OMAHA — Lately, the line to get inside the Bike Rack has stretched along the front of the northwest Omaha store.
The phone seems to ring all day.
In 30 years of operating the Omaha and Lincoln bike shops, Jim Carveth said this is the busiest he has ever been. From the time the shop opens to closing time, he said, employees are helping customers — in person and over the phone.
“It’s been great," he said. "I think the biggest thing is that it’s not just a guy or gal coming in for a bike. It’s a lot of families. Everybody wants to get out.”
The demand for bicycles — new and used — has spiked across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. The temporary closure of gyms forced some fitness buffs to turn to other kinds of exercise. Parents have also been seeking bicycles for kids who have been cooped up at home.
Carveth compared it to a “bike boom” in the 1970s.
Big-box stores haven’t been able to keep a wide range of bicycles in stock. And at times, neither have locally owned shops.
At the Bike Rack, bikes being shipped to the store are selling even before they arrive. Customers sometimes must wait a couple weeks for the bikes they order to come in and be assembled.
Linda Flott and her husband, Joe, had plans to get into cycling before the pandemic hit. But finding bikes has proved to be tricky.
Flott, 59, searched for used bikes on sites such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. The bikes had already been claimed by the time she reached out to the sellers.
The Flotts then started searching for new bikes. The first store they visited was sold out of bikes that would fit them. They found the right bikes at the second store.
When the weekend weather cooperates, the Flotts have joined other cyclists as well as walkers and runners on the West Papio Trail.
Kim Scherlie, president of the Omaha Pedalers Bicycle Club, said the group has seen an increase in inquiries from riders wanting information on memberships and organized rides.
Trails have been noticeably busier, regular riders said.
“It’s not a positive thing that it’s a result of a pandemic, of course,” said Alexander Martin, a service manager at the Trek store south of 72nd and Dodge Streets. “But I’m definitely enjoying the fact that people are taking an interest in the sport.”
The lines of customers waiting to get into Trek have wound through the parking lot, Martin said.
Most of the store’s entry-level bikes, which go for $500 to $800, are sold out, he said.
“As bikes come in, they’re being built and are being sold before they’re even built,” he said. “We’re moving through them that fast.”
Both the Trek store and the Bike Rack said they’re seeing new faces. Most of the regulars and bike enthusiasts aren’t coming into the stores.
Carveth said he noticed an uptick in sales at the Bike Rack in mid-March. He and his employees got on the phone with their vendors and doubled the size of their orders.
They now have almost 4,000 bikes on order from vendors. Usually, an order would be a third that size.
Some people have dusted off old bikes stored in the garage and are bringing them in for repair work and tuneups. Carveth said the Bike Rack is backed up, taking two or three weeks to finish repair jobs.
Both the Trek store and the Bike Rack have limited the number of customers allowed inside, and they’re requiring customers to wear masks. Test rides are allowed, but employees must do frequent cleaning.
When sports practices, games and tournaments were canceled, Josie Smith’s kids quickly tired of the stay-at-home routine.
Smith, who took up casual bicycling last summer, decided to take Olivia, 16, and Eli, 11, with her on the trails. They hated it at first.
But a broken chain caused Olivia to try out her mom’s nice bike. That hooked her.
Smith, 37, lucked into two upgraded bikes for the kids on Facebook Marketplace.
Now the trio hit the trails around their Bellevue home three or four times a week for 10- to 20-mile rides. They tackled the popular Taco Ride on western Iowa’s Wabash Trace Nature Trail for the first time. Olivia and Eli take 5-mile rides almost every day.
“It’s been fun having everybody interested in the same sort of activity,” Smith said. “Now I’m having trouble getting out by myself. They don’t let me do that anymore.”
Once sports start up again, Smith said, it might be tough to find the time to go out as a family. She hopes that they will carve out time to go on one ride a week.
It’s tough to say, Martin said, whether the interest in bicycling is just a fad or is here to stay: “We definitely hope that people find bike riding inspirational and they love the hell out of it and keep doing it.”