CINCINNATI — Judi LoPresti's bike commute from her home in Westwood to her business in Northside is a little quicker and a bit more laid back these days.
"There's not a lot of cars on the road right now, so my commute this morning was easy-breezy," LoPresti said.
Bikes aren't just LoPresti's preferred mode of transportation. They're also her business: She and her husband, Dominic, opened Spun Bicycles in 2012 on Hamilton Avenue in the heart of Northside.
In both Ohio and Kentucky, bike repair shops like Spun -- along with other transportation-related services like gas stations, auto repair shops, auto parts stores and public transit -- are considered essential businesses.
Spun's busy season had already begun when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's administration began restricting what businesses were allowed to operate as health officials confirmed increasing cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. It's usually January and February when cyclists start bringing in their bikes for tune-ups and other seasonal maintenance, they said.
"As the weather starts to get better, we get more and more requests for bike repairs," Judi LoPresti said.
Last week, Ohio's Dept. of Health Director Amy Acton issued a statewide stay-at-home order, restricting travel to commutes to work, errands for essential services like groceries, pharmacies and supply stores, and outdoor activities alone or with family or other household members. Also last week, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses cease in-person operations until further notice.
"A large portion of our customer base are people who use their bikes as vehicles. They don’t own cars," Dominic LoPresti told WCPO. "I’m seeing more people relying heavily on their commuter bikes to get to work because they’re just nervous. They want to keep their jobs, maintain their livelihoods."
While the LoPrestis recognize the importance of the bike repair services they provide to their customers, they also want to provide them safely.
"At this point, I'm to where I don't even want customers coming inside the store," Judi LoPresti said. "We're so customer service-oriented, and you don't want to offend anyone, and you want to still be, you know, positive. But we also have to limit the social interaction, which is hard for both of us."
They said they meet customers at the shop's entrance and spray the bikes down with a sanitizing solution before starting on the repairs. They spray the bikes again before returning them to customers.
In Newport, Kentucky, Reser Bicycle Outfitters has set up a curbside drop-off/pick-up zone, taped off with markings drawn on the sidewalk to show customers where to stand so they are 6 feet apart. Just inside the door, two mechanics -- also spaced a safe distance apart -- tool on bicycles, and a wireless credit card reader sits just outside. The shop's in-house coffee bar remains open, but only for customers at their walk-up window.
Like Spun, Reser's mechanics spray and wipe down the bikes before they enter the shop, and then again just before returning them to customers. But unlike Spun -- where it's just the LoPrestis who operate the shop -- Reser also has had to reduce some staffing in order to keep employees working at a safe distance apart.
"There’s just not enough space for everyone to work at the same time like we used to," said the shop's owner, Jason Reser. "We’ve set up zones inside the shop from where everyone stays to their own zone. Everyone’s assigned their own phone with their name printed on it."
Another part of Reser's business he's had to adapt is the social network his shop has created for its customers. In addition to bike repairs and retail sales, Reser is known for organizing weekly group rides for bicyclists of all experience levels. As the coronavirus continues to spread, they've had to put those group rides on hold.
"We're doing a lot online. We're encouraging our regular cycling group, there are apps like Strava where you get online and challenge each other to different riding segments, different routes around town," Reser said. "We're looking at doing scavenger hunts, just things that you can do as a group virtually to make the time pass and stay social."
All three shop owners agree that their work can help people cope with the stressful circumstances COVID-19 has created.
Reser said bicycles can offer riders a way not just to stay in shape, but to stay healthy throughout the pandemic.
"To be able to get outside and exercise is going to be really important, you know, to do your part to strengthen your lungs, your heart, your body in case you do happen to get sick," he said.
The LoPrestis said they're getting new customers bringing in their bicycles, which they haven't ridden in years, because they have more free time and want to get out of the house.
"These are people that probably wouldn’t even bike, and they just want to stay sane throughout all of this, and bikes are helping," Judi LoPresti said. "I think a lot of the mindset is, 'I need to get outside. I need to get away from it.'"