Bicycle in Snow in Denver

With gyms closed in Colorado and the weather warming up, many are turning to bicycles to stay active or for vital transportation. 

Up until midday Thursday, however, if your derailleur cable broke and you didn't have the tools or wherewithal to fix it, you were out of luck. 

That's when the executive order on "stay at home" issued Wednesday by Gov. Jared Polis was amended to include bicycle repair shops as

critical repair businesses that can stay open in the state's public health order. 

Polis is encouraging Coloradans, even with a "stay at home" order, to find outdoor alternatives to the gym, so long as you maintain social distancing. 

Peter Piccolo of Bicycle Colorado said he believes the omission of bike shops was an oversight. He said they had worked to ensure that most county "stay at home" orders allowed bicycle shops to stay open.

Piccolo said bicycles serve not just a recreational purpose but for transportation as well. In population-dense areas where public transit isn't an option, he explained, bicycles are a choice and for some, a necessity. "We have always advocated that bikes should be treated similarly to cars" as transportation, he said. And by extension, bike shops should be viewed more like auto repair shops.

As people rediscover their human-powered two- and three-wheelers during the pandemic, those bikes might need adjusting, Piccolo said. Twelve other states, not as bike friendly as Colorado, also included bike shops in their lists of essential services.

A spokesman for the governor's office told Colorado Politics on Thursday that the amended order only includes bike repairs, not bike retail, although most bike repair services are provided by bike retail shops.  

But still left out of the executive order are hundreds of small and large businesses in Colorado that serve other forms of outdoor recreation, including repairs of outdoor gear. The outdoor industry claims the playing field isn't level. 

Jessica Wahl of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable applauded the executive order change on bicycle repair shops so that bicycles can be used for transportation. "We felt good about that," she said.

But for other outdoor recreation, there are inequities, she said. In Utah, they're making the case for including outdoor recreation shops as essential businesses. Sporting goods and outdoor-focused stores sell and service gear that is essential for a meaningful portion of the state's population, according to Wahl, who cited an unidentified Utah retailer and who made that request to Utah officials.

While much of the appeal was focused on bicycle repairs, there's another essential aspect that's missing, and that's for people who make emergency preparations. This could include essentials for camping, hunting and fishing, and with equipment such as 72-hour kits, first aid kits, freeze-dried food and flashlights.

The inequities extend to just who gets to sell that gear, too, the Utah retailer said, according to Wahl. Many large grocery-anchored retailers (think Walmart or Target, for example) continue to sell products from "ancillary departments that are defined as 'non-essential' in that particular state." Only because those retailers sell food and beverages are they allowed to continue operating.

"The small business is forced to shut their doors pursuant to the 'lockdown' and meanwhile, the national chain is allowed to continue servicing customers throughout the store, including in those departments that constitute 'non-essential' goods or services."

Outdoor retailers have asked Utah to require those grocery retailers to abide by the same rules that govern the closure of non-essential businesses.

Another example is fishing. In Washington state, no fishing is allowed, but Michigan is open to anglers, Wahl said. "It's all over the map" and seems to change daily among the 50 states and the federal government as well. And "that doesn't provide business certainty, which is what the business community needs most right now," she said.

The outdoor industry is looking for more ways to contribute than just providing apparel and gear. Some manufacturers are planning to convert their production to personal protective equipment for law enforcement and health care workers, Wahl said. They're hoping outdoor recreation manufacturers would be considered essential businesses under that scenario. The industry "wants to support health and well being, being outside and close to home," Wahl said. 

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable said Thursday that 90% of the industry is made up of small businesses that are vital to the health and economic well-being of their communities, many in rural areas. "These critical businesses are suffering and in danger of failing because of the COVID-19 outbreak and the necessary efforts to mitigate the virus’ spread." 

Outdoor recreation retailers employ about 5.2 million people, the association said.

Clarification: this story was clarified to reflect the comments made by a Utah retailer who was cited in information provided by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable but was not originally identified.

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