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Pivot, pivot, turn: adapting to post-pandemic pedalling

What do you when you’ve just bought a business renting bikes to tourists just before a pandemic hits?

A 180, of course.

Manly Bikes on the West Esplanade, like many Manly businesses reliant on tourism, are slowly making a post-Covid comeback, having been badly affected by the international restrictions on travel and social distancing.

However, owner-manager Francisco Furman hasn’t relied on the the slow return of tourists to stay afloat, and he is upbeat that the changes he implemented to adapt his business are attracting a new clientele.

Manly Observer caught up with the Argentinian optimist in this community profile piece.

Francisco Furman, owner-manager of Manly Bikes. Photo: Alec Smart

Furman began working at the bicycle hire store opposite Manly Wharf a few months after his arrival from South America in March 2013. In December 2019 Furman bought the company, a familiar site at the harbour end of The Corso since 2007.

However, just three months after taking over the business, disaster struck in the form of a highly contagious virus, and Furman faced financial ruin when the global coronavirus pandemic halted tourism – his primary customers.

“Giving up was not an option,” he told Manly Observer. “My brother told me, ‘do the best that you can, it shows what you’re made of,’ and that’s now my motto for life.”

Furman, not easily deterred, readjusted from a simple bicycle hire service to a professional workshop and trader, offering servicing, repairs and the sale of new bikes, parts and accessories.

“We are a part of Manly’s central tourism industry,” Furman explained, “which was badly affected by coronavirus pandemic. But, thankfully, we are also now a bicycle business.

“Bike usage actually increased when tourism died, so we were able to take advantage by catering to the home cycling market instead. Most of our revenue now comes from repairs and the sale of bike parts, including accessories like locks and helmets.

“However, it was pretty hard at first because it took a while for locals to realise we’d adapted; we’ve been here since 2007 as bicycle hire-only and we had to let people know that we’d introduced all the changes. Even today someone asked me if we fix punctured tyres – we’re a bike repair shop, of course we will!

“We have three employees and there’s a fast turnaround on repairs and servicing. And there’s no need to book, just bring your bike in and we’ll get to work. Customer service is highly important to me. We also accept Dine & Discover vouchers.”

Cycling to Cabbage Tree Bay. Photo: Manly Bikes

Do they undertake complicated repairs, like servicing hydraulic brakes?

“We do absolutely everything! We also sell new bikes. We still hire bicycles though – full suspension mountain bikes are popular for the trails around Manly Dam, and e-bikes to climb the steep hills leading up to North Head.”

The La Niña effect on the 2021-22 summer, a cyclical event every five to seven years, bringing powerful storms and inclement weather, has also negatively impacted the rental side of Manly Bikes’ business.

“Although the borders between states have reopened, we’re not seeing much of an increase in tourism yet,” Furman lamented. Ever-optimistic though, he added, “but when the international borders reopen I think trade will pick up, as people from the northern hemisphere fly here to take their summer holidays. That’s the advantage of living in a warm country, people enjoy coming here all year round, and the added beauty of living somewhere like Manly, with a wonderful beach…”

What range of bicycles do they rent?

“We have ten e-bikes, seven full-suspension mountain bikes, 15 hybrids, plus road bikes, beach cruisers, kids’ bikes and baby seats; we cover the whole spectrum.

“We even have two tandems! They need getting used to and we recommend taking a bit of time to practice pedalling together before setting off on an adventure. However, the cycleway infrastructure is good around Manly, with dedicated cycle lanes set apart from the road, so it is easy to get around.”

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