The Bike Boom
Bicycles, used primarily for leisure and exercise, have been around for hundreds of years. Now, new developments in technology, such as bike docking/sharing stations, coupled with an increasing desire to help the environment and people’s changed habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, are making bicycles more popular than ever. In fact, cycling has proved to be largely pandemic-proof, growing in popularity in many areas.
By Paul Barrows '80 and Eric LaClair '06
October 7, 2021
October 7, 2021
By Paul Barrows '80 and Eric LaClair '06

Becoming Magazine checked in with two alums, Paul Barrows and Eric LaClair, who run DreamBikes in Rochester, about what they see happening with this healthy and environmentally friendly mode of transport.

DreamBikes: Creating Opportunities with Two Wheels

DreamBikes is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that hires youth from the local community and provides them with training about how to repair bicycles and work in a retail environment, as well as all of the other skills necessary to operate a bike shop.

DreamBikes is actually in three states — the first shop opened in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2008. Mark Joslyn ’80, a top executive at Trek Bicycle, which began the DreamBike concept, was on a bike trip with Paul and asked him for help finding real estate in Rochester where DreamBikes could open, then offered him a job managing the store.

Paul and Eric strive to provide “a well-rounded experience for our youth employees as we help prepare them for life after high school.” They sell used, refurbished bicycles to provide affordable transportation to those in need and donate bicycles to less fortunate members of the Greater Rochester community.

Paul Barrows ’80
Eric LaClair ’06
“This year … we acknowledge the uniqueness, longevity, and versatility of the bicycle.” —Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the UN General Assembly, celebrating the 2020 United Nations World Bicycle Day

The “Bike Boom” and the Changing Future of Transportation

Both Paul and Eric agree, if Rochester is examined as a microcosm of a much broader national “bike boom,” bicycles are without a doubt the future of affordable, reliable, clean transportation.

Over the past five years, Rochester has gained many miles of bicycle lanes and bike paths. Bicycles are now viewed as a viable means of transportation, especially in urban areas. They help their riders save money, while contributing to a healthier environment and lifestyle. This has been especially pertinent during the COVID pandemic, as many people have become wary of mass public transit such as trains and buses, but still need to be able to get around.

Younger folks are also turning to bicycles as a means of transportation; rather than spending thousands of dollars to purchase a car, they are opting to spend significantly less by purchasing a bicycle. Using bicycles also helps to minimize traffic and congestion—and, quite simply, riding a bike is fun!

Everyone at DreamBikes sees the bicycle industry only continuing to grow. The public is realizing that we all have to do our part to combat climate change and strive for a greener, healthier future; the bicycle is an easy answer to this problem.

More and more people are moving away from purchasing personal automobiles and are looking for other viable means of transportation, and for many, a bicycle is at the top of their list of solutions.

City Streets Can Become Bike-Friendly: Here’s How

In order to make urban biking safe and beginner-friendly, the key is bike lanes that are separate and protected from auto lanes, as well as lower automobile speed limits.

Other changes that will encourage people to take up biking include urban planning that involves fewer major boulevards and highways and more two-lane roads with protected bike lanes (rather than four-lane roads with small shoulders), more “bicycle highways” with their own bike stoplights, and more secure bike racks and lockers.

“City planning should happen with bike equity in mind. Surveys show that the fastest growth rates in cycling have occurred among Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American riders. However, minority neighborhoods often have fewer bike facilities, meaning riders face a higher risk of accidents and crashes. Urban cycling investments tend to neglect lower-income residents and people of color.”

COVID’s Impact on Biking

Eric shares, “After working in the bicycle industry for nearly 18 years, I have never experienced a cycling season like this. We have sold and repaired more bikes than in any other year I have worked in the industry.”

The entire industry is reporting huge growth in 2020. The “bicycle boom” has been so extreme that many bicycle manufacturers and bicycle component manufacturers have been sold out of products for several months, with some companies even back-ordered on parts and bikes until mid-2021.

People who use indoor gyms did not have that option for a period of time in 2020, and those who worked out at home were often frustrated by having to spend so much time in one place due to lockdown orders. So they pulled out their old bikes or purchased a new or used bike and have rediscovered their love of cycling. The DreamBikes team has seen more people using bikes than ever before.

During COVID, some American cities are creating slow lanes to prevent crowding and encourage social distancing, while others, such as Oakland, are using this time to roll out new plans for bike areas by closing streets according to an overall bike-friendly design that was already in the works. Because cities are acting on a large scale, instead of just a few miles at once, this could be the beginning of a permanent transportation shift.

Bicycles are amazing machines that help to create more equitable and sustainable cities, while offering significantly higher levels of freedom and independence. Now is the time for a permanent shift in urban design and increased bike use.