Cycling demand skyrockets as Canadians look for transport alternatives

Elianna Lev
·4 mins read
Many Canadians have taken up cycling as a new way to get around since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many Canadians have taken up cycling as a new way to get around since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As ridership on public transit across the country has seen a drastic dip in the months since the pandemic was declared, concerns about physical distancing and air circulation have led droves across the country to find new ways to get from A to B. As a result, it seems that more Canadians are hopping on bikes as a way to get around.

But there appears to be a discrepancy between the supply and demand for this mode of transportation. Bike shops in cities across Canada are having a tough time keeping up with the number of customers looking to invest in a new set of wheels.

Kale Powell, owner of Cycle Solutions in Toronto has seen a huge uptick in sales of bikes and accessories. However, it’s been challenging to keep up with the demand since the supply chain has been out of product since the start of the pandemic. By mid-season, Powell says he had nothing to sell. When what little inventory he can get does arrive, it’s been hard to keep it in stock.

“Here and there we get a couple of bikes and they sell before they even get into the shop,” he tells Yahoo Canada.

In turn, bike services are up as people scramble to fix and tune up their old set of wheels, since it’s so challenging to buy a new ride.

“Right now I’m dealing with back to school,” Powell says. “People don’t want to take transit. I’ve heard it’s been hard to even find a skateboard right now. Every other means of transport aside from transit has gotten popular.”

Bobby Holliday with Simon’s Bike Shop in Vancouver, echoes a similar sentiment.

“It’s our busiest season ever and we’ve been open for 33 years,” he says. “It’s busy every summer for us but it’s been extra busy.”

Powell suggests that anyone looking to invest in a new bike should put their orders in now so that they can secure one by next year.

A spokeswoman for Mountain Equipment Co-Op, which has stores throughout Canada, told Yahoo Canada that bike sales have seen strong double digit growth” throughout the pandemic.

A survey conducted in June by CAA found that there’s been a 30 per cent increase in the amount of cycling in Canada.

Raymond Chan, manager of government relations with CAA Ontario, says this is unprecedented.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a 30 per cent increase year over year or across any other year in a non-pandemic situation,” he says. “A lot of municipalities have shut down some major streets to make them more pedestrian and cycling friendly.”

In Toronto, 40 km of bike lanes have been built to accommodate cyclers, 25 km more than it had planned before the pandemic. In May, Vancouver announced it would introduce 50 km of slow streets, which allow local traffic only, giving more space to pedestrians and bikers.

Despite more cyclists taking to the road, there doesn’t appear to be an increase in bike-related accidents in major cities across the country. While annual statistics monitored by Toronto police currently only go up to 2019, the Vancouver police department say they have not had an increase in bike-related collisions since the pandemic first started in early March.

“The numbers actually dropped from the previous two years,” Sergeant Aaron Roed wrote in an email. He also noted that bike-related accidents are tough to track as not all are reported to the police.

A spokesperson for Calgary police also said they haven’t seen an increase in bike-related incidents since the start of the pandemic.

Michael Longfield, interim executive director of Cycle Toronto, a not-for-profit organization, says those who are having a hard time finding an affordable bike should check out DIY bike shops and co-ops.

“You can learn skills and tools and assemble your own bikes,” he says. “There are groups like the Women’s Cycling Network that run bike match programs. There are ways to track bikes down.”