Coach: It's the perfect time for a bike ride -- is your bike ready?

  • Jon Cohn

    Jon Cohn

 
 
Updated 5/12/2022 2:42 AM

It has been tough times of late for bicycles.

Locked up in the garage. Not getting much attention or love. Gathering dust, and maybe the tires have gone flat.

 

To add insult to injury, those fancy, trendy fitness center spin cycles and indoor exercise bikes with 40 different TV stations programmed for your viewing pleasure have been taking some of the traditional bicycle mojo away.

But not to fear, old friend, the times they are a changing.

The long, cold, snowy winter -- and brutally resistant to nice weather -- spring have finally given in to some decent temperatures, and now we can finally get outdoors. Time once again to dust off the cycle helmet, tune up the old two-wheeler and start hitting the road again.

We're talking old school -- on the streets, on the roads, on the sidewalks, on the bike path type bicycling.

Call it the revenge of the two-wheeler.

"Definitely, bicycling is back and has really taken off in popularity," said Jim O'Connell, general manager of George Garner Cyclery in Northbrook. "Once COVID hit and people were stuck inside and fitness centers closed down, a lot of people discovered the joy of bicycling outdoors and used it for their primary exercise."

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Deerfield Cyclery owner Greg Balmes agrees.

"COVID really changed things. Especially for the junior high and high school ages. Whereas seven or eight years ago bike riding might have been uncool, now you see packs of kids that age riding uptown or just going out for fun.

"Families going out cycling is another recent trend," Balmes added. "If there ever was one, small silver lining from the pandemic, it was that people rediscovered cycling as a form of recreation or exercise."

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, with every positive comes a negative. Due to the pandemic, the supply chain problem has hit the bicycle business as well.

"Oh yeah, we have been affected for sure," O'Connell said. "We have parts on back order that have been really hard to get, and bicycles ordered are still waiting to be shipped. That part has been tough."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Glenview Cyclery's Alan Rubin can relate to that as well.

"We used to be able to contact our vendors through their website and have stuff the next day, but it is much harder now," Rubin said. "We have some parts that have been back ordered since February."

As far as popular new trends in bicycling, there seems to be two.

"Most everyone likes the wider tire bikes," Rubin said. "They are not quite mountain bikes, but the wider tire makes it safer and more sure-footed, and has a pretty cool look as well."

And no surprise here, the other trend is the e-bike -- electric, battery operated with both pedal and throttle potential. They can go a lot faster and a lot further, but they may be a little more dangerous as well.

"I wouldn't put a kid on one," Rubin said. "For them, I would stick to the regular bike."

"They really only come in adult sizes," O'Connell added, "so it's not going to work for young kids. Maybe I would start them around age 14.

"Right now, the e-bikes are only about 20% of our business, but no doubt they are gaining in popularity," Rubin said.

"Everything we are hearing from our vendors and the experts is that e-bikes will be the new trend," O'Connell said. "But right now the price can be pretty prohibitive, well over $1,000, so that is holding a lot of people back. But the price will come down over time, and we expect to sell a lot of them in the near future."

Not surprising, safety and bicycle repair are clear priorities.

"Best to get a tune up once a year," Balmes said. "It can save you a possible much more expensive repair down the road. Our store in Deerfield will even do free pickups for you right at your home."

"The biggest improvements in safety is with the new technology in helmets that have made them much safer and more effective," Rubin added. "The technology is known as multi directional impact protection system."

Fancy in-house speak (I think) for much better, all-around head cushioning for those serious incidents and accidents when the bicyclist's head might hit hard on the pavement.

"We call it the Wave Cell Helmet," Northbrook's O'Connell said. "It has crumple zone technology and crushes in multiple directions on impact."

OK, good to know. Bottom line? Concussions and head injuries, which can be serious in bicycling, are much better handled and survived with these newer, safer helmets

Some other safety keys?

"Bicycling can be dangerous," Rubin said, "especially at night when you are harder to see. We emphasize getting headlights and taillights for bikes, as well as proper air in the tires and a good lock, because bicycle theft is up."

These "bicycle guys" know of what they speak. They are clearly dedicated to the sport and have been at their respective stores for decades.

O'Connell leads the pack, as he has been with George Garner Cyclery for 42 years. Thirty of those years has been at the location on Waukegan Road as general manager. A long, successful run for the 1977 graduate of Glenbrook South High School.

Close behind is Deerfield Cyclery's Balmes. The Glenbrook South Class of 1977 grad has been at his store for a 36 years. The store opened in 1956 and has only had three owners in its lifetime.

Rubin, of the Glenview Cycle Shop, is the baby of the bunch. The 1989 Highland Park High School grad has "only" been there for 18 years, as the store moved from its previous Waukegan Road location in 2006, to now on Harlem Avenue -- dangerously close, I might add, to the always tempting Dairy Bar.

Finally, I asked all three of these bicycle gurus for their favorite place in the North suburbs to go for a bike ride

"First, let me just say that Lake County has some of the finest bicycle trails, not just in Northern Illinois but in the entire country," Balmes said. "So many to choose from, but my favorite is the Des Plaines River Bike Trail."

"I love going on Harms Wood Trails," Rubin said. "And Lake Glenview is pretty nice as well. Those are probably my favorite two."

As for O'Connell? He agrees with Balmes.

"Gotta go with the Des Plaines River Trail. You can ride all the way from North Dundee Road all the way up into Lake County, and the paths are 10 feet wide and made of crushed limestone," he said.

From the mouths of three who have been in the bicycle business a collective 96 years.

That is what I call a good, long ride.

• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email jcsportsandtees@aol.com.

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