While the current times feel dark, there does come the occasional light.
Bicycling, which seemingly has been around as long as the invention of the wheel, can get us out of our homes safely for a few hours during this hideous coronavirus lockdown.
Thanks to the wisdom of Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf and lawmakers, bicycle stores have been allowed to remain open.
In essence, these shops are the quintessential non-essential essential.
Thousands of cyclists across Bucks County and the Keystone State are taking advantage of the bicycle store exemption to execute “jailbreaks’’ from their self-imposed home quarantines.
What better way to not only exercise and get fresh air but also leave that routine of television, books and board games?
So stores such as Newtown Bike Shop in Newtown and Bike King in Levittown have decided to remain fully open, keeping in mind proper precautions such as social distancing and fastidious hygiene are taken.
Others, such as Guy’s Bicycles in Feasterville and Basic Bicycles in Montgomeryville, stay open on a limited basis – not allowing customers into their places of business but handling repair orders on an appointment basis.
Newtown Bike Shop owner Harry Betz says it’s a challenge to keep things going as normal as possible but knows he’s providing a valuable service to the community.
“Last week the local parks were closed for a few days and people were coming into the store saying, ‘we can’t believe they closed the parks, that was our one ray of sunshine,’’+’’ Betz said.
“I read where New York governor (Andrew) Cuomo said the (New York) parks should remain open, he welcomed people and encouraged them to get out. He understands the importance of being away from your home, as long as they practiced safe distancing.
“A few days later, the parks here were open. So just getting out in fresh air makes me feel a little bit better.’’
Betz permits one or two customers at a time to enter his store on State Street. It’s a common sense arrangement.
“For sales, we have people wear gloves when they test-ride a bike,’’ Betz explained. “We (store personnel) are wearing gloves. If a customer touches the counter, we sanitize it.
“The people who come in profusely thank us for being there for them, because it is a saving grace, especially for families who are cooped up. On a nice day, there are tons of people out biking, more than I’ve ever seen in my life. You can only watch Netflix so much.’’
Over at Bike King, owner Ed Preston points out he’s not only working on bikes but such essentials as wheelchair repair for the physically challenged and walkers for the elderly.
“We’re following all the rules that we can,’’ Preston said. “We’re doing both sales and repairs. And business has been fairly healthy. It is what it is.
“After every transaction, we wipe down the cash register area. We clean the door (for entering and exiting traffic) three or four times a day. If someone comes in and looks at a bike, we wipe down the bike. We’re taking as many precautions as we can. We ask people who are feeling sick not to come in.’’
Like Betz, Preston recognizes the value of biking in this trying period in our lives.
“I believe it’s important that we remain open to serve the people we serve,’’ Preston said.
Bob Burke, long-time manager of Guy’s Bicycles, continues to service bikes through a call-in arrangement. For the time being, the showroom remains closed.
Last week, Burke was only allowing bikes already in the store to leave. As of Monday, Guy’s is now taking in new orders.
“We knew there were customers who were desperate for their bikes and had to have them,’’ said Burke, discussing what people with bikes already in the store (when the state-wide “non-essential’’ closings went into effect) were doing. “Through our answering machine and Facebook, Instagram and our website, we’ve listed our store number that they could text to as well as email.
“People have been texting us saying ‘Listen, I really want my bike (on back order), it’s in your store.’ We take the bike out, lock it on a rack and they come get it. I’m not even seeing the bike owners.’’
Burke has sent most of his staff home for preventative health reasons, so needless to say, he’s keeping busy.
On the positive side, Burke knows cycling is one of the few things we can do without too much worry.
“Everyone’s cooped up,’’ Burke said. “They don’t want to be. . .and this isn’t just for avid cyclists, this is for recreational moms and dads and kids. I can’t imagine how crazy parents are going with their kids in the house.
“When you’re out biking, you’re not in close contact with people. So this is something they can say at least there’s something I can do and have fun. Can’t go to a movie theatre, can’t go to the local gym. But this is outside, you can. Riding through the parks, on the canal path, it’s wonderful.’’
Basic Bicycles co-owner Donna Manze knows cycling can offer some relief for folks who spend most of their time indoors. People are not permitted in the store but they can order bikes.
“If people know exactly what they want, I can help them through a sale,’’ she said. “If it’s something I have that’s appropriate for them. We do repairs – it’s just about getting people back on their bikes.’’
Burke’s been at Guy’s for 40 years. This is a situation like none he’s ever witnessed but he’s making the best of it.
“Thank god they’ve addressed it (keeping stores open) and realized how important it is to people,’’ Burke said. “For some people, it’s their way of getting around. I actually delivered a bike to a gentleman who doesn’t have a (driver’s) license; this (his bike) is his only way of getting around. He needs that bike.
“I brought it to his house and left it on his porch. So I think it was a good call by the governor to pull this thing off.’’