Biking is back in a big way, suddenly.
Snohomish County roads are car-clear because of business closures and orders to stay home and stay healthy. People seem to take the latter part to heart, dusting off and lubing up old bicycles or buying new rides.
“We’ve been selling faster than we can order and build them,” said Nolan Sigurdson, a bike mechanic and salesman at Snohomish Bicycle Centres. “We’ve been staying in later after hours.”
It makes sense. The ways we once entertained ourselves are no longer options. Bars, bowling alleys, campgrounds, gyms, hiking trails, parks, playgrounds, restaurants, roller rinks, schools and sport courts are closed until May 4 by Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to stem the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19.
That’s limited how people can be active outside. Transit agencies are facing sudden plummets in ridership. Bike shops, considered part of the essential operations as a transportation service, still can be open.
One of the last convenient options for biking is the mostly flat, paved pathway of Centennial Trail between Arlington and Snohomish.
“It’s been kind of nice,” said Kristin Kinnamon, a cyclist who lives near the Marysville stretch of the 30-mile trail. “Usually this time of year you see people training for Seattle to Portland and they’re going fast. But what you’re seeing is people out with their squeaky chain, out enjoying this great resource in the great weather.”
Kinnamon is president of Sharing Wheels, a nonprofit in Everett that offers repairs and low-cost sales so people can get pedaling, and she is past president of cycling club BIKES of Snohomish County. The club canceled its annual McClinchy Mile Ride, originally scheduled for April 28. Other groups dropped plans for their organized group cycling, routes and tours.
In lieu of those, Sharing Wheels organized a challenge for people to win prizes if they ride 10 times or 250 miles in April. The mileage is for more ardent cyclists; the number of rides is to encourage new bikers.
“You don’t have to go far to make it count,” Kinnamon said.
The Snohomish County biking club lost its biggest fundraiser, which in turn finances bike advocacy and healthy living work such as Sharing Wheels.
“We’ve had snow, we’ve had the Oso landslide, we’ve had all sorts of things happen and the ride has gone on,” Kinnamon said.
Some thrive roving from bed to couch to desk. Others need to roam.
“I’m going crazy myself,” said Marty Pluth, general manager for Gregg’s Cycles. “I walk, I bike, I’m a big golfer.”
The only immediate options are strolls around the block or long rolls around the town, and one can only walk so much before a Vin Diesel-esque need to be fast and furious kicks in.
If driving’s off the table as a non-essential risk, then pedal power will have to do.
“With so few cars on the road, it’s actually pretty safe out there,” Pluth said.
Normally this time of year sees more cycling momentum as people enjoy longer, warmer days.
People are taking to it in droves, based on my recent trail use. Bike shops around the county said they have been swamped in past weeks.
“It’s very busy when we are open,” said Pluth, who manages locations in Bellevue, Lynnwood and Seattle. “There’s a line outside our stores.”
Part of the reason for the line is that stores, per public health guidelines, now restrict how many people are inside. Bicycle Centres and Gregg’s Cycles let one person (or family unit, such as a couple or a parent and child) in for every employee on hand.
It’s also warming up, days are sunnier and longer, and people are ready to get outside more often.
Arlington Velo Sport owner Mark Everett is taking abundant precautions, as well. Staff wear gloves and a mask. When a bike comes in for repair or before it goes to a customer, they sanitize it. They offer curbside service and deliver bike purchases to help offset some of the lost revenue he’d projected for the year.
“It’s a matter of gauging each customer individually,” Everett said. “It’s personal shopping at its best. … The old days when we got to browse in the bike shop, that’s gone.”
His shop saw a sales bump around the start of the stay-home order. Since then, customers are bringing in bikes for service: cleaning, flat tires, lubes.
“There’s definitely some people that we have not seen yet, but a lot of people that we haven’t seen in a while,” Everett said. “People who hibernated in the winter and woke up — ‘It’s spring time and I want to ride my bike now.’”
Eric Smith, owner of Bayside Bikes in downtown Everett, initially did appointment-only showings and repairs. Business interest increased enough that he’s open semi-regular hours now. He said it was hard to compare sales to last year so far because of the major snowstorm in February 2019, which delayed the usual start of the bike season.
With lots of sunshine lately, it’s encouraged people to seek one of the few outside forms of recreation available.
“Weather plays a bigger part, even when there’s a pandemic,” Smith said.
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If you go
Driving to a bike ride is not an essential form of travel. So if you’re not within biking distance of one of the following trails, instead tour your neighborhood and explore side streets.
Also, be aware that city and county park bathrooms are closed. Good luck if you go and need to go.
Before you hop on, check the air pressure in the tires, the brakes and the chain, get a bell to alert other road or trail users when you want to pass them, and wear a helmet.
Centennial Trail parking lots are closed. But there are plenty of cycling routes to get from nearby cities to the trail. From Everett, I take U.S. 2’s bike path into Snohomish’s downtown, which leads right to the trail (and past a few breweries).
The Interurban Trail roughly follows I-5 from Everett to Seattle. It’s less scenic but flat and has the bonus of passing a lot of to-go food options.
The Whitehorse Trail between Arlington and Darrington is another option that would require a non-essential drive for lots of people in Snohomish County. But for anyone in the area who hasn’t done it yet, it’s a picturesque, 27-mile route.