Spring Forward Into Biking - 2021 Edition

February 23, 2021 • Transportation

It’s been a long winter, to put it mildly. We’ve been stuck at home, inside for a very very long time. But this particular spring feels hopeful, and with longer days and more sunshine, it’s time to get back on your bike!

Need a push? Below we’ve laid out advice on how to get a bike (or fix the one you already have), where to ride, and more.

Get a bike

If you need a brand new bike, you may be waiting until 2022. That’s because bike demand skyrocketed once lockdowns began: In the U.S., retail bike sales were up 65% in 2020, compared to 2019, according to the NPD Group. Sky-high demand coupled with already low inventories and Chinese factory shutdowns in the spring of last year means that most shops and box stores are unfortunately still out of stock. But there are other options for getting a bike now ― read on!

As a first step, call local bike shops to see if they have a bike in your size that would work for the type of riding you want to do (for more on how to choose a bike, check out our Bike Buying Guide). Shops have limited inventory right now and tons of backorders, but it’s still worth it to call and ask.

After that, check REI or other big sports retailers. These stores will likely have some amount of decent bikes for sale and mechanics or sales associates who can help you get rolling.

The last option for a new bike is to purchase direct from an online retailer and have it shipped directly to you. Although this sounds like a good idea, these bikes generally require assembly and special tools. Unless you like to wrench on bikes yourself, it’s usually better to walk out of a bike shop (or ride!) with your chosen bike.

There is a robust market for used bikes, but if you’re new to biking, it’s best to seek advice from bike-y friends or colleagues before settling on a used bike. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are obvious places to search for used bikes, but also try your local Buy Nothing group. It’s possible someone in your neighborhood has a bike to loan you or even give you for free!

Lastly, you probably know someone who has an extra bike that you can borrow for the time being. Most bike nerds will tell you they own “n+1” bikes, meaning they likely have one they don’t ride often, currently sitting in their garage. Put out feelers on social media or Nextdoor; you may be surprised to find that your community has your back!

Get a helmet

A helmet is a mission critical piece of gear, and luckily helmets aren’t as impacted by supply issues. You also don’t need to spend a lot to get a helmet deemed “safe.” Helmets are required to meet minimum federal safety standards, so any price hike reflects additional features, like better airflow, lighter weight, more outlandish colors — not necessarily safety.

You can purchase a Consumer Product Safety Commission-tested helmet at the Stanford Campus Bike Shop for a cool $25. For more on helmets, including fit and recommendations, check out our Helmet Guide.

Dust off your bike

Maybe you have a bike, but you’ve been hibernating all winter. All good — you just have to make sure your major bike systems are in good working order before heading out on a ride. Do this by performing the “ABC Quick Check” — a checklist of tests that ensure that 1) there is air in your tires 2) your brakes are working properly 3) your chain is oiled and not making ominous grinding noises 4) your quick releases are secure and 5) your bike is generally in good working order. The video linked above will walk you through each step, or see SRP’s detailed guide here.

One of the most common maintenance issues is fixing a flat, which is easy to do at home. Park Tool makes the most coherent bike repair videos on the internet, but if you prefer your tutorials with a little lolz, check out Stephen Colbert’s.

If your bike needs a more significant repair than you’re capable of, then it’s best to call your local shop. Most shops are scheduling appointments weeks or even months out due to high demand, so don’t delay calling. Another option is to book an appointment with velofix, a mobile bike repair outfit. Velofix makes house calls and provides contactless service, a definite plus during a pandemic.

Get a route

You’ve got the bike and helmet; now: where to ride! Generally off-street bike and pedestrian paths are the safest and most pleasant places to ride. Check out our Where to Ride Guide, which includes regional recommendations. Or attend a Bay Trail Confidential virtual meeting, where you’ll learn about great places to visit on the SF Bay Trail, a trail network spanning more than 350 miles along SF and San Pablo Bays.

Pairing biking with an interesting outdoor destination (see Atlas Obscura for ideas) or activity ups the fun factor, especially if you’re riding with kids. Here are some activities on our radar:

  • Participate in the City Nature Challenge in April and May and help document and identify the species of the world.
  • Play the Game of Shrooms, a once a year world-wide art N seek event.
  • Try geocaching (finding treasures hidden by other geocachers) by bike.
  • Create a bike bingo card or a home-baked scavenger hunt.

Wherever you ride, make it an adventure!

Get a refresher or ask for help

For a comprehensive library of bike knowledge and skills, check out SRP’s toolkit. Here you’ll find links to guides, videos, and other content that covers all aspects of biking. As always, if you have any questions, we’re here for you. Email srpgo@stanford.edu anytime.

Hope you enjoy sunny happy trails!

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