SALT LAKE CITY — As the novel coronavirus wages its assault on life as we knew it, at least something has managed to not only steer clear of any collateral damage, but thrive amid the shutdowns:

The bicycle. 

Tethered to their homes, locked out of gyms, banned from sporting and entertainment events, people have figured out they don’t have to social distance from their bikes.

Nationally, bicycle ridership has increased by a third over a year ago, according to estimates. In some places it’s been a lot more than that. In New York City, for example, in what might be considered the country’s coronavirus ground zero, the city’s bike share program has increased by 67%. In April, according to a report by NPD Research, sales of bikes, helmets and other bicycle accessories in the U.S. “were up 75% to $1 billion for the month” — the highest monthly volume in history.

In an online report, CNN called bikes “the new toilet paper.”

In Salt Lake City, bike shop owner Phil Blomquist wouldn’t argue with any of the above. The 63-year-old has been in the bicycle business since he started working in his father’s bike store when he was a teenager. He’s owned his own shop, Bicycle Center, located on 700 East in Sugar House, since 1982. For nearly a half-century he’s watched the industry work its way through the 10-speed craze to the mountain bike craze to the e-bike craze.

But he’s never seen anything like the COVID-19 craze.

Sales at Bicycle Center have increased by 100%. It’s like he grew another store.

“It’s definitely been crazy,” he said. “We’ve doubled the business we normally do. I send my numbers to my accountant every month and he goes, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ I tell him, ‘Well, making hay while the sun shines.”

He charts the beginning of the boom to “the 16th of March” — the very day the virus shut things down.

While many retail stores had to close, bike shops were deemed an essential business and were allowed to keep their doors open. People flocked in that first morning, and they’ve been flocking in ever since.

“They want to get outside, exercise, do something,” said Blomquist. “Bikes help them do that.

“The thing about being in the bike business that makes it so enjoyable,” he continued, “is that people come in because they’re making purchases for their own pleasure. It’s not like buying gasoline or groceries because they have to have it. They want to be here.”

During the pandemic, that goes double.

And it’s not just new bikes people are buying. They’re bringing in their old bikes for repairs at an unprecedented rate. “We normally get repairs done in a day, two at the most,” said Blomquist. “Now we’re out a couple of weeks at times.”

The downside to the bike boom is that there aren’t enough bikes to go around. The companies that manufacture bikes didn’t see the pandemic coming any more than the shops that sell them.

Normally, Bicycle Center has 800 to 900 bikes in the store. Last Wednesday, it had 173.

“We figured we had enough bikes in here to last us through September,” said Blomquist. “But we’re currently down to maybe 15%.”

New inventory comes in at a trickle. Specialized, the bicycle company that is Blomquist’s main supplier, has about a tenth of the inventory it normally stores at its distribution center in West Valley City.

“Take the Stumpjumper, for example,” said Blomquist, referring to Specialized’s popular mountain bike model. “We normally stock about 100 Stumpjumpers. We’re down to four Stumpjumpers today, and they’re particular styles and sizes; the ones we have aren’t going to fit everybody that’s looking for one.

“It’s hard, turning people away. We take their name and phone number and let them know we will call them as soon as we have anything.”

Last week, in a snapshot that illustrates the virus’ impact on the bike world, Blomquist recounted a scene where two people had their hands on the same bike they each wanted to buy.

What’d he do?

“Just stepped back and let the customers figure it out,” he said. “Fortunately, they did.”

By October, Blomquist expects supply to start meeting demand again, but business experts don’t see an end to the bike boom for another 12 to 18 months at least.

“That’s the feedback we get. That this isn’t going to let up anytime soon. People are getting back on bikes and that’s going to continue. That’s a healthy thing.”

For everyone involved.