From stationary to pedalling furiously, Newcastle bike shops appear to be benefitting from an upturn in community exercise.
Wickham-based We are Lusty - a wholesale action sports distributor which sells stock to bicycle and motorcycle shops - says its move to deliver mountain bikes direct to its customers had allowed it to keep one step ahead of the coronavirus impact.
"I wanted to create a systematic way for our retail shops (dealers) to still be able to sell products to the bicycle/motorcycle consumers but we handle the shipping, logistics and delivery," said its owner, Johnny McLean.
"Think of it as We Are Lusty acting like an Amazon fulfilment centre. I called it the Customer Home Delivery Service."
Mr McLean, who runs the business with his wife Helen Bird, said the new service allowed customers to pick out a bike, part of accessory from the We Are Lusty website, then call their local store to let them know their order. The store then placed the order with We Are Lusty, which delivered the product the next day.
"We deliver to the safety of a customer's home with no face to face contact - everybody wins and it's been quite successful and a little ground-breaking moment for our industry," he said.
Mr McLean said it was a "godsend" that We are Lusty sold bikes as people ramped up their exercise to keep mentally and physically healthy amid the pandemic.
"The bicycle community has rallied and a lot more people have continued to ride or start riding again," he said, adding that the motorcycle arm of his business had not enjoyed the same uptake because of restrictions or limitations by government.
We Are Lusty's trade was steady in March however Mr McLean had noticed that April was softening.
"But it's day by day and the direct to the consumer service seems to grow and grow," he said.
Mr McLean and his wife have sacrificed their earnings and made cost-cutting measures to keep afloat but have had to let some of their casual team go.
"We will work on getting them back here and there," Mr McLean said. "None of our full-time staff have been made redundant, we have made cost cuts across the board as I want to take all my team with me through to the other side. We will be using the JobKeeper and any stimulus packages we can to help get us through. It's great to see our government have a good go this time unlike the bushfires."
Mr McLean said the positives of the coronavirus crisis was that it had helped drive efficiencies: "We had a bad run in 2014 so I'm attuned to knowing what's needed to limp through hard unknown times...not that I ever wanted to do it again."
John Maisey, who owns Adamstown bike repair shop Ghost Gums Bikes, has given extra shifts to his handful of staff to keep up with increased demand in April.
"We've had a lot of repairs, a lot more than we would at this time of year," he said.
"I'm having to do some pretty late nights to try and keep on top of it, which is great. We can't get on top of it like we would normally, we've had to say to people to drop the bikes and we'll move from there."
Mr Maisey sells a limited amount of bikes, his main focus being repairs. He says demand for those services are up by between 50 and 70 per cent.
"There are people who are dragging their bikes out because they are going nuts being inside doing sweet FA, you have others who aren't working as much and instead of putting money into petrol they are putting money into a bike to get around, which is probably sensible for them; then you have your regular customers," he said.
If one thing comes of the pandemic, Mr Maisey hopes it will be more awareness of cyclists.
"If you have heaps of people who haven't been riding, people are now out there and hopefully they will be more aware of cyclists and a bit more courteous to each other as road users - be it a pedestrian, a cyclist or motorist," he says.
Mr Maisey worked last Sunday, which he never usually does, and is missing cycling more regularly.
There are people who are dragging their bikes out because they are going nuts being inside.- John Maisey
"You have to make hay while the sun shines at the moment. At the end of this, too, I think there will be a lull," he says.
At present, his work is largely based around getting bikes that have been in garages back into working order, checking over gears and brakes.
Mr Maisey said his business typically experienced a rush a few weeks a year, but right now it was consistently busy and showed no sign of slowing.
Brett Hadley, owner of Hadley Cycles in Lambton, Belmont and Maitland, said the increase in sales and repairs was "unprecedented" at this time compared to a year ago, when the staging of a state and federal elections within weeks of each other had curbed consumer spending.
"My repairs have been out for two weeks and I have never been at that point ever," he said.
"We will get ahead from today, we'll get ahead this week I hope - the rain will help that."
Mr Hadley said the family business, founded in 1975, had experienced a slump in trade in the first week of the government's lockdown, however when gyms were closed, it prompted people to try new exercise routines.
He has 28 staff and has just put two more on, intent on training them up to be ready for the end of the year sales period.
"Right now it feels more like a November, when you ramp up for Christmas. It's far beyond any April I've been involved in and it's off the radar," he said. "It's mad but a good mad."
Drift Bikes director Robbie McNaughton said the biggest impact of the coronavirus on his Kotara business entailed how to best protect his staff and customers while also continuing to trade.
"We had to cancel the launch of our city store due to the uncertainty and bring online sales plans forward to be able to trade in the event that the country was out into similar lockdowns to New Zealand," he said.
While demand for bikes is high, the fact that bike shops across the country had gone into a "buying frenzy" now meant that stock was "extremely limited and in some cases, unavailable for some time", when factoring in shipping delays. To help protect staff and customers and respect social distancing rules, Drift has switched its store to "call and collect" and closed the store to browsing.
"Customers can still frequent the store and are served independently by our sales staff," Mr McNaughton said. "Parts and accessories are significantly down, most likely due to customers not being able to browse, but we are doing our best to keep the touching of our stock to a minimum whilst still fulfilling customer needs."
"Ultimately we want to show our customers that we take health very seriously and that until we see government restrictions lift, we will continue to uphold a level of safety that we feel is necessary to do our part in preventing further spread of the virus."
Mr McNaughton said the government's JobKeeper stimulus had instilled confidence for Drift to keep its staff on and its doors open, especially with the looming threat of low supply.
Bernard Hockings and Lyn Patrick from Metro Cycles Newcastle have seen an uptake in bike sales for exercise, transport, entertainment, with some customers having extra cash as their travel plans were cancelled. It has also had a "significant increase" in service requests as people pull their bikes out of their garage.
Metro Wheels has a shortage of child seats and entry level bikes and e-bikes, however Mr Hockings says the shortage may not be fully felt for another three to six months, when suppliers current stock ran low due to factory shut-downs and port delays.
Metro Cycles has social distancing measures in store and tweaked operations to cope with phone and email inquiries and online sales.
"The disruption to travel and working habits has provided a key opportunity for behavioural change. People are enjoying riding in an urban environment with less cars," Ms Patrick said.
"Families are looking for an opportunity to get out of the house with their kids. It's great seeing more people on bikes but to sustain that into the future we need to continue to improve infrastructure for when the traffic comes back," she said.
Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.
If you have a story worth telling, contact Penelope Green: email@example.com.
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