After months in isolation, outdoor fun has never sounded better
IN A SUMMER full of irony, the one faced by Matt Krumins at Tuckahoe Bike Shop may not be the bitterest, but it is frustrating. At a time when more people than ever are interested in getting bicycles, the bikes themselves have become hard to come by.
“The whole industry now is just totally flipped upside down,” said the longtime shop manager. Ocean City Magazine reached out to talk about trends in bicycling, not about the pandemic, but the pandemic seems to have its own gravity, impacting every aspect of life, including bicycling.
The shop carries about a dozen different brands of bikes, from beach cruisers to high-end road bikes.
“Everyone is totally out of stock. It’s been a fight to get product; between stores even,” he said.
Demand is up, not only for bikes but for any outdoor equipment, he said. He’s heard similar stories about kayaks and other items, including fishing rods, as people look for new ways to keep active and for a reason to get outside after months in isolation.
“The gyms are closed,” he said.
But even as demand grew, supplies dropped. Many factories in China suspended production late last year and into early 2020 because of the coronavirus, Matt said.
“China did shut down for about six weeks,” he said. “There are bikes made in other countries. But when the virus first hit, the whole world shut down.”
The stores carry bikes from Germany, the Philippines, Taiwan and some that were assembled in the United States, but all saw disruptions in manufacturing.
“Then, after everyone being home, they’ve been so isolated, they just want to get out in the nice weather and ride,” he said. Bike riding is a low-impact exercise, and as Matt pointed out, even if you ride with other people you are usually at least six feet apart.
The store locations aren’t empty; each has a selection of bikes ready to ride. But the inventory is tough to come by. Matt said the store was always able to order a bike for a customer looking for something specific. They’d come in, he’d tell them about options, what colors were available and they’d have their bike in a couple of days.
“Now, it’s months,” he said.
Matt began at Tuckahoe Bike Shop in 2006, a few years after Niclas Elmer opened his first location on Route 50 in Tuckahoe. Niclas is from Sweden. He moved to the United States in 1983, launching a business renting bikes at the Jersey shore.
“He wanted to come to America to live the American dream and have his own business,” Matt said. The first one was Surf Buggy bike and surrey rentals, which Matt described as a fundamentally different kind of business. The bikes are dropped off for summer vacationers and picked up at the end of the week. That business remains in operation.
“This was the first brick-and-mortar store he bought,” Matt said, sitting in an upstairs office in the century-old building at 2151 Route 50. The building needed extensive renovations before it was ready to operate.
The shop now has locations in Sea Isle City, Avalon and Ocean City, where a building a 1235 West Avenue has also been renovated after Hurricane Sandy and opened in 2013. Before that, the Ocean City store was located across the street, in a rented space that once held an appliance store and is now Atilis Gym.
The Ocean City location sells bikes, helmets, equipment and does repairs. On most summer mornings, he said, there is a line outside for flat tire repairs even before they open and the staff spends much of each morning looking after those repairs.
Some people want lights or helmets, he said, but most people coming into the Ocean City location want to buy a bike, or more. With many people buying second homes in the city, he said, people will often come in to stock the house with bikes for riding the neighborhood, a morning Boardwalk ride or for their kids commuting to summer jobs.
“At this store, we try to cater to every type of rider,” he said of the Tuckahoe location, about a half-hour outside of Ocean City. “We try to do that in Ocean City as well, but almost everyone walking in there wants your basic beach cruiser.”
The store also sells all the bells and whistles. Well, the bells, horns and lights. Baskets are the number one addition to bikes at that location, Matt said.
“People do like to accessorize them,” he said.
Handlebar-mounted drink holders are also popular, he said, with some made from real coconuts or fashioned like red Solo cups.
“I wish there were more companies out there that could make even funnier ones,” he said.
According to Matt, and others, Niclas usually avoids interviews, dislikes speaking about himself and hates to be photographed. He is also constantly on the move, Matt said, and would not be interested in sitting down and talking about the business when he could be working on the business.
“He doesn’t want to be in the forefront,” Matt said.
Matt came from the world of BMX, where he learned to maintain his own bike. He knew BMX bikes inside and out.
Niclas got him out on a road bike, an important part of the business.
“I did fall in love with the sport. I used to ride 30 or 40 miles a day,” he said. “That’s how I learned the mechanics of the bike.”
The road bikes and mountain bikes include an element that was completely novel to a BMX kid: Gears.
Riders have multiple options for the materials that make up the frame, for the styles of tires and everything else that goes into a bicycle. A good road bike costs thousands of dollars, Matt said.
“Over the winter I built a bike for a customer. It was, like, 12 grand. They can get up there,” he said. But right now, the greater demand is for the beach cruisers, which make up about 65 percent of the store’s business.
These bikes are built to last, need little maintenance and can reliably get you around, although Matt said the salt air can start to do damage after a few years.
Bikes date to the 19th century, with the familiar modern design well established by the 20th. But there are still innovations, including the electric assist bike, often called an e-bike.
“That’s the new trend,” said Matt. He said the store has been selling them for about five years. “We do sell quite a lot of them.”
Unlike a moped or a motorcycle, the motor only offers a power assist.
“You still have to peddle. You still get the workout in,” Matt said.
It would be easy not to notice that many of the brands were electric bikes, with the battery and motor hidden in the slightly-wider-than-usual frame. Like with other bikes, e-bike operators are obliged to follow all traffic laws. They are also required to be equipped with headlights and taillights, and riders are supposed to wear helmets.
State law only requires helmets for standard bikes for those under 17, but Matt said he recommends helmets for all riders.