SIDNEY — While many industries were hit hard by the pandemic in 2020, the bicycle industry saw many people returning to handlebars and two wheels for an escape.
“This has been miraculous. In all the years that I’ve been in the bike business, I never thought in a million years that this industry would benefit from a COVID epidemic (sic),” Bob Stomel, director of sales for the Huffy Corporation, said.
Stomel, who was the featured speaker for February’s Riverway Conversations held through the Great Miami Riverway, gave a presentation on the history of Huffy, industry trends, and how the pandemic created an unparalleled and unexpected demand for bicycles. According to Stomel, bicycles were deemed essential during shutdowns due to the fact that they fall under transportation, and in turn, kept several retailers open because they sold bicycles.
“It was really something. A lot of the bike shops benefitted from this, (and) what bicycles provided for people was an outlet to exercise, to get outside,” Stomel said. “(People) started to re-engage with bicycles, and lo and behold, they found they don’t have to ride on their sidewalks in their neighborhoods, because there’s a bike lane now. There’s a path next to the riverway. (They) can ride somewhere now.”
Describing it as a lifestyle change, Stomel said Huffy feels this is something that will continue post-pandemic because people have found something new to do that gives them a means to re-engage with their families.
Locally, there has been an increase in people utilizing the bike path in Sidney, which stretches from Graceland Cemetery and along the west side of the Great Miami River, stopping along the Canal Feeder Trail near South Vandemark Road.
“It’s been amazing. While we do not have counters on the trailer, I frequent the trails on Tawawa and the bike path on weekends and in the evenings, and the number of people and families, couples, kids on bikes — I’m assuming it’s COVID related, and this might be a new habit that I hope continues,” Sidney Parks and Recreation Director Duane Gaier said.
This coming year, the city will begin expanding the bike path underneath I-75 to Kuther Road. The city received $850,000 in the capital budget and donations for bike path expansion project. According to Sidney Commissioner Tony Bornhorst, the Miami County Park District made an offer to the city to connect the Piqua bike path to Sidney, if the Sidney bike path was connected to Lockington.
Miami County Park District Executive Director J. Scott Myers said the discussion of connecting the bike paths from Sidney to Piqua has been going on for years, and now that it looks like the Sidney bike path will be expanding closer to Piqua, the district is looking at the beginning stages of connecting the two paths. This includes determining what routes the bike path can go in order to connect to Sidney and what points of interest they would want to have along the way. While nothing is currently set in stone, Myers said the district would apply for federal and state grants to fund part of the project and look at local dollars and donations to help with the rest of the funding.
“I think one thing that we’ve found out during this pandemic is that people are getting out for their health, not only for their physical health, but for their mental health, and the bike trails have provided a great avenue for that. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to do it as a transportation model. Instead of driving to certain areas, (you) might ride there,” Myers said.
Currently, funding to connect the bike path from Kuther Road to northern Piqua is being worked on, but nothing is set in stone. Bornhorst said realistically, connecting the paths is several years down the road. According to Dan Foley, director of the Miami Valley Riverway, connecting the bike paths in Piqua and Sidney would bring economic benefit to both communities.
“All the activity around that path that can benefit downtown Sidney and downtown Piqua. Connecting these two communities will add to the quality of life in both communities, and will give one more reason why people would want to live and work in Piqua and Sidney, which will help local companies with attracting the right workforce, and improve the local economy,” Foley said.