Cycling through a pandemic: the changing behaviours of committed riders during lockdown

It’s no secret that in stark contrast to the worldwide damage left in its wake, when it comes to cycling, COVID-19 has led to what many are describing as a golden era for the bicycle. Millions who would never have considered it before are turning to two wheels as an essential means of transport, whilst countless others are rediscovering riding to keep fit, as gyms remain closed.

For those of us who’ve enjoyed the benefits of cycling long before ‘social distancing’ and ‘unprecedented times’ became everyday words, that is good news – or at least one positive to take from this escalating global crisis. As committed riders, it’s exciting to see so many people discovering the joys of pedal power, and let’s face it – the more bikes there are on the roads, the better it is for everyone.

But whilst this explosion in participation has been well documented, what’s not been so clear is the impact the pandemic has had on experienced and keen cyclists. From club and sportive riders to dedicated racers, bikepackers and mountain bikers, there have been no insights on the changing behaviours of the cycling hardcore under lockdown. Until now.

A new report, ‘Cycling Through The Pandemic: What’s Next?’ has tackled this head on to uncover what cycling enthusiasts are thinking and doing under the shadow of COVID-19. Commissioned by international cycling marketing agency SHIFT Active Media, part of the Play Sports Group which produces Global Cycling Network amongst other channels, the report surveyed over 4,000 dedicated cyclists around the world.

“Most of the data we’ve seen throughout the pandemic has focused on the increased participation in cycling. Those returning to cycling to keep fit or commute safely,” says Doug Baker, Head of Strategy & Research at SHIFT. “But what we wanted to understand is how ‘cyclists’ – those who already cycled regularly before the pandemic – have been adapting to life during the pandemic.”

We’re still riding regularly, but for different reasons

The good news is that most of us aren’t riding much less than we used to. Whilst group rides and events have taken a back seat, the data shows that the frequency of rides only dipped very slightly during lockdown. It suggests that in these uncertain times, getting out on the bike has been a key part of many cyclists’ coping mechanism.

Indeed, mental health was cited as a top reason for riding during lockdown, with a 65% increase in rides being used to ‘relax and decompress’. Previously there was a much bigger focus on riding to train, but with events cancelled or postponed, that focus has clearly shifted. For some, quality time with family has also played a key role in keeping stress levels in check, with an increase in children’ bikes sales suggesting more of us are getting out with the kids than ever before.

The explosion of indoor training and virtual group rides

indor cycling

Perhaps unsurprisingly in lockdown, one of the biggest trends is the overwhelming explosion of indoor cycling. Whilst indoor training was already gaining momentum before COVID, since March the amount of cyclists hitting the turbo every day increased by a whopping 692%. Even those training three to five times per week increased by 144%, suggesting extra time in the pain cave is the new normal for many.

March and April also saw more riders trying indoor training for the first time, with nearly two-thirds of those using apps like Zwift and TrainerRoad (see our review here) saying they have only taken it up since the restrictions came in – and that includes countries where outdoor riding was still permitted.

Riding indoors doesn’t just mean aimlessly ambling around Watopia either. Most said they are more likely to do structured workouts and races than before. Furthermore, with the challenges of self isolation, many are using indoor sessions to get their social fix, with group and social rides increasing by 147%.

The rise of home maintenance

With most of us being told to stay at home in the early stages of the crisis, more and more riders have been teaching themselves bike maintenance in a bid to avoid the bike shops. There has been a 45% increase in those doing their own repairs at home, and a 41% decrease in those having their local bike shop do the work. It’s not just the small jobs either, as over half of those surveyed said they were planning some kind of maintenance or upgrade project at home.

Not that this has had a negative impact on the bike shops – with many reporting not just record sales but a surge in demand for workshop services, largely from new or returning riders looking to get their steeds roadworthy for the commute.

Cautious spending but long-term optimism

The other positive for the industry is that overall, the spending habits of regular cyclists remains largely unchanged. Whilst understandably in the current climate, many riders are exercising caution and postponing major purchases, 60% of cyclists surveyed said the pandemic has made no difference to their spending habits.

Even of those postponing major purchases, most are only planning to delay getting that new bike or groupset upgrade by three to six months. In terms of kit, smart trainers and indoor training equipment is the stuff people are most likely to still buy, with apparel and nutrition products not far behind.

What happens next?

So what happens now, given that in many countries lockdown is easing? The report suggests we are poised to see a mid to long-term growth in cycling overall. Thanks to a reduction in the use of public transport, increased government investment, increased participation and a bigger focus on physical health, some say it’s possible the explosion in cycling could become one of THE long-term cultural and behavioural changes post-pandemic.

Summarising the findings, Doug Baker added: “Just as in the wider economy, the past few months have been extremely hard for some. But the overall picture is promising for the cycling industry as a whole going forward. Despite the lack of live racing, cyclists are still hungry for cycling content. Indoor training has never been more popular. And although some have been forced to reconsider their cycling purchases, the vast majority still plan to keep buying cycling related products. Finally, our findings are also a reminder that whilst we often focus on competition and elite racers, cycling’s ability to help us connect with each other and to support mental – not just physical – wellbeing is incredibly powerful.”

And for Obsessive Cyclists everywhere, that has to be a good thing.