- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

Josh Maham owned a standard mountain bike and considered himself a recreational biker — until a month ago. He bought a Trek road bicycle for nearly $2,000.

“I mainly bought it to train for a triathlon. It was pretty expensive,” said Mr. Maham, 29, who lives near Cathedral Heights in Northwest. “But so far, it’s good.”

Mr. Maham and other cyclists are trading in their old wheels for upgrades, and baby boomers are buying their first fitness bikes, prompting sales for bicycles and accessories to jump, retailers say. Sales have been up for the past three years, but they say this season is the most profitable of recent years.

“We’ve been growing each year, but it’s been pretty phenomenal this month,” said Chris Davidson, manager of Capitol Hill Bikes at 709 Eighth St. SE. Mr. Davidson said sales have been 50 percent higher than the average each month. One recent weekend, the bike store sold 40 bikes, double the average of 20. “That’s pretty big,” he said.

About half his bicycle sales are road bikes, those that have curved handlebars and skinny tires, he said. Those bikes are the fastest on pavement, a reason why many use them competitively.

“The trend is now toward high performance,” said Shawn Blumenfeld, service manager at City Bikes in Chevy Chase.

“I see a lot of riders shaping up to do triathlons,” he said, referring to races in whichathletes swim, bike and run.

Mike Butchko, owner of Bicycle Place in Silver Spring, said road-bikesales are up at least 40 percent, compared with this time last year. “Each year, we see a pretty good increase in our road-bike [sales],” he said.

In recent years, road-bike sales were linked to Lance Armstrong’ssuccess in the Tour de France, which is held every July. Even though Mr. Armstrong has retired, sales are increasing because consumers still see much coverage of the race, said Darrin Misiera, a manager at Revolutionary Cycles in Georgetown.

“Of course, it helps with business,” he said. “It’skind of like a Tour fever.”

Until recently, Carlo Sdralevich, 39, of Georgetown, rode the same bike he used as a youth. Several months ago, he bought a hybrid, a cross between a road bike and mountain bike.

“I have an old bike that didn’t fit my knees,” he said. “[The hybrid] is more comfortable. It’s more efficient. I love it. It’s very good.”

Industry officials say baby boomers are getting into cycling, too. They are switching from impact sports such as running to biking to reduce stress on their joints,said Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bike Dealers Association. Studies show about half of bike-store consumers are now middle-aged or older, he said.

Bob Fadel, vice president of Spokes Etc., is seeing “a lot of converted runners” coming into his four stores, which are in Alexandria and Vienna, Va. “Baby boomers, who were at the park running, are now looking for something less exacting on their bodies.”

Matt O’Donnell, manager of Revolutionary Cycles in the Clarendon section of Arlington, said cyclists are also opting for more accessories. Sales are up by about 20 percent each month compared with last year, and customers bought even during the cold months, he said.

“The slower months, we actually increased, when it’s typically pretty stagnant,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Retailers also say more people are commuting to work on a bike, as studies suggest. In a 2002 one-day study, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments officials tallied 2,024 bikers heading into the District during rush hour. In 1999, they counted 1,379 persons bike-riding into the District. They are conducting the same study this summer, but results won’t be released until next year, said Michael Farrell, a transportation planner for theMetropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“People are simply calling us more and asking for advice on bicycle commuting,” said Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicycle Association, which helps cyclists find the best biking route to their destinations. “That’s the biggest challenge for a new commuter — ‘How do I get to work in a safe way?’ ”

Bicycle commuting relies on an expanded network of bike trails and lanes, which D.C. Department of Transportation officials decided to build in 2001. Specifically, they revived a bike program to improve the safety and convenience of cycling in the city. About 17 miles of bike lanes have been built to total about 20 miles in the District.

About two miles of trails have been improved or built since 2001 to total about 50 miles of trails in the District, said Jim Sebastian, the bicycle-program manager of the District’s Department of Transportation.

Retailers also credit the improved biking facilities for their increasing sales.

“The bike market in this area seems to be getting better. There’s an expansive area now to ride a bike,” Mr. Fadel said. “With the network of improvements, we see that as a good sign.”

According to Mr. Clements, bicycle sales are increasing nationwide, partly because of better biking facilitiesacross the country. About 20 million bicycles were sold last year in the United States, compared with about 18.3 million in 2004. This year is off to a good start too, he said.

Mr. Sebastian said the new facilities are enticing for prospective bikers.

“We are seeing more riders in streets where we put bike lanes in,” he said. “From what we’ve seen, if you build it, they will come.”


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