Gail and Bob Fillotei have trouble sitting still.
“When they put everyone under lockdown, the first week we binged Netflix and ate and did whatever we wanted to do,” Gail said. “And then the second week we thought, ‘OK, we can’t do this. This is not going to be good.’”
They contacted Jenn Greene, director of the Delta Bike Project, and bought two bikes from her. Now, they go on a bike ride almost every day.
“I probably haven’t been on a bike in … I can’t even tell you the last time I was on a bike,” Bob said.
Luckily, he didn’t forget how to ride. At the beginning of quarantine, they rarely saw cars on the road and had downtown Mobile to themselves. On their bikes, they discovered parts of Mobile they hadn’t seen before. They are still finding new places.
“He leads one day and I lead the next day,” Gail said.
They’ve found themselves using their bikes when they would usually drive somewhere.
“We ride to the grocery store,” Gail said. “We ride to the pharmacy. I rode to the eye doctor. Anywhere you need to go.”
The Delta Bike Project is an organization that teaches people to repair their own bikes, at no cost. They also repair used bikes and sell them at reduced prices. While people have been at home for the past few months, the organization saw a dramatic increase in community interest.
“There’s been a, I would say, 100-fold increase in interest in cycling in our community,” Greene said.
Before the pandemic, Greene said she might receive 20 to 30 messages on Facebook from people who have questions, who want to buy a bike or who are interested in their programs.
“For almost three months, I’ve been getting 20 to 30 messages a day,” Greene said.
She said the messages could be from people who want to repair the old bike in their garage or from people who are teaching their children to ride. They could be getting back into cycling after a break or they could be trying it for the first time.
“Tons of people want to buy a bicycle. Tons. I would say half of the people that contact me want to buy a bicycle,” she said.
The Delta Bike Project is composed entirely of volunteers, who still have full-time jobs. Greene said she spends up to 30 hours every week at the organization.
“At the end of the day, I will spend one to two hours communicating with people that have asked me questions,” she said.
Greene said spring is always a busier time for the Delta Bike Project. Normally, they would sell about 10 bikes a month.
During the first month of quarantine, they sold 45 bikes — all of the ones they had. Now she has a waiting list of about 50 people who are waiting for more repairable bikes to be donated.
Even though many have found a new or renewed interest in cycling, Greene said they haven’t been getting fewer donations.
“People appreciate what we do,” Greene said. “We do it with a smile and it’s educational. People have a good experience when they come down to us.”
People want to help them, she said. People who are spring cleaning will donate their bikes.
Greene said the increased interest in cycling isn’t limited to the Delta Bike Project. Bike shops, like Cadence 120 and Eastern Shore Cycles, have felt it too.
“They are just as busy as we are,” she said.
They have received requests for everything: BMX bikes, mountain bikes, cruisers, hybrids and vintage bikes. The requests come from everyone: homeless people, rich people, poor people, college students and others.
“Bicycles unite everybody, in my opinion,” Greene said.
On roads like Dauphin Street, Greene has seen all kinds of people on bikes, from groups of kids to families with babies in bike trailers behind them.
“It’s a silver lining to the COVID crisis,” she said. “People have reconnected with these kinds of outdoor activities.”
Before her shop opened back up after closing for the pandemic — they have not yet fully reopened — Greene would sit on her porch in the Oakleigh Garden District and wave down cyclists who passed with flat tires, so she could pump them up.
“Because I can’t stand to see someone riding by with a flat tire … because then they are just going to call me anyway,” Greene said.
When Bob’s bike had issues with his brakes, they called Greene, who told them to bring it back to the shop to be fixed. Once it had been repaired, the couple asked how much it cost. Greene said it was free.
Gail, unable to sit still, baked Greene an Amish friendship bread and brought it to her house to repay her.
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