Article in Time Magazine on Biking's popularity
Thursday, Jun. 28, 2007 By DAN KADLEC
Recreational cycling appears to have peaked in the U.S., its popularity cresting sometime during Lance Armstrong's record runs at the Tour de France. But as the sport has lost enthusiasts overall, a surprising demographic has stuck around and even begun to dominate the trails and bike paths of the U.S., if not yet the world: retirees and near retiree.
eople ages 45 to 64 account for 20% of all those over age 7 who rode a bike at least six times last year, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. That's up from 13% a decade ago. Yes, this age bracket is expanding as a percentage of the overall population, but demographics can't tell the whole story. After all, golf--the quintessential 50-plus sport--is moving in reverse, at least in some respects. Last year, for the first time in 60 years, more golf courses shut down than started up, and the number of frequent golfers declined.
The appeal of cycling is most pronounced among the youngest baby boomers (ages 45 to 54), who are also tackling other vigorous leisure activities including hiking and running marathons. Such pursuits embody the active later lifestyle that much of the boomer generation has come to adopt, and which has been embraced as the ad media's new image of older Americans at leisure. Certainly, semi-seniors wake up the morning after a vigorous outing with more aches and pains than they had in their 20s, but the physical benefits exceed the cost. Regular exercise lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, keeps weight down and improves mental outlook. This is all good news.
Yet there is more at work in the biking trend than a desire to stay fit. Armstrong's string of wins starting in 1999 might have made cycling cool, and health concerns might have made it smart, but technology made it accessible. If you've been eager to take up the sport but are put off by the discomfort of a traditional bicycle, take another look. Many of today's models come with bigger seats and higher handlebars--easing the strain on bottoms and backs--and even automatic gear shifting. Features like these have helped create a whole new line of bikes, known as hybrid or comfort, the latter word particularly appealing to older riders. The very hottest part of the market is road bikes, which also appeal to boomers who may be giving up on yesterday's phenomenon--less comfortable mountain bikes, a category in which sales have tailed off dramatically.
With its grayish skew, could cycling become the new golf? A number of things suggest it already is. Stories increasingly surface of businesspeople cutting deals or doctors swapping medical techniques while on a ride, as opposed to the fourth tee. Early this month, at a gathering of the Neurosurgical Society of America in Kohler, Wis., the docs for the first time had the option of skipping an afternoon on the links and instead going for a group ride--and at least 20 signed up.
The Kohler outing was put together by Trek Travel trektravel.com) which arranges cycling events around the world and is benefiting from the graying of the sport; 85% of its clients are ages 45 to 60. "There's been a huge upswing in our group-travel business," says sales manager Michael Meholic.
While plenty of Trek Travel's trips are for business groups, the majority are still for folks taking up the sport as a means of maintaining or establishing social groups and staying connected with kids and grandkids. Among the top trends in cycling-related travel are programs that include children, says Cari Gray, a spokeswoman for Butterfield & Robinson butterfield.com) which arranges cycling trips around the world. Gray says clients value intimacy with the countryside, which you can't get on a tour bus, as well as the personal time they get with loved ones.
But that doesn't mean boomers aren't serious cyclers. "People have epiphanies on our trips all the time--climbing a hill they thought they couldn't or going farther than they thought they could," says Gray. B&R clients are mostly 45-plus, and she says they are far better riders today than the firm's clients were 10 years ago. "Boomers are different," she says. "They want more from their vacation than a hangover and a tan."