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The pandemic helped a man pursue his passion: generating interest in bike riding


At the start of the pandemic, reporter Harrison Malkin was home in New Jersey and noticed more and more bicycles appearing outside his neighbor's garage. He's a reporter, so he looked into it.

HARRISON MALKIN, BYLINE: On a typical Tuesday morning, Ian Hughes is pulling an espresso shot at the cafe inside his bike shop, Just Riding Along, which is in leafy, suburban Basking Ridge. At the beginning of COVID, Ian had an idea.

IAN HUGHES: I want to be a staple to the community, first, and I want people to feel welcome. Like, if they don't ride bikes, I really don't care.

MALKIN: His shop was founded a few blocks away when he lost his pharmaceutical marketing job. That sounds like an awful thing, but to Ian, a 44-year-old father of two, it was actually really good. It allowed him the chance to pursue his true passion, and the pandemic helped by creating a greater interest in bike riding.

HUGHES: It took about two weeks to go from zero to, like, 60 or 70 bikes in a small one-car garage. So it just was like wind to a flame, and it just exploded.

MALKIN: Ian's love for biking started as a kid growing up in Kentucky. He'd take long rides with his family. And one thing stood out about the sport.

HUGHES: I'd say it's freedom. That's probably the coolest thing about riding a bike as a kid, and it's still freedom as an adult. I can - for example, this morning, you go on a 50-mile bike ride, and I couldn't even tell you all the cool things I saw.

MALKIN: Opening a bike shop made COVID a unique experience for Ian.

HUGHES: I saw people. Like, a lot of people didn't see people. But it was great to get people rolling, you know, like, and just give them the opportunity to ride.

MALKIN: Will Pinto was away at college when he got sick with mono and COVID and had to come back home. He's only worked at the shop for a short time, but he's been learning more than just how to repair a bike.

WILL PINTO: You're quickly not doing bike stuff, then you're working with customers, then you're back to bike stuff, then you're with customers, then you're back to bike stuff. And then, oh, something big happens. We have to build a bike. OK, now we're back to bike stuff.

MALKIN: As I'm leaving Just Riding Along, I catch Shawn Jean, a regular customer who has a corporate job but, in his downtime, comes here.

SHAWN JEAN: This is what a bike shop should be. It's people that are passionate about biking that are just good guys. I think if more people biked, it would be a better world, honestly.

MALKIN: The suburbs can be isolating at times, but Ian's shop feels like a community hub, a place to get coffee, fix your bike or just hang out for a while.

For NPR News, I'm Harrison Malkin in Basking Ridge, N.J. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Harrison Malkin