As cycling spikes in Toronto, bike repair shops gear up to meet demand
Ed Mark is accustomed to a busy spring.
As the manager of Gateway Bicycle Hub, a community project in Flemingdon Park that promotes cycling education, he usually hosts free DIY bike-building and repair workshops during this time of year.
Those programs have been suspended until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean Mark has been resting on his laurels.
“A lot of people were e-mailing and inquiring if our services are open. They had problems with their bikes, so there was a fair amount of demand,” he said.
In response, Mark started offering free bicycle repairs at Gateway on May 4.
The shop is one of many bike repair businesses in Toronto, which have been deemed essential services by the Ontario government, that have stepped up to aid a seeming spike in cyclists across the city.
It’s an increase Mark suspects is at least partially due to COVID-19.
“I’m assuming that people are just needing activity and needing to get out, ” he said. “And since sports fields are closed, a lot of gyms are closed, cycling is a perfect opportunity to get out by yourself.”
Gateway’s free repair service is a departure from the shop’s typical programming, which teaches cyclists the skills and know-how to fix their bikes themselves.
But as bike shops around the city report booming sales, and the City of Toronto expands its cycling network as part of its ActiveTO initiative, Mark said he felt it was important to ensure cycling remains an accessible transportation option for the community.
“We wanted people on their bikes … And if we can’t deliver our regular programs, we had to do something so that we keep people on their bikes,” he said.
Gateway’s repair service operates by appointment to ensure there’s enough space to maintain physical distancing, Mark said.
Bicycles that are dropped off are left to sit for 72 hours — the maximum amount of time coronavirus particles can survive on a surface, some studies have shown — before a mechanic begins work on them.
Staff also wear face masks and face shields, Mark said.
He said the repair service has been so popular he’s had to expand the number of appointments Gateway can accommodate per week.
Mark said the shop has tuned up and repaired at least 50 bikes since launching the service and appointments are booked into June.
“We’re at maximum [capacity] in terms of how we can still maintain our sanitation schedule,” he said.
Sohel Imani, co-owner of Ya Bikes at Sherbourne Street and Queen Street East, said he’s also seen a surge in work.
After temporarily closing Ya Bikes in April, he reopened the shop on May 14 and has been met with a consistent stream of customers looking for bike tune-ups and minor fixes like wheel replacements and brake repairs.
“It is an onslaught of phone calls and e-mails and people coming by the shop. I’m turning work away simply just to stay safe,” Imani said.
He said the months leading up to summer are typically a busy time for the shop, but safety concerns related to COVID-19 have intensified business.
“Nobody wants to be on the subway, I assume. Nobody wants to be on the TTC … and I get it. So everybody wants a bike all at once. And the bike industry and cycling infrastructure is not ready for that in the city,” he said.
Like Gateway, Ya Bikes is now operating on a by-appointment basis.
Imani said it’s a first for the shop, which previously accepted drop-ins for repair services and bike part and refurbished bike sales.
Every bicycle that enters Ya Bikes is sprayed with sanitizer and all staff wear face masks, Imani said.
He said he’s also putting a cap on the number of appointments he takes each day to ensure the health and safety of both customers and mechanics.
Even with these measures, Ya Bikes is booked full for almost the next month, Imani said.
“Appointments three weeks out is, like, unheard of for our shop,” he said.
Imani said he sees this period as a “blip,” where more people than usual are hitting the road on bikes.
But he believes it’s part of an overall trend that has seen a steady rise in the number of cyclists in Toronto in recent years.
“This is definitely an upward trend here and this pandemic is just accelerating it, in my opinion,” Imani said.
Mark said he’s hopeful those who are now adopting cycling as a reliable transportation method or as a recreational activity will stick with it even after the pandemic is over.
“I think this is an opportunity for people to kind of embrace cycling and hopefully continue on this path,” Mark said.