Pedaling through the pandemic
Story and photos by Jill Draper
Bicycle sales and repairs are booming across the country. With the halt of many sports due to the pandemic, bike riding has become an increasingly popular activity for all ages. Two south Kansas City shops, one a longtime establishment and the other a new dealership, are thriving.
Waldo Bikes sees increase in bike repairs
At Waldo Bikes, owner Dave Hirni has experienced a huge spike in repair requests. “Business increased at least threefold this spring,” he says. “Now I’m starting to catch up a bit.”
With the exception of electric bikes and some European varieties, Hirni works on almost all models, including bikes “with cobwebs all over that obviously haven’t seen the light of day for years.” He used to sell new bikes, but eliminated that part of the business in 2018.
“At 76 years old, I don’t like unloading boxes and assembling new bikes,” he says. He started the business 35 years ago when he had trouble finding good service for his own bicycle. He also found that having a wrench in hand helped him quit smoking.
Hirni, a Waldo resident, still rides a bike, but not anymore to his shop, which sits at 507 W. 75th St. just west of Wornall Road. He doesn’t have a favorite brand, noting that 90% of bikes are built in China with much better manufacturing technology than in the past.
“All bike shops sell good stuff, but stay away from department store stuff,” he says.
The two most common problems he sees are under-inflated tires and over-applied chain lube—“Don’t use so much!” Another problem he mentions is Kansas City’s lack of designated bike lanes on certain streets, particularly those running north and south.
“We go to Florida in the winter and I can ride all over the place down there,” he says. “Boy, you can’t say that about Kansas City.”
Pedego Electric Bikes creates local tour packages and app
Kansas City’s newest electric bike shop opened in Waldo in mid-March at the same time many places were shutting down due to Covid restrictions. But bicycles are considered essential, and business was brisk from the beginning.
“I made the mistake of test-riding an electric bike in Topeka,” jokes owner Dan Cain. “As soon as I got on, I thought—wow, I get it. It’s a game-changer for people. They’re great for pleasure and touring, and great for commuting.”
Cain says he shopped around and the brand that stood out was Pedego, which claims to be number one in U.S. electric bike sales. E-bikes are heavier, more powerful and more expensive than most regular bikes; Pedego prices range from $1,495 to $5,500 or more depending on the battery, number of gears, type of brakes and other features.
Cain’s dealership is one of 160 in the nation and sits at 7335 Broadway St., the former site of Waldo Family Bikes. It’s a handy location since Pedego also rents e-bikes ($40 for two hours; group discounts and weekly rates available) and the Trolley Track Trail is just a few feet away. Although the store offers test rides in the parking lot, an extended ride is a good way to experience a full range of conditions.
“The best thing is when you get somebody on these bikes for the first time and they’re grinning from ear to ear,” Cain says. “That happens a lot.”
To make the e-bikes even more fun, the shop is almost ready to roll out an app that can be downloaded by riders interested in a Civil War history tour. Chris Tronicek, Pedego KC sales and media specialist, says high points of the tour will include Westport, Loose Park, Wornall House and Forest Hill Cemetery. Other tours on the city’s gangster history, art and architecture, and craft beer are planned.
Tronicek also is putting together a Pedego picnic package with instructions for stopping at Geo’s Cheese, Underdog Wine and Andre’s Chocolates before heading to Loose Park or the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. The package includes two bikes or a tandem bicycle, a picnic blanket and a pannier basket that fits over the rear wheel. All rentals include helmets with built-in headsets for communicating with other riders, and usually a clip-on phone holder.
Pedego attracts a mix of customers, says Tronicek, from young adults to couples and seniors. Recently the shop sold an e-bike to a doctor recovering from chemo who said it improved the quality of his life. Another customer was an 85-year-old woman who purchased a “Boomerang” model with an ultra-low, step-thru frame that makes it easy to hop on and off. RV travelers like the bikes for quick trips into town. There are many models, but they generally fall into three categories: mountain (for off-road riding), beach (with fat tires) and city.
The e-bikes can be ridden without battery power or set at various levels of pedal-assist for more exercise, although Cain cites a study that found e-bikers exercised just as much as other bicyclists over the course of a year because they used their bikes more often and rode further. An average top speed for e-bikes is 20-21 mph, he says.
Pedego will celebrate its grand opening on Oct. 9 to 18 with free giveaways and test rides. See pedegokansascity.com for more information.
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