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Bike season gains traction

Tuneups backlogged in Saranac Lake as people rehab older bikes

Mike Campbell, left, and John Dimon smile behind their masks Wednesday in the repair shop of Dimon’s Human Power Planet Earth bike business in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Tri-Lakes cycle shop workers agree that biking conditions are better than usual for this time of year. Roads are dry, dirt trails are less muddy than usual, the sun has been shining, and daytime temperatures are creeping into the 60s. Sand left over from winter can be an obstacle, but municipal crews have already started sweeping that up.

Even mountain biking, normally a no-no during mud season, is OK in a few places. Placid Planet bike shop owner Kenny Boettger said a young man recently came into his shop asking where to ride. “Nowhere,” Boettger told him. “We don’t ride this time of year.” He soon proved himself wrong.

“I almost felt bad telling him there was nothing to do, but there shouldn’t have been,” Boettger said.

Boettger rode out to Wilmington Tuesday and was surprised to find the Hardy Road trails in fine shape.

“It was like end-of-summer dry,” he said. “Wilmington is fair game to ride. Most of the stuff in Placid I think is still too wet.”

Rain is forecast for next week, and it is unclear how that will affect trails.

Meanwhile, spring skiing is still going at Whiteface Mountain (downhill) and Mount Van Hoevenberg (cross-country). Mike Campbell, who works at Human Power Planet Earth bike shop in Saranac Lake, said he ran into someone Sunday who was riding in Wilmington and planned to ski at Whiteface later that day.

But even if you’re itching to ride, your bike may not be in the best of shape. This is the time of year when many people take their bikes in to be tuned up — many, many people, at least in Saranac Lake.

As of Wednesday, three weeks was the wait time for a tune-up at Human Power Planet Earth, where Campbell does the tuning and repair. In other springs, he said, the usual wait was a week-and-a-half to two weeks.

It’s not just that more people are bringing in more bikes, although that is true. Campbell said the bikes they’re bringing in are older and needier.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have something to do with that. Outdoor activities have boomed as people sought safe ways to get out of the house, and demand for bikes has surged — but supply has not. Bike manufacturing is way behind.

“The trick this year and last is that it’s very difficult to get new bikes,” Campbell said, “so the bikes that are coming in are bikes that have been in the garage for 30 years. You know, people just want to go out and ride, and we’ve always been about that. Part of our mission statement is to get old bikes working again, so it’s a great thing, but it takes longer to fix those. It’s not just a basic tune anymore. So I can’t schedule six of those in a day and get them done before dinner.” It’s more like two a day with high-need bikes, he said.

He said he knows a three-week wait list will prompt people to look elsewhere. Nearby Lake Placid’s bike shops are not nearly so backed up. Placid Planet and High Peaks Cyclery each reported tuneup wait times of a few days as of Wednesday — “never more than a week,” according to Boettger.

“People don’t want to wait that long, and we don’t want to make them wait that long,” Boettger said.

Placid Planet has a bigger staff doing tuning and repairs: two full-timers and three part-timers. High Peaks Cyclery has just one tech, but floor supervisor Jonathan Zaharek said they haven’t seen the wave of older bikes seen in Saranac Lake. He also said they’ve seen very few road bikes — mostly mountain bikes.

The pandemic’s crunch on manufacturing has meant High Peaks Cyclery has gotten fewer, more sporadic shipments of new bikes, and not always the most popular models, according to Zaharek. The shop is now getting an order it placed in August 2020 — almost eight months ago. Before COVID, he said the store could sometimes get a bike order in a week.

Rentals are normally a big part of High Peaks Cyclery’s business, Zaharek added, but the scarcity of cycles has left them with no road bikes or full-suspension mountain bikes to rent.

“We don’t have the quantity to put stuff in rentals,” he said.

That scarcity makes John Dimon, who owns Human Power, happy his store sells reconditioned used bikes as well as new ones.

“We stand for sustainable living, and we believe in giving a bike a second or a third life,” he said.

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