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Letter from America – June 2020

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Bike Shops Are Busy in Santa Fe, New Mexico

As COVID-19 makes its way in surges across the globe, I am one of the lucky ones. I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, perched on a semi-arid plateau at an elevation of 7,100 feet (2,164 metres), that has, so far, escaped the worst of this plague. Santa Fe County, with a population of about 150,000 or so, has had 130 confirmed virus cases as I write this and—technically—no deaths. Several Santa Fe residents have died, but they had been living in Albuquerque, some 60 miles (100km) distant at the time of their deaths.

I wish there was better news from the Navajo Nation, which spreads across the northwestern quadrant of the state and into southern Utah and northern Arizona. There, in this remote section of a three-state confluence, the virus has spelled disaster, accounting for a significant share of the state’s 308 deaths.

Still, most New Mexicans are riding this out. As I go to the grocery store once a week and the hardware store from time to time, most of Santa Fe’s citizens are wearing masks, and a surprising number slip on rubber gloves as well. Our Democratic governor, a woman, of course, was super-aggressive early on when it came to recognizing the COVID-19 threat. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, all four-feet, 11 inches (150cm) is on former Vice President Joe Biden’s list as a potential running mate. (Not likely.)

The Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi is one of Santa Fe’s main landmarks.

Santa Fe, for all sorts of reasons, is a tourist Mecca with ready access to the Sangre de Christo Mountains, Spanish for “Blood of Christ.” When the light is just right this sub-range of the Rocky Mountains glows a subtle reddish pink. Nice. For those of us living here, a 17-mile (28 km) road begins just a short walk from the city’s 410-year-old Plaza, to a parking lot perched at 10,400 feet (3169 metres) —that’s the base at Santa Fe Ski Basin. From there it’s another 1,600 feet (487 metres), more or less, to a nest of radio and cellphone towers perched at 12,100 feet (3,688 metres).

If you have the legs and a healthy pair of lungs, you can ride a mountain bike from downtown, spend a minimal amount of time on pavement, and then pedal upwards to that parking lot on a glorious single track, the Winsor Trail. From the parking lot, it’s a short descent on road to a spot called Aspen Vista where a six-mile (10 km), rugged dirt road ends at those radio towers. And yes, I’ve made that trek more than once, but I was much younger!

As you might expect, mountain biking has become deeply ingrained in the city’s sporting culture. As have the number of bicycle shops. At last count, including REI (Recreational Equipment Inc a A$4 billion nationwide general sports cooperative), there are at least a half dozen respectable shops here. After some back and forth, the governor did declare them an ‘essential’ business and they’ve been slammed with business ever since.

I popped into Bike N Sport the other day to check in with its owner, Tony Farrar. I got in a quick hello and a nod before telling Tony I’d be back some other time as another customer walked into the bustling shop. Tony is the only Specialized dealer in town and carries a host of other brands. It’s fair to say his store has seldom been as busy.

The same is true at Mellow Velo, the city’s key stop for those seeking out a Pivot, Santa Cruz or BMC. And then there’s Rob & Charlie’s, the city’s go-to shop for Giant. I swear that this store, a true old-style operation, has been in Santa Fe since Juan de Onate built the Palace of the Governors here in 1610! OK, I exaggerate. Still, Rob & Charlie’s, too, has been slammed with service and repairs.

Business is brisk at Santa Fe’s Giant dealer, Rob and Charlies

There’s an old ranchers’ saying that goes something like this: “Make hay while the sun shines.” It appears that shops in Santa Fe, like shops across the U.S., are cutting tons of hay as the sun shines brightly on the bicycle industry. For now. But it can’t last, I would argue, and Larry Black, a longtime dealer in Maryland, agrees.

Everybody and their dog have dug deep into the back of the garage or that ramshackle shed behind the house to haul out a dusty, rusty bicycle stashed there years ago. Hence the run on 26-inch tires and tubes, since no small number of these bikes started out as a cheap mountain bike from a big box retailer.

The run on bikes priced below, say $1,500 (A$2,343), has wiped out most dealer inventory and no one is quite sure when suppliers could meet demand. Anyone looking to dump a used bike, now’s the time.  Craigslist and eBay have never been so popular. How long will this demand last once we return to some semblance of normal? No one really knows.

As for bikes priced much above $2,500 (A$3,900), I suspect demand will be weak for quite some time. Again, who knows. But the economy is in recession with almost 40 million unemployed and the forecast for a quick, robust recovery is weak.

But for now, riding and hiking in Santa Fe is a boon for locals. Still, every now and then, it’s good that I remind myself how lucky I am to live here.

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