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A lockdown success story: NI's bike shops besieged by avid customers

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Paul Kane

Paul Kane

A cyclist during the lockdown

A cyclist during the lockdown

AFP via Getty Images

Fraser Duncan

Fraser Duncan

Paul Kane

Bicycle shops have reported record sales as a cycling revolution begins in Northern Ireland.

People heading back to work are shunning public transport and opting instead to make the daily commute on two wheels.

One family-run bike shop in east Belfast has seen a 70% rise in trading.

Paul Kane, who helps to run David Kane Cycles in Ballyhackamore, said that on Monday alone, they had 40 customers come in looking for repairs - as well as customers wanting to buy bikes to commute to work.

The Government has appealed to commuters to return to work via bike or on foot, rather than using trains or buses, to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Paul, whose store was established by his father, Dave, in 1978, said that while they closed their premises for seven weeks, they have been left astonished by the interest since they reopened.

"We only reopened on Monday and from then, we've been snowed under," he said. "From Monday, we were caught off guard ourselves with the amount of people, we had 40 repairs left in with us. Typically, we would get 40 repairs over a period of three weeks.

"There have been people coming in asking about bikes to commute to work, and those with bikes in their sheds and garages are now bringing them in to get repaired, so they can use them to get to work."

He continued: "With kids' bikes, we're nearly sold out of them. The problem with the bike industry now is replenishing those stocks going forward. We haven't see it like this in a long time.

"We're easily up 70% compared to the same period last year."

The 46-year-old, who helps run the shop with his brother, Mark, said the store has also welcomed medical consultants who want to commute by bike.

He added: "There's a realisation of the health benefits as well, that we can fight these things (Covid-19) by staying healthy, rather than be stuck in a car or on a bus." Meanwhile, in Londonderry, Michael McLoone, who owns Total Cycling based in Pennyburn, said he cannot keep up with the demand for bikes.

He said: "I have never seen anything like this - it is insane. We sold out of all the bikes we had that cost around £270, although we still have more expensive bikes.

"We can't get any more of the more affordable bikes from the suppliers because they have run out, too.

"I suspect the suppliers and the manufacturers were caught on the hop, too, so I have a feeling we will have to wait on next year's stock to come in, which will probably not be until the end of the summer - this just caught everybody on the hop.

"What people are also doing is bringing us their old bikes that they have pulled out from the back of the garage for repair.

"I don't understand this really, I don't know if it is because most of the other shops are closed and people have time on their hands, but I have never been busier."

Second-hand bike store, Belfast City Centre Cycles, has also reported an increase in commuters wanting bikes, revealing that it sold out of bicycles two weeks ago.

"We're on the budget end of things and our business has increased three-fold," said the owner, who did not want to be named.

"At the minute, we have a waiting list for repairs and I'm doing 12-hour days working on them. At the start of this, we had NHS staff who were keen not to be on public transport because they didn't want to pass on anything they may have picked up in hospital onto someone else."

However, Fraser Duncan, who was a rider in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and is co-owner of The Bike House in Bangor, said that while sales for the store have gone up, it was mainly driven by those looking to buy a bicycle for recreational purposes.

"There has been an uptake and we're half expecting that it will continue with commuters," he said.

"I just think it's still too early for us to see that yet. A lot of people are still not back at work.

"We've seen an increase in recreational riders and hopefully that transfers to commuters."

He stressed that for commuter cycling to flourish in the long term, our infrastructure would have to change.

This was echoed by Paul Kane, who welcomed Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon's pledge that cycling and walking would be at the "very heart of our transport policy".

He added: "When my father opened the business in the 1970s, everyone cycled to work and he's seen the generation where it went away. Hopefully it is back now."

Belfast Telegraph