Kenny Gorham had been working in the Moab bike shop industry for years when he decided to open his own business, filling a niche he saw wasn’t being covered.
“People tend to come into the bike shops and ask about renting bikes and decide not to, just because there’s so many steps,” Gorham said.
He noticed that tourists were often overwhelmed by the logistics of transporting the bikes to a trail or having to ride through town traffic to reach trailheads. So Gorham set up Bighorn Mountain Biking, a bike rental station at the intersection of Highway 191 and Gemini Bridges Road, just across from the Moab Brand trail system. Visitors can ride the bikes straight from that location to a network of trails that range from beginner to advanced.
Unfortunately, he launched the concept in early March, just before the coronavirus pandemic became a significant concern in Utah.
“I ended up being open for only two weeks,” Gorham said, before shutting down as public health orders were issued and concerns about the spread of COVID-19 grew.
Gorham re-launched this past weekend under the looser guidelines instituted by the state of Utah and the local health department. He said business so far has been slow. Like other local owners of businesses that rely on tourism, he’s waiting to see how travelers respond to the tentative re-opening of town.
“I’m a little unsure how it’s going to work,” he said. “It’s going to be a very interesting summer.” Gorham has checked in with local hotels to see if they’re getting reservations and he hopes there will soon be a higher demand for bike rentals.
Gorham’s business was not the only bike shop that chose to suspend or reduce business as news and research about the pandemic spread. Bike shops all around town closed their doors completely or slimmed their services down to maintenance and repairs.
“We’ve been closed since March 16 up until May 1,” said Kelby Groff of Rim Cyclery, one of the oldest bike shops in Moab.
He added, though, that while the “Open” sign was switched off, he and his staff were still doing repairs by appointment for locals and that during the first week of the closure, he honored existing rental reservations. The store also continued doing online sales.
Poison Spider Bicycles closed completely for a couple of days, then reopened for curb-side repair service.
“Unfortunately we had to lay off almost half our staff of 40 employees,” said shop owner Scott Newton.
Newton said they’ve now brought back all full-time employees and hope to bring all staff back on board soon. He said they are trying to keep a positive outlook on the rest of the 2020 season and praised the Southeast Utah Health Department for taking things slowly.
“I don’t think anyone was ready for town to be at full capacity yet,” Newton said. “I am thankful that we are all promoting safety here in Moab.”
Newton said everyone who enters Poison Spider must first wash their hands, and only 8 people at a time are allowed inside. He said staff are practicing “lots of vigorous cleaning.”
Chile Pepper Bike Shop had also been only doing appointment-based repairs for locals. The shop has now returned to their regular hours and brought back their full staff. Chile Pepper is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control to prevent the spread of the virus while resuming operations.
Paige Stuart, assistant service manager for Chile Pepper, said they require employees and customers to wash their hands before entering the store and to wear a mask while in the store. Only five customers are allowed in the shop at a time, and trying on over-the-head type clothing is prohibited. The shop does have bikes available to rent or buy.
“We’re basically full service, with a few little hoops to jump through,” said Stuart.
Rim Cyclery is implementing similar hygiene and sanitation practices to other businesses, cleaning the door handle with bleach after people go in or out, and ordering masks for all its employees.
Bike Fiend also carried on offering bike maintenance to locals during the shut-down. “We’ve been doing a ton of repairs,” said shop owner Pierre Chastain.
He was able to keep on most of his staff and said he is looking to hire more. The shop is now back to close to its normal hours, though practicing the same precautions other shops have listed, including limiting the number of people in the store, requiring masks and promoting frequent hand washing.
In fact, during the shut-down, Bike Fiend staff were doing sales and repairs outdoors, which Chastain said was “actually kind of cool.”
The Bike Fiend coffee shop, however, will remain closed.
“We just don’t want to take any risks with that,” Chastain said of the coffee shop.
Bike Fiend has also begun offering bikes for rental again.
“We’re just proceeding with common sense to keep people riding on bikes,” Chastain said.
“We’re here, we have some awesome deals, we’re happy to help you with your social distancing.”
Promoting a return to two wheels
Bike shops are highlighting their ongoing and special deals to encourage both locals and tourists to get set up to ride.
“Our main deal that we have going right now is for used demo bikes,” said Stuart of Chile Pepper.
Prices have been reduced on almost all of the shop’s for-sale bikes, which can be seen online.
“It’s just great weather for riding right now,” said Stuart. “Get it in while you can!”
Newton and his staff got creative with the extra time on their hands during the shut-down.
“We did a fun online commercial to help try and sell bikes and direct people to our website,” said Newton. “The main goal was to create some laughs.”
Newton also said his shop provided an important service to locals during the restrictions.
“Throughout the shut down I feel that we have been helping people with mental health by being able to get out and ride bikes,” Newton said, and quoted John F. Kennedy, proclaiming that “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”
As for Gorham’s new venture, Bighorn Mountain Bikes is offering $30 off one-day bike rentals for locals. He said his business model has some advantages over a more traditional bike shop, in that his overhead costs are low—he has no employees or storefront—and he doesn’t have an overstock of retail items.
“I pivoted really quickly into providing long-term rental opportunities for locals,” Gorham said.
He devised a program where people could rent a bike for $10 a day for a 30-day minimum. If a renter kept the bike for long enough that they had paid the value of the bike, they could keep it.
“There’s quite a few people who liked that idea,” Gorham said. “It worked pretty well.”
Will tourists come?
Now that hotels and other businesses have resumed limited operations, the bike industry is waiting to see if demand for their products and services rises.
“We’re not seeing the volumes that we’re used to this time of year, obviously, but a lot of locals have been coming in to get their bikes serviced,” said Stuart.“I think everyone’s hopeful. We are coming into some hotter months where our business typically kind of lulls anyway...We’re anticipating a really busy fall.”
“If my business was entirely based on, ‘we’re a rental shop for tourists,’ we’d be completely screwed,” said Chastain.
He said repairs and sales among residents are still robust at Bike Fiend.
At Rim Cyclery, Groff said they expect to become busier and feel confident that their business will survive.
“We’ve been here since the early 80s,” Groff said. “We’ve weathered a couple economic hardships already.”