JAKARTA: It was a regular workday and Danny Siwu, head of store for bicycle shop Build A Bike in South Jakarta, Indonesia, was busy tending to customers.
Dozens of people have packed into the store and all the sales assistants were handling more than one customer at once.
The shop was closed from early April until early June due to the partial lockdown imposed by Jakarta to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing it to only sell its products online.
The curbs were subsequently lifted in stages beginning Jun 5, allowing stores to reopen and the cycling store saw a surge in sales like never before.
“We have already delivered three times the sales target,” Siwu said.
The demand for bikes was so high that the store's new bikes were sold out immediately even before they were displayed, he added.
The brisk business came unexpectedly to Siwu, as sales had dropped during the partial lockdown and made staff anxious.
He believed business was doing well because the city has imposed physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and by cycling, people can commute individually without being in close proximity with someone else.
His customers told him that since life has gradually resumed in Jakarta, its notorious traffic is back and they want to avoid the jam by cycling while keeping themselves fit.
Business was also doing well for Rodalink, a bicycle store in South Jakarta which has presence throughout Indonesia as well as Malaysia and Singapore.
Its marketing communication personnel Rina Mutia said the company has seen an increase in sales in all of its stores in Indonesia since the restrictions were lifted.
“The interest in cycling has increased, especially in this new normal era, because people are aware of the need to stay healthy. They are looking for sports activities which are fun.
“Cycling can be an option because it can be done alone or within small groups while paying attention to the safe distance between the cyclists,” Mutia said.
The bike craze has also led to a surge in sales of secondhand bikes and increase in demand for bike repairs.
Muchsin, who owns a secondhand bike and repair shop, told CNA that his income has jumped three-fold for the last two weeks.
JUMPING ON THE CYCLING BANDWAGON
Arbi Waskito was among the shoppers at Build A Bike last week.
The 38-year-old bought a folding bike for 4.5 million rupiah (US$318) to relieve stress and to exercise, he told CNA.
“All this time (during the restrictions) we couldn’t go out and travel far so I bought a bike to reduce stress,” he said, adding that it is meant for recreational purposes and not for commuting to work.
Farid Febrian, 30, bought a folding bike in early June as an alternative mode of transport during the pandemic and also for fun.
Before the pandemic, he used to drive to work or take a taxi. Since the curbs were lifted a few weeks ago, he has been cycling a few times to work.
Although there are only a few bicycle lanes in the entire city, Mr Febrian managed to cycle about 10km from his house in South Jakarta to his office in Central Jakarta.
“It is really good to cycle if I ride on well-established lanes.
“So far vehicles pay attention to us cyclists so it’s not that scary.”
However, Febrian hoped fellow cyclists should equip themselves with helmets and other protective gear.
"There should also be rules during this pandemic so cyclists won't gather together and cause a new (COVID-19) cluster," he opined.
Jakarta's car-free day, for instance, was extended to 32 cycling areas last week to avoid overcrowding in the two major streets originally assigned to host the weekly event.
SAFE BIKE NETWORK NEEDED: URBAN PLANNERS
Safety remained an issue amid the cycling hype, with at least two incidents involving cyclists reported in Jakarta recently.
Last week, a cyclist had to be hospitalised when a traffic separator got blown away and hit him.
Another cyclist was stabbed in his stomach by two criminals who robbed him of his mobile phone while he was cycling in the middle of the night.
Jakarta-based urban planner Sibarani Sofian from urban design company Urban+ said cycling in Jakarta is more of a recreational hobby or lifestyle, than a safe mode of transport.
“It can’t be regarded as an alternative mode of transport to connect (people) from one area to another because of safety issues.”
Urban expert Nirwono Joga from research centre Urban Study of Jakarta concurred and said that the government should pay more attention to the safety of cyclists.
“There is indeed a cycling fever but unfortunately it is not being fully supported by the government.
“Because cyclists are left to fight with cars and motorbikes on the roads and their safety is not assured when they cycle at night,” he told CNA.
He also noted that the existing bike lanes are not entirely free from motorists and there is not enough safety features.
“If this persists, there will be no guarantee that people will continue cycling,” Mr Joga said.
The expert suggested to the government to develop more bicycle lanes and to ensure cyclists' safety by providing more lights at night and having officers guard the roads.
Despite the obstacles, Siwu, the head of store for Build A Bike, hoped the cycling trend would last.
“If the government supports (cycling) by providing special bike lanes, I think this would last.
“I’m happy that this new normal period has inspired people to get healthier. This is good.”