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Pandemic a boon for bicycles

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Joel Johnson hadn’t owned a bicycle since he was 15, but the pandemic changed all that.

Johnson first bought a multipurpose bike to avoid the germs on crowded buses and trains but then discovered a passion for pedaling around San Francisco, where some streets are now closed to traffic. He has been taking regular morning rides to stay fit and weekend excursions in leafy Golden Gate Park or along the Pacific Ocean. He has since upgraded to a new road bike.

“It’s addictive,” he said.

Johnson, 25, is among thousands of cooped-up Americans snapping up new bicycles or dusting off decades-old bikes to stay fit, keep their sanity or have a safe alternative to public transportation. The pandemic is proving to be a boon for bike shops, which have seen a surge in demand, with people waiting in line at still-open shops and mechanics struggling to meet the demand.

All around the country and the world, bicycles are selling out and officials are trying to take advantage of the growing momentum by expanding bike lanes during the pandemic or widening existing ones to make space for commuters on two wheels.

“We have a three-day sale once a year literally called ‘the madness sale.’ This just feels like two straight months of madness sales,” said Dale Ollison, a bike mechanic at Hank and Frank Bicycles, an Oakland, California, shop that is selling online and doing curbside pick-ups.

Oakland was the first California city to launch a “slow streets” program in April and has closed 20 miles (32 kilometers) of city streets to cars to create a safer outdoor space for pedestrians and cyclists. San Francisco soon followed, closing sections of twelve streets in a city that already has a robust network of bike lanes.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy and education group, has seen demand for its classes on city biking — now online — jump from 30 participants to more than 100, Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier said.

“A lot of folks are dusting off their bikes to get themselves and their families a bit of fresh air during all of this,” he said. “It’s the perfect tool for this time.”

In the Southern California city of Santa Clarita, which boasts more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) of trails and bike lanes and a strong cycling culture, avid riders have noticed trails they built and maintain in nearby hills busier with newcomers, including some riding the wrong direction.

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