Shops link bike boom to gas prices

U-Pass sales and bus use are also increasing, officials said.

Bryce Haugen

Each day, Sean Young commutes from his home in Fridley – a 10-mile trip to campus.

Because he works at Varsity Bike Shop in Dinkytown, it’s only appropriate to choose pedaling over driving, said Young, a communication studies senior. But with gas prices near record levels, more and more students are biking, he said.

“A lot of people are going home and getting their bikes from high school and bringing them down,” said co-worker John Colombo, an economics junior, while tuning a bike after hours at the Varsity Bike Shop.

A few doors down at Erik’s Bike Shop, graduate student Aaron Gorenc said September sales were up 61 percent from August.

There’s usually an increase in bike sales when students return to campus, he said, but this year’s sales have been phenomenal.

Madison, Wis.-based Pacific Cycle, maker of Schwinn bikes, has seen a nationwide upsurge in business, said Mo Moorman, Schwinn’s director of marketing and public relations.

“It seems each time gas prices spike we seem to see a spike in bicycle sales,” he said.

On the West Bank, Boris Kaganovich, an aerospace engineering junior and Freewheel Bike employee, said bike sales have increased slightly. The shop’s bike repair business, however, is booming, he said.

“Most people have bikes,” he said. “Now people are pulling their bikes out that they haven’t ridden for years.”

It’s just a practical alternative, Colombo said. Minneapolis provides a wide array of bike routes, whether one takes the Midtown Greenway to Uptown or uses the bike lanes along University Avenue Southeast.

Transit for Livable Communities, a St. Paul-based group, will spend $25 million over the next few years to add more trails, make roads safer for bikers and pedestrians, and offer incentives to employees for biking, according to the group.

The average gas price in the metro area was $2.67 per gallon Sunday, according to the AAA Web site. That’s about 30 cents lower than Labor Day weekend, when gas went for about $3 a gallon.

“That was the breaking point,” said Dawn Duffy, AAA Minneapolis spokeswoman. “Three dollars a gallon actually got people talking. I heard people actually saying they were changing their habits.”

The U.S. Department of Energy faults inadequate refining capacity and tight oil supply for the high prices. The new energy bill “will help us move forward,” according to the department.

In the short run, gas prices hurt the economy, but long term, they will stimulate energy-efficient technologies, said Alfie Marcus, a strategic management professor at the Carlson School of Management. But consumers shouldn’t expect prices to drop significantly ever again, he said.

“We’re in a fundamentally new equilibrium,” he said.

Amid high prices, an increasing number of students are buying a U-Pass, which provides unlimited Metro Transit rides for $60 a semester, said Mary Sienko, University Parking and Transportation Services marketing manager.

U-Pass sales are up 15 percent from last year, she said.

And students who buy a U-Pass are using it more, Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said. Students used their U-Passes 377,900 times in September, an 18.5 percent increase from a year ago. He said interest in park and ride lots and express buses from the suburbs has also increased.

Metro Transit is now using high gas prices in its advertisements. One ad features “Batguy,” who, instead of driving a sleek car, hops on a bus to get to an in-progress robbery.