Pandemic for some; Revival for cycling

Benjamin S Randall
Sep 24, 2020 · 5 min read
Cycling faces adversity due to COVID-19, but shockingly prevailed | Pixabay

I went out on a date recently. We had met virtually, of course, and were ready to take the next step into real-world interaction — something so inexplicably alien to our quarantined-filled summer. I stood awkwardly in her driveway as she hesitantly sauntered down concrete steps; both of us clearly caught in confusion on how to approach first date etiquette under our ingrained COVID-19 norms. We hugged — masks fastened tight — and exchanged the usual pleasantries on our way to Old Town, Fort Collins. Opting for the more socially responsible outdoor-seating, we sat down, taking our masks off synonymously — like two cowboys in an old western film might lower their pistols in unison.

Collectively, we took a deep breath, looked away, back again…and laughed. This is the world we live in right now. If you haven’t taken a moment to sit down and appreciate the uncomfortableness of the time we’ve been so horribly transported to because of COVID-19, then I encourage you to realize it. We are going through an unprecedented pandemic. That peculiar summary of my date ultimately illustrates my overarching point: the pandemic has affected all of our lives greatly. Whether you ride a bike, play the saxophone, or shop at Walmart, odds are that you’ve had to change some aspects of your life a bit in these past six months.

Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins | Instagram, @TriathleteBenny

Riding a bike, in particular, has changed quite a bit. For many of the ways that our world has been altered, cycling may have seen one of the most extraordinary revolutions of the year.

CSU Cycling Team President, Sidra Aghababian, has implemented changes in her team to keep practices going in accordance with COVID-19 policies.

“For the most part, since cycling is an outside activity, it hasn’t been extremely impacted, other than needing to bring a mask and keep in mind the group size you are riding with.”

People work remotely far more often now, providing an easy opportunity for that usual office lunch break to transform into a thirty-minute joy ride. Due to stay-at-home orders administered across the country, fewer cars are on the road — resulting in cleaner air quality across Colorado, pushing a revamp for activism and exercise among professionals like Sidra’s team, commuters, and even children alike.

“Our team misses the community aspects of racing, but we have one of the largest club teams in the country,” Sidra said, remarking on how the communal activity of cycling can bring people together, despite adversity.

According to Tim Blumenthal, president and CEO of PeopleForBikes, (a national bicycle organization based out of Boulder, Colorado) trends are astoundingly up in cycling and cycling-related purchases. Eco-Counter, an online data-analytics company that specializes in counting various types of outdoor activity, reports a “21% increase in U.S. urban-area ridership” from 2019, and similar increases were in alignment in the greater Northern Colorado area. This portrays a clear-cut spike in cycling in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado; thus, social awareness, love, and passion for the sport have all increased tremendously. During an era where children have become increasingly exposed to more technology and less exercise, the pandemic has vivaciously pumped air into the wheels of cycling's popularity.

On the other hand, cyclists such as Whitney Allison of the FoCo Fondo Cycling Team view the pandemic with distaste. “Not having racing obviously has an impact. I do some work for Source Endurance, a coaching company, and they have collected some data of percentages of athletes who never return to race fitness after taking a year off,” Allison said. For many competitive and professional cycling teams that required racing as a means of monetary rewards and fundraising, this is a grueling time. Making ends meet for the professional, job-oriented side of cycling has been a challenge.

“Either their sponsors have suffered from COVID-19, or they won’t have seen value from cycling and will spend their money elsewhere.” Allison offered the notion that teams will shrink, opting to more virtual or small group options for practices and races. While convenient for individuals seeking to race in events, this dual, virtual and in-person approach is even more of a workload for teams to set up and profit off. “It’ll likely take years before people have the same confidence in events as pre-pandemic; therefore, events as a whole will shrink,” Allison said.

But all is not lost — this is but a brief time period in the grand scheme of things. If some teams have to sacrifice their profits for the greater good of the holistic revival of recreational cycling, then revive cycling shall. “Everyone is trying to adapt and that’s beautiful,” offered Allison, “Anyway, how do you plan and prepare for the future? You go full steam ahead for the hope of everything working out, events happening, events being canceled, or going virtual.” You fight on, essentially.

While many professional cyclists in the area associate the virus with a negative connotation towards their sport, some riders acknowledge the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic for cycling’s future.

“Aside from the cancellation of our soul-satisfying race addictions,” Sugar Beets Cycling Leader Samantha Welter half-joked, “we’ve learned through our main sponsor, Trek, that cycling is booming more than it has in years!” Welter, the co-captain of the Northern Colorado-based Sugar Beets Cycling team, understands the importance of increased awareness for bicycles. More people have the chance to raise their heart rate and release some tantalizing dopamine happiness into their brains — conveniently through a socially-distant activity. While the pandemic hinders much of the professional sports world, it has fantastically enabled the professional and recreational wonders of cycling. “It is amazing to see so many new people discovering the fantastic escape that biking can provide,” Welter said.

With a world in such peril, the beauty of nature can provide a haven for activity | © Benjamin S Randall

The pandemic has been undeniably devastating. However, competitive, professional, and recreational cyclists alike can all agree that COVID-19 has increased overall approval of their sport across the board. Promoting less carbon-dioxide emissions, healthy exercise, and socially-distant activities for loved ones — cycling collectively used this pandemic as a way to switch gears towards a sustainable revival of the bicycle-human relationship.