Lockdown takes cycle firm in new direction
When Covid-19 shuttered businesses, Dexter Swan knew the only way to move Social Cycles forward was to think outside the box.
The company rents, repairs and sells a range of pedal bikes and accessories, however, before the pandemic, the lion's share of its trade came from the electronic bike tours it offered tourists.
“We work out of Dockyard and Hamilton and St George's in the tourist season,” said Mr Swan who started Social Cycles six years ago and boasts the island's largest e-bike fleet. “This time of year, we usually work every day. You would see our green helmets all over the island.”
The Parsons Road business was “drastically hit” when the pandemic closed the airport and cancelled cruise visits until the autumn.
“We were doing bike tours daily — with Bermuda Tourism, with Norwegian Cruise Lines, with Royal Caribbean — and also [my mini buses],” Mr Swan said. “Well, with no tourists we didn't have work.”
On the plus side, Social Cycles had a website which gave it an advantage over similar companies when the island ground to a halt.
“Because of the lockdown, people weren't able to go in the shops, they weren't able to do their browsings; typically, you would have to go to a Facebook page or make a whole lot of phone calls. We have our whole shop online — all the bikes, all the accessories, the service department and the rentals — so we actually are open 24 hours a day.”
As a result, Social Cycles was able to offer kerbside service for repairs and purchases and added pick-up and drop-off as part of its “concierge experience”.
“We were used to doing it on the tourist side and [residents] are now loving it,” Mr Swan said. “Where we have lost business on one side, business has increased on the other side.”
He opened Social Cycles having always been passionate about bikes. A 20-year-old Raleigh and bits of a chopper from his childhood are among his collection.
Mr Swan believes the beauty of riding is that it's something anybody can enjoy, whether on a “$50 bike or a $10,000 bike”. E-bikes, pedal bikes with motors that allow the rider being able to select the amount of power they want, have been a big hit.
“I've always, from a little boy, always loved bicycles and been on bicycles and then because I had so many bicycles myself somebody said to me maybe you should open a bicycle shop and that's kind of how it all started. It started out as a passion and then it kind of grew into a shop that's fun.
“And then the Bermuda Tourism Authority approached me about the tour side because they needed some specialised tours that provided concierge services.”
To do that he pulled in mini buses and taxis from another company he owned, Adventure Transport.
“It was just a matter of tying it all in together, being able to set up special racks on the mini buses where I could carry bikes around and also shuttle guests in the event that they needed assistance.
“Our overall theme is to try to get everybody and their grandma involved in cycling. We've always been there basically encouraging people to get on bicycles, increase their fitness and obviously make themselves healthier.”
It's something the world has focused on since Covid-19 became a pandemic.
“Bike stores around the world have experienced what is being called a ‘bike spike' — an increase in bike sales and shrinking inventory. Bermuda has been no different. Many locals have been turning to bike riding since March of this year.
“Biking is a great way to exercise, to boost your immune system, to get some vitamin D and to create social distance. Interest in e-bikes has quadrupled due to Covid-19 as people needed to get around when there was no public transportation or they wanted a germfree way to get from place to place.” The bikes are “perfect” as they allow the exercise you would get with a traditional cycle but make it easier to tackle Bermuda's hills, Mr Swan added.
“We started selling e-bikes for one reason: your spouse has a tendency to want to ride with you but they're not strong enough. So the idea was, let's put them on an e-bike so they can keep up or even exceed the person that they're riding with.”
The tours can be customised to fit a specific interest or occasion and are suitable for anything from corporate events to family outings, Mr Swan added.
More than 60 people rented his bikes as part of a birthday celebration for Dre Hinds, a personal trainer who writes a fitness column for The Royal Gazette.
“[Dre's] birthday party was the biggest electric bike ride out that has taken place on the island,” Mr Swan said.
“We do a lot of creative stuff. When it comes to actual tours or moving around we can be very mobile. With us, the tour can start in St George's and finish in Hamilton. Most people who offer tours, it's a round trip where your starting point is also your finishing point.”
• Contact Social Cycles Bermuda on www.socialcyclesbda.com or 292-5813. Follow socialcycles_bermuda on Instagram; Social Cycles Bermuda on Facebook