While it hasn’t been without its frustrations, the Great Bicycling Boom of 2020 definitely opens up some new prospects for Christmas-season gift-giving.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in the spring, the bicycle industry experienced an unprecedented surge of demand: Local bike shops not only had difficulty keeping up with demand for new bikes, they were slammed with repair and maintenance work on bikes people already had. Phil Hooper, owner of Eastern Shore Cycles in Spanish Fort, said that some of that has changed, all these months later, and some hasn’t.
The long wait times for repairs are gone, as are the lines of customers waiting their turn, Hooper said Wednesday. “But it’s 9:30 a.m. and twice today we’ve already had that fun conversation twice,” he lamented. “‘Do you have any kids’ bikes?’ ‘Why not?’ ‘When will you have some?’”
Hooper does have dozens of bikes for sale, which wasn’t always the case earlier this year. But he’s hurting for some specific types: fitness hybrids, children’s bikes, entry- and mid-level mountain bikes. Another thing he’s had a hard time keeping in stock is stationary trainers that let a rider convert a roadgoing bike into an indoor exercise bike. They’ve always been a seasonal item, but this winter the demand is higher. “Those are like the toilet paper hoarding right now,” he said.
Bear in mind that because bike shops deal with different manufacturers and supply chains, circumstances will vary from store to store. It pays to shop around. And any local bike shop will have a selection of goodies that’ll help keep a new rider on the bike or help an intermediate rider progress. Here you’ll find a few suggestions, some of which involve bookstores rather than bike shops.
This guide assumes your rider already has a helmet, a decent headlight and a painfully bright blinky taillight. If they don’t, start there.
Flat kit (various manufacturers and price points) — Any rider should have the tools to fix a flat. The basics are a spare tube, a couple of tire levers and a cartridge CO2 inflator or mini-pump. All-in-one kits are available, or the folks at any local bike shop can tell you how to assemble the pieces. “We like to do the a la carte method,” said Hooper. “That way we can get everybody exactly what they need.” You will need to know your recipient’s tire size. If you’re being stealthy and don’t want to ask them, you can get it off the sidewall of the tire. Look for something like “700C x 25” or “26 x 2.1,” and make sure to note if the valve is a Schrader (like on your car tires) or a skinnier Presta. Or just snap a couple of photos to show the folks at the bike shop.
Pumps ($20 and up) — Maybe you get away with not checking the air in your car tires for months a time, but that doesn’t fly with bicycles. Those need to be checked and topped up frequently. Mini-pumps can be mounted on the bike and are good in a pinch, but any cyclist needs a good floor pump at home. Better ones have a large pressure gauge built in; all but the cheapest will have a clever head that fits both Shraeder and Presta valves.
Bike tools ($20 and up) — Cyclists love a good gizmo. A basic one featuring screwdrivers and metric hex bits is good for making minor adjustments during the ride. More complex ones might include features such as a chain breaker. Some specifically address the needs of riders using tubeless tires — because just having two different valve types wasn’t complicated enough. If your cyclist shows signs of mechanical aptitude, you might consider throwing in a copy of a repair guide such as “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” by Lennard Zinn. There’s a road bike version too.
Stocking Stuffers — Looking for an inexpensive item that almost any cyclist is guaranteed to appreciate? Safe bets include tire levers, chain lube, bike-specific cleaning products and flashy cycling socks.
“Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100,” by Roy M. Wallack, Hachette, $19.99 paperback, $2.99 ebook — Bicycling presents a fitness conundrum. Cycling is great exercise, but it’s not great if it’s the only exercise you get. Especially if you’re talking about road riding, it doesn’t do much for flexibility, bone strength and posture. The point of this book is to help cyclists develop a well-rounded fitness regime that offsets cycling’s weak points while capitalizing on its benefits. It’s a very readable guide that also touches on topics outside the gym, such as nutrition, aging, mental health and relationships. Looking for something a little different? Selene Yeager, who writes on fitness for Bicycling Magazine, offers several good choices, including “Ride Your Way Lean,” “Get Fast!” and “The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Women.”
NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass $54.99, www.nbcsports.com — Trying to watch cycling’s biggest events on broadcast TV can be a frustrating experience. Events other than the Tour de France don’t get a lot of love, and even the Tour’s live broadcasts fall at awkward times in the U.S. NBC’s online cycling package opens up a whole new spectrum, giving access to more races (such as one-day spring classics and the Vuelta Espana, the Tour’s Spanish counterpart) and more variety (mountain biking, cyclocross and women’s events). You can watch live or later, often with the option of an ad-free feed. There is one big catch, though: Current subscriptions end May 31, before the 2021 Tour starts on June 26. So you’d probably want to present this as a promise now, and make the purchase when you can get the 2021-22 season.
A bike fitting ($100 and up) — Many bike shops will offer professional fitting services. Riding a bike is never going to be as comfortable as lounging on a sofa, but it shouldn’t hurt. If the cyclist in your life continually complains of a sore butt, numb hands, lower back pain or throbbing knees, odds are good that he or she is doing something wrong that can be corrected. And it should be corrected, before it does long-term harm. Methods and prices vary widely, from basic assessments to highly technical systems that can cost hundreds of dollars. These can be purchased via gift certificates (as can cycling clothing).
Road ID ($20-$40, roadid.com) — In the beginning, the Road ID concept was simple: A high-visibility bracelet with your ID and the phone number of an emergency contact, should you need medical attention during a ride. The basic idea remains the same but there are more options now, including tags made to fit the wristbands of smartwatches or attach to a shoe. Most have room for a personalized motto — or for information on a specific health condition.
“The Rider” by Tim Krabbe, Bloomsbury USA, $19.95 hardback,$7.20 ebook; “Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180,” by Mike Magnuson, Penguin Random House, $14 paper — These are two of the best books ever written about cycling, and they couldn’t be more different. “The Rider” is a 1978 classic that conveys the author’s attempt to win a small-potatoes 137-kilomenter race in France. It’s packed with racing lore and, in its recreation of a racer’s stream of consciousness, it’s pure poetry. “Heft on Wheels” dispenses with poetry right up front. Literally: The cover image is a fat naked guy on a bike. That’s Mike Magnuson, whose memoir is about the way he used a midlife cycling obsession to transform himself from an overweight, hard-drinking slob into a lean, mean mountain-climbing machine. But it’s also a brilliant piece of sports writing, mixing in tragedy and comedy while communicating the attraction that makes cycling so addictive for some.