London Velo
Travellers are being encouraged to cycle rather than use buses or trains

Bike shops in southeast London are seeing their businesses boom as people choose bicycles over buses during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Retailers report seeing more people taking up cycling for recreation and as an alternative to commuting in light of the pandemic.

Sales are on the up nationally, with Halfords reporting demand for hybrid bikes – cycles that combine elements of mountain bikes and sporty road bikes – doubling. Transport for London hopes to see cycling increase in the capital to relieve pressure on buses and trains.

Steve McMillan, the owner of London Velo on Deptford High Street, said: “We’ve been busier than we’ve ever been. For us it would be great if there was a pattern of change, one thing that we do find a lot is it’s very rare that people start cycling and don’t like it.”

London Velo reopened in early May after closing its doors at the start of lockdown. McMillan has noticed a rise in less “traditional” cyclists – with lycra-clad men in their twenties being joined by people from all walks of life.

London Velo workshop
A shortage of new bikes has seen people taking second-hand models to be fixed up

The shop and cafe has been open for five years, and its biggest business currently is in bike repairs and servicing. A shortage of new bikes as suppliers run out of stock means they are buying second-hand bikes and bringing them in to be fixed up.

Other bike shops have also reported a surge in business. Staff at Greenwich Cycle Workshop on Woolwich Road were so busy dealing with customers they could not spare the time to talk to 853.

Like many, Greenwich resident Adam Newland is taking the opportunity of quieter roads to teach his children Jemima, 10, and Freddie, 8, how to ride their bikes safely around the local area.

With both children on new bikes, advantages to cycling have included being able to see their local friends, and making trips further afield, including a round trip to Tower Bridge.

Newland said: “I’ve been cycling for a long time, there are a lot more bikes on the road now but there are far fewer cars, which is why we decided to focus on getting the kids confident on the roads at the moment. It’s a good time to learn.

“There’s going to be a degree of paranoia about getting on the public transport, so I think there’s going to be more bikes on the road for travel and commuting for a while at least.”

At London Velo, McMillan added: “Embrace it and enjoy it, considering it’s free to do and everyone did it as a kid, it’s funny how fast-forward 20 years and it suddenly can become this intimidating thing, which is madness.

“It really doesn’t need to be intimidating, it doesn’t need to be expensive, it really can be a green, cheap, healthy way to get yourself from A to B.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, over 65,000 Greenwich borough residents travelled to work by public transport. But buses and trains now face a loss of 70 to 85% capacity due to social distancing.

Local councillors of both parties are supportive of TfL’s work with boroughs to focus on “rapid construction” of a cycling network to reduce crowding on public transport, and the “complete transformation” of town centres including widening paths.

Adam Newland and family
Adam Newland has been teaching his children the joys of cycling

Matt Clare, an Eltham South Conservative councillor and the opposition spokesman on transport, said: “Not everyone is able to cycle but enabling those who can will create capacity on trains, buses, tube and DLR.

“It is essential that Greenwich Council seizes this opportunity and works collaboratively with committed people from local cycling groups and other political parties. Many London boroughs with much better transport and walk-to-work options acted decisively several weeks ago. Greenwich must not leave its residents behind.”

On the current proposals for improving Greenwich’s roads for cyclists, Newland noted: “There’s lots of kids on bikes now and the roads are treacherous, so the more demarcated zones that are for bikes the better.”

Clare hosted a virtual meeting on 27 May to discuss the borough’s plans for walking and cycling accessibility, ahead of “streetspace” proposals due to be made by the cabinet member for transport, Sizwe James, next week.

KAT HIND is a trainee journalist at News Associates.

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