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Bike Shops Support Community During Unprecedented Times

kathy edwards rides her bike on a nature trail

Kathy Hogan Edwards, who rode in LOWVELO last year, has turned to biking as a fun and safe way to get exercise and explore the Lowcountry during the pandemic.

Biking through scenic Lowcountry trails and gazing at the beauty of nature ranks high on Kathy Hogan Edwards’ fun to-do list now. Edwards, a doctor of pharmacology who specializes in blood and marrow transplantation at the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center, said she and her husband purchased bikes when businesses began closing because of COVID-19 and started riding around Charleston regularly. The couple loves connecting with nature.

Edwards, who participated in LOWVELO in 2019, said she enjoyed supporting the outdoor ride around the Lowcountry, which raises money for life-saving cancer research at Hollings Cancer Center. It led to her wanting to revive the habit during the isolation of the pandemic.

“After a couple of weeks of riding solo, I finally convinced my husband he would love it too,” Edwards said. “As mostly everything in our lives had been put on hold, it was so exciting to create a new, healthy routine.”

One of LOWVELO’s goals is to create healthy communities and promote cancer awareness and prevention. Pursuing healthy routines that include physical activity have proven to be beneficial. Many studies support this, including a recent JAMA report(opens in a new tab) that shows there is a link between sedentary behavior, sitting for long periods of time with little physical activity, and cancer. Findings in the study revealed that more physical activity may help to reduce the risk of cancer death.

Since the start of stay-at-home orders in March, national sales of bikes and bike services skyrocketed, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. Compared with the sales numbers from the same period last year, the rise in sales was clear.

Nationally, sales in March showed the purchase of leisure bikes reaching a 121% increase. There was also a 66% boost in sales of commuter and fitness bikes.

As COVID-19 led restaurants and most stores to shutter, bike shops were deemed essential and allowed to continue operations. Business for bike shops has been booming. With people spending more time at home, it has led to the revitalization of biking. This is a trend that Shannon Rice is thrilled to see as the LOWVELO recruitment manager. She hopes that all the new people who have learned the joys of getting outdoors will lead to an interest in bike rides such as LOWVELO, which included more than 600 riders in its inaugural year.

LOWVELO organizers, who will be sharing a new announcement soon about this year’s event, said the activity allows people to get out and do something healthy while joining together for a great cause. Riders fundraise to reach their goals with 100% of rider-raised dollars supporting Hollings’ research. “Our living room window looks out to the front yard, and normally it’s pretty quiet, maybe walkers and runners,” Rice said. “Suddenly, I noticed an influx of bicycles, and as days passed, we noticed many more people on bikes during our weekday rides on the West Ashley Greenway.”

Greg Jones, the owner of Ride Bikes, said his store has been packed with customers because of gym closures. Some also have been looking for more ways to spend quality time with their families outside.

“Being open during this time has been great because it gives people a way to get around and do their social distancing with their family,” Jones said. “Also, there are still plenty of people that come by that actually use their bicycles as their mode of transportation, so it’s nice that we can still be there to help them.”

In the larger scheme of things, Jones hopes the increased popularity will help to build the safe infrastructure needed for biking on streets and bridges. He and other bike shop owners are happy to see this revitalization in biking, as it promotes healthy lifestyles.

“Depending on what happens with COVID-19, I think some people might go back to not riding so much, and some people will keep riding,” Jones said. “Hopefully, this trend will increase everybody’s interest, even people who have not gotten on a bike yet.”

Charleston Moves, a nonprofit organization that encourages mobility by bicycle, foot and public transit for the health and well-being of greater Charleston, was key in having bike shops listed as essential during the midst of business closures. The nonprofit organization is also a supporter of LOWVELO.

Katie Zimmerman, executive director of Charleston Moves(opens in a new tab), works through the organization to improve both policies and infrastructure for bike riders around the Lowcountry.

The organization noticed that bike riding throughout Charleston increased during the pandemic. They found that people started biking for many reasons. Some could no longer rely on public transit or rideshare options. Others wanted to relieve stress or needed a different form of exercise with the closure of gyms.

“A multitude of citizens also pulled old bikes out from storage, and because bike shops were deemed essential, were able to get those bikes repaired,” Zimmerman said. “Many of us who rely on bikes as our primary mode of transportation, including myself, were very relieved to know that we could get repairs as needed.”

Charleston Moves supports LOWVELO for its lifesaving cause but also because it sheds a light on the importance of safe riding and is inclusive of all levels of riders in the community.

“Successful and inclusive rides like LOWVELO bring more awareness to the need for safer and more connected infrastructure in the Charleston region,” Zimmerman said. “More people are encouraged to try riding a bike and learn about the state of Charleston’s streets on a personal level.”

That has certainly been the case for Edwards, who has even inspired her son in the New England area to start riding his bike and is proud that the passion for riding during these times has spread to other family members. She feels that cycling is a great way for her to maintain her health, and she hopes this rediscovered love for riding will continue leading her on a healthy lifestyle.

“For me, cycling is an exciting way to connect with my surroundings on a more intimate level, and my husband and I have had so much fun cycling during COVID-19,” Edwards said. “We have explored the West Ashley Greenway from Johns Island to Folly Road, the new Stono River Park and a variety of side routes. Cycling has provided an incredible release from the anxiety and stress from the pandemic.”

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