When should you visit a bike shop during the emergency lockdown?

What counts as an essential visit to the bike shop? Cycling UK’s policy director Roger Geffen MBE answers some questions so you can decide if you really need to take the risk.

The UK government have announced strict new measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, urging the public to stay home other than to make essential journeys for supplies with bike shops included in a list of retail businesses that were permitted to stay open... but what counts as an essential trip to a bike shop?

Cycling responsibly during a time of pandemic
Bike shops allowed to stay open following UK lockdown

On social media some are questioning whether bike shops are in the same category as supermarkets, pharmacies and banks; however authorities in cycling such as Cycling UK and British Cycling have applauded the government’s decision to allow bike shops to stay open while urging people to only make the trip if it’s essential, with Cycling UK’s policy director Roger Geffen MBE saying:

"Cycling UK urges people to distinguish between essential and non-essential shopping trips. This is not the moment to go out and browse for a nice new bike."

We questioned Mr Geffen further on what does actually count as an essential trip to the bike shop, to help you make the right decision during the tougher lockdown which is set to last at least three weeks:

road.cc: Should I visit the bike shop to pick up energy bars and/or gels only?

Roger Geffen: No. As important as these might seem for your training rides - and while we all want to support our LBS - to follow the Government’s advice our visits to bike shops should only be for essential purposes; like repairs, spares and in some cases a new bike, assuming you don’t have one already.

road.cc: Should I visit the bike shop to pick up spare inner tubes, or only stock up when I've ran out?

RG: Government advice is to minimise contact with others as much as possible, so unless you have run out then stay away. Even better, use your time at home to patch up that pile of old inners in your shed and use those before having to go to a store. And if punctures are really a persistent problem then maybe it’s time to set your bike up tubeless

road.cc: If a neighbour close by has the bike maintenance skills required to fix my bike and has offered to do it, should I accept their offer or go to a bike shop?

RG: It rather depends on what needs doing and whether your neighbour really has the skills to do it – though they may not know this until they see the bike.

If it’s simply a puncture that needs repairing, this is not only fairly straightforward, but it’s also well worth learning from your neighbour, so you can do it yourself if you later get a puncture while out riding. You might also be reducing the risk of transmitting the virus if you only visit your neighbour rather than going into a shop that may have more people in it. Just make sure to maintain social distancing at all times when observing, and of course public health recommended hygiene advice on hand washing.

However, if your neighbour suggests the problem is more complex, a visit to the bike shop is probably the right option, especially if you need spare parts; although you might be able to order the parts online, this can be risky if you’re not sure exactly what part is needed (e.g. if your wheel has a broken spoke, it isn’t easy to know what length of spoke you need).

There are two other really good reasons to support your local bike shop. One is that the mechanic will be professionally qualified, which gives you peace of mind that the repair will be properly done. Another is that bike shops are really valuable community facilities, helping everyone else in your area (as well as you) to be safe and well-equipped for riding. So they deserve your support!

road.cc: If I'm a key worker who has just started cycle commuting to avoid public transport, does picking up panniers and racks so I don't need a backpack count as an essential purchase?

RG: A rack and panniers is generally a better option than a backpack, both for your comfort and your safety – you are more stable when the weight is lower down. However whether buying these is ‘essential’ rather depends on how far you need to ride, how much you have to carry and whether you have any history of back problems.

If your back is sound and you’ll only be riding short distances with light loads, you may feel you can postpone getting a rack and panniers till you also need to go to the bike shop for some other reason. But making the switch is worth doing when you can.

If you’re new to cycling what is essential is to develop your road cycling skills – particular on areas on road positioning and how to tackle junctions. You might hold a driving licence so know the rules of the road, but these skills are invaluable. Take a look at Cycling UK’s videos providing tips to stay safe and how to negotiate junctions. If you really feel could do with a confidence and skills boost, or you are new to or inexperienced at riding in traffic, check out what adult cycle training is available in your area, either from your local council or from any of the social enterprises or freelancers who offer cycle training – this can make a huge difference to how safe you feel. Given the need for ‘social distancing’, this will clearly now need to be delivered as one-to-one training – but that’s what we’d recommend anyway.

road.cc: What counts as an essential service/repair job? If a couple of my gears are skipping and I want it sorted, should I still risk going to the bike shop?

RG: Little problems on a bike can soon become big ones if they’re ignored for too long, so it is best to do repairs early on. There’s plenty of advice on Cycling UK’s YouTube maintenance playlist and on road.cc about how to fix a lot of the common problems you might face – with plenty of time on your hands, now could be the time to have a go at your own maintenance.

However, it’s not clear how long lockdown will last, so if you can’t fix it and you can afford it then call up your bike shop and see if you can book your bike in – but rather than just getting your gears indexed or brakes adjusted, opt for a full service, as this will support your LBS that bit more while also making sure any other problems are found and resolved meaning you shouldn’t have to return for a while – and thereby limiting risk of spreading infection.

Cycling UK also added: "The one thing we would like also to stress as an organisation is the importance of following social distancing and public health hygiene advice when visiting your bike shop. This isn’t just for the rider’s own protection, but also for mechanics and store workers who are performing this vital service. Particularly with your local bike shop, they won’t have the resilience to deal with an outbreak – so if you are showing any symptoms whatsoever, observe self-isolation guidelines and don’t leave your house – which means definitely not visiting your LBS."

After cobbling together a few hundred quid during his student days off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story), Jack bought his first road bike at the age of 20 and has been hooked ever since. He was Staff Writer at 220 Triathlon magazine for two years before joining road.cc in 2017, and reports on all things tech as well as editing the road.cc live blog. He is also the news editor of our electric-powered sister site eBikeTips. Jack's preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking (the latter being another long story), and on Sunday afternoons he can often be found on an M5 service station indulging in his favourite post-race meal of 20 chicken nuggets, a sausage roll, caramel shortbread and a large strawberry milkshake. 

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