South Shore Bikes opens, faces rush of customers during crisis

Kayla Anderson
Tahoe Daily Tribune
South Shore Bikes owner Hec Hernandez (right) and his son Kyle make the full service shop a family affair.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daiy Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — “It’s been pretty busy here,” South Shore Bikes owner Hec Hernandez says about its recent reopening for the 2020 summer mountain biking season. The bike sales, rental and repair shop are newly-renovated on the second floor and the minute they invited customers in, they faced an onslaught of people.

“We got flooded with locals,” Hernandez said. “I think people have been locked down too long and need to get outside.”

With the quick snowmelt, beautiful weather and ski resorts closed, it makes sense that mountain bike riders have been flocking to the trails.

“We usually are pretty busy at this time of the year, but it has been a tad bit busier than normal since we opened,” he said. “We’ve been slammed with people wanting to buy bikes and repairs. Other bike shops are backed up with repairs 2-3 weeks out and we’re trying our best to accommodate everybody.”

However, one thing that local bike shops didn’t expect was a scarcity of new bikes coming in. Most major manufacturers like Giant and Specialized create their two-wheeled modes of transportation in countries like Taiwan, and COVID-19 has caused a shortage. Therefore, it’s taking South Shore Bikes longer to get their orders.

“Bikes that we would normally sell out of in July, we’re sold out of them already,” Hernandez says about the demand. The shop’s preseason orders were cut in half, and while bike companies warned that shops should buy their parts last winter, no one expected the coronavirus crunch.

“It’s been a little trying for that,” Hernandez says about keeping top mountain bike brands in stock.

What makes the crunch a little worse is that South Shore Bikes is only doing bike sales and repairs right now since they’re not sure if renting is even legal.

“No one’s told us what we can and can’t do,” Hernandez said. “In early April I called the mayor trying to figure out if we’re an essential business or not. They said that we could open but we couldn’t sell retail items. But what does that mean… we can’t sell someone a tire if they bring their bike in with a flat? We can’t sell helmets? We are huge advocates of safety and when someone comes in to buy a bike and really needs a helmet, are we allowed to sell them one or not?”

“I feel bad for the shops that rely solely on rentals because if that was the case here then we’d be going out of business,” he added.

South Shore Bikes is used to a steadier flow of people when the weather gets nice and kids get out of school, but the influx of people coming in because of COVID-19 has been a whole new ballgame.

“We’re generally pretty busy, but it’s crazy right now. Last week I was building bikes from the time I got here in the morning until nighttime when we closed. When we opened, it just went wild,” he said.

South Shore Bikes is backed up two weeks with repairs and they have a limited staff right now to complete them.

“Because people don’t know what’s safe or not, we’re disinfecting everything all the time, wearing masks and gloves,” Hernandez said. “We try to respect that here but working on bikes with plastic gloves … they rip instantly. We’re throwing them away every two seconds, I’m thinking, ‘this is getting expensive.’”

He’s also noticed that his favorite mountain bike trails that were previously empty are now packed with people.

“There are definitely tourists up here. There’s no parking on the weekends in some of these somewhat hidden spots, and I’m noticing a lot more people that I’ve never seen before,” he said. “I ride this Angora trail and I see groups of three, five people walking and riding in packs … this is a trail that I’ve maybe only seen one other person on before ever.”

“I think it might be worse off the mountain, people who live in Sacramento and some of these other cities and can’t leave their home,” he added.

So for now, South Shore Bikes continues to do bike sales, repairs, but no rentals, “because we’re not sure what we’re supposed to do and we don’t know if that’s okay,” Hernandez adds, as staff gets through repairs and bike orders as fast as it can.

“I just want to take care of the locals because we’ve been in business for 27 years, and it’s all thanks to them,” he said.

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