FEATURE - Bicycles Selling Like Hotcakes in US Stores
Author: Rasha Elass
Americans purchased more bicycles than new cars and trucks combined in the past year -- and all without employee discounts or zero-percent financing.
"Our sales have almost tripled in the last couple of years," said Bob Ippolito, executive vice president at Pacific Bicycle, the largest bicycle distributor in the United States.
The company, which is owned by Canadian Dorel, sold 5 million bicycles last year, ranging in price from $50 to several thousand dollars.
"Sales are the best we've had in five years," said Ron Lippner, vice president of Cadillac Bicycle at Kent International, a private company that manufactures and sells more than 1 million bikes a year.
Lippner was unable to provide company sales figures.
"This exceptional year has a lot to do with Lance Armstrong's success from beating cancer and his cycling events -- a lot of people are trying cycling again," he added.
Armstrong, 33, won his seventh consecutive Tour de France race last month and has been called the greatest rider of his generation.
As a result of Armstrong's cancer-awareness efforts -- his foundation has raised more than $51 million by selling his yellow LiveStrong wristbands -- and triumphs on the bike, more Americans are taking up cycling for leisure as well as for road racing.
Armstrong's international success also filters down to the local bike shop's economy when customers want to wear what he wears -- helmet, gloves, shoes or even the yellow winner's jersey.
Earlier this year, Kent International introduced a new, mid-priced bicycle with the Cadillac brand name. One popular model is the 21-speed Cadillac Comfort Bike, which has an up-right position and a super, shock-absorbent seat.
"The biggest trend I've noticed is movement toward comfort bikes by the baby boomer crowd -- bicycles with an upright position (and a comfortable seat)," said Michael Espejo, president of CadillacBikeStore.com.
"Bike sales and bike equipment is a $5 (billion) to $6 billion business per year," said Tim Blumenthal, industry specialist and executive director of Bikes Belong, a national industry association. "Bicycle sales are near an all-time high (with) 19 million sold last year -- close to the 20 million sold during the oil embargo in the early 1970s."
Unlike high-end specialty bicycles, which represent a small portion of sales, it is the hybrid road bikes sold at Wal-Mart Stores, Kmart and Target Corp. that made up the majority of the 19 million bicycles sold last year, and are often the choice for leisure and noncompetitive riding.
"I used to just drive my car," said Cheryl Fischer, 57, a retired teacher who purchased a Mt. Fury Road Master for $100 at Wal-Mart. "I'm trying to lose weight, so now when I don't have to rush I take a nice leisurely bike ride to the gym."
Fischer is one of 87 million adult Americans who rode a bicycle last year.
"We're seeing continued popularity with bicycles," a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said. Top sellers include the familiar, all-purpose Schwinn and Wal-Mart's own brand.
Bicycling in the United States shows no signs of waning.
With oil prices at an all-time high and the nation's obesity epidemic raging, more people are riding their bicycles to work.
"It's great for me because not only does it save me money, but also time -- I don't have to drive home to go to the gym. I can get my workout and transportation all at once," said Scott Thompson, 47, of Bellington, Washington, an engineer who started using his bicycle to commute to work two years ago.
Last month, Congress passed a transportation bill that allocates more than $3.5 billion in federal funds to create bicycle pathways through 2009.