.

The 2019 Annual CWATS Celebration, featuring Kevin Morse, Katherine Wilson and Town of Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain.

“CWATs is the County of Essex’s regional active transportation plan,” Katherine explains. “Back in 2012, our original master plan was developed. What we were looking to do was to connect our entire region through an active transportation corridor. We examined what other factors we could use to support that. Our overall goal is to connect the seven municipalities of Essex County and make connections with our neighbouring municipalities in the City of Windsor and Chatham-Kent.”

Over the last eight years, the County of Essex has completed half of their long-term goals.

“We’ve been implementing our network year-by-year, continuing to grow,” Katherine states. “CWATs is a 20-year plan and since 2012, we’ve implemented half of our total network. Our full network, once completed, will be 800 kilometers of connected pedestrian and cycling facilities. Today, we’ve completed close to 400 kilometers of infrastructure. Once this is in place, residents of Windsor and Essex County will be able to enjoy biking in their communities and other municipalities. Our goal is to give them a safe way to get out and be active.”

“The county is doing a phenomenal job through CWATs,” Lori explains. “By putting in paved shoulders and connecting those communities. And the Town of Essex has done an amazing job connecting us to Kingsville. They’re even working on Highway 50 to help people get safely from winery to winery. These are wonderful things. Leamington is even working on these new avenues to access Point Pelee safely. The county’s done a great job encouraging and promoting active transportation.”

“It feels great, seeing families and teenagers out on bikes,” Mark states. “When all is said and done and we finally have a fix on the virus, if we can just retain a quarter or a half of the people that are riding right now, then I think that will be great for everybody. We’re seeing municipalities rush through cycling infrastructure right now because they know that everybody is out on a bike right now. They’re really stepping up.”

And with its flat terrain and gorgeous trails, Windsor and Essex County is a landscape almost uniquely designed for cyclists.

Katheryn Loewen, Program Director, Lori Newton, Executive Director and Ron Drouillard, Mechanic.

“There are so many places to go on your bike!” Lori exclaims. “In the east end, all around Blue Heron, there’s some wonderful trails. There are similarly wonderful, wonderful connected trails in Lasalle. Lasalle has this wonderful network of safe, separated bike trails that are enjoyed by residents, commuters and visitors. Out in the county along Highway 50, there are areas where you can see the lake and the vineyards, it’s absolutely beautiful. This is the perfect place to ride!”

Cycling, Lori explains, is not just a method of transportation—it’s a way of better connecting with your community.

“You say hello to everyone as you ride by,” Lori states. “And then you notice a little café that you could stop by. Or a book shop. Or a winery. You can just stop and explore. You don’t do that in a car. You never smile and wave at the other drivers if you drive by. But if you’re on a bike, you are going to stop. You’re going to spend some money. You’re going to spend some time. You’re going to have an experience. That’s what it’s all about. Having experiences. It’s all about the journey on your bike.”

“I think it’s very positive for our region,” Katherine admits. “It’s something we’ve been trying to grow for some time. The benefits of active transportation are well-known. It has a positive impact on your health, the environment and the local economy. What we hope is that as we transition back into a regular routine, people will consider integrating these new activities into their daily lives.”

And as Lori stresses, there’s always new adventures to be found on two wheels.

“Get out there and discover your community,” Lori advises. “Enjoy the breeze and the sights!”

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