Biking soars in popularity in southern Utah during pandemic

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stewart Soleman takes an afternoon break from working from home to visit the I St. Bike Park in the foothills above the avenues in Salt Lake City as he is is framed by dramatic clouds on Monday, May 11, 2020.

St. George, Utah • To those who know the city of St. George, its beautiful natural landscapes make it one of the best cities in the country for people who like to spend time outdoors.

But with the introduction of the COVID-19 on American shores earlier this year, it became clear that being outside and around others would become increasingly rare.

So the people of St. George started hitting the streets with their bikes instead.

“Bikes are the new toilet paper and it’s super awesome,” Red Rock Cycling Co. employee Logan Toomer said. “People are getting out and being active and it’s great to see.”

It’s hard to get out and around town without spotting at least a handful of residents riding their bikes down the city streets or in natural, paved areas.

With bicycling becoming an ever-growing popular activity for St. George citizens during quarantine, here is a look at how riding them became so much bigger recently and why riding bikes is one of the best physical tasks a person can do.

It’s easy to draw a straight line between COVID-19 restrictions and people buying bikes, because they’re an easy way to get outside while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

Dannielle Larkin, St. George City Council member and president of the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance, says people in the area enjoy them for that exact reason.

“Between the bike collective and the different bike shops around town, nobody’s even been able to keep inventory in,” Larkin said. “People have been buying bikes like you cannot believe. It’s kind of been one of those weird unforeseen side effects of the virus and quarantine.”

Getting outdoors has always been a big priority for St. George residents and Larkin believes that it’s only natural that people want to explore outside, especially as the weather improves and quarantine wears on.

“We have such great accessibility to the outdoors and when you’re locked up it’s like you remember ‘wait, we live in an amazing place and I can get around it in a really great way on a bicycle,’” Larkin said.

The rise of bicycling has been seen in the stores as bikes have been flying off the shelves the past few months.

“It’s been crazy in a good way,” Toomer said. “It’s really 50-50 with people buying cruisers and mountain bikes because you’re seeing people who are going out and just trying to get exercise and then you’re just seeing people like me who have a passion for bikes and do it for a living.”

The all-encompassing nature of bicycling is a factor that Larkin says she’s noticed as well in the ages of people riding around St. George.

“What I’ve seen a lot of since the pandemic is people riding in multi-generational groups so often you see people just riding with people their age but I’ve seen so many people taking their grandkids out for bike rides,” Larkin said. “Or parents with their kids in the stroller, I’ve loved seeing that.”

One of the largest benefits to the increase in the number of Southern Utahns riding their bikes is how good it is for overall health.

In a time when staying away from as many people as possible is recommended, going to the gym may be a daunting prospect.

Finding a good trail or park to bike at is a way to get exercise and do it at your own pace away from other individuals.

“I feel like more and more people are realizing, especially now, that bikes are a fun way to get in exercise,” Toomer said.

Because bikes are less intensive than running, they are a great alternative for older adults or people who want a lighter way to work out.

“A lot of older people are able to stay in shape biking so it’s been huge for keeping people in shape and I think just the fact that you can move a little bit faster on a bicycle and cover more area makes it great for exercise,” Larkin said. “It helps explore our area in a fun way while getting in some exercise.”

The freedom that a bike provides while exercising is what draws people towards bicycling and that independence is an influence that Larkin says people feel once they start riding again.

“Getting on a bike feels like freedom, there’s just this weird feeling of having so much freedom to move about when you’re on a bicycle,” Larkin said. “I think because of that, that excites people about exercising again. If it’s something they haven’t been doing, getting back on a bicycle is a re-connection to childhood joy and freedom.”

With new trails and outdoor projects being completed constantly, the future of bike riding looks bright in St. George.

“We are working really hard to improve and lengthen our trip system so that the connectivity in our trail system means that you can ride with no dead ends,” Larkin said. “We just opened a section so that you can ride all the way from Sullivan Soccer Park in Washington to SunRiver continuously on trail.”

Larkin says that the vision for St. George is that people can begin to use bikes to commute more around town.

“We’re improving connectivity so if you’re along our trails you can jump off and come up into town in different spaces,” Larkin said. “So you can get to the hospital, downtown and other important areas.”

Bicycling has become a major hit for St. George in the era of COVID-19, but it could extend far beyond pandemic times and become commonplace activity for residents in the future.

“There are some big projects coming in the next few years that will huge for connectivity and will make it all the more accessible for people to solely ride bikes if they want to,” Larkin said. “Or just have it be an addition to their travel if they want to have a car and bike, it just gives options and is a great healthy alternative.”