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Bike Boom

NEW YORK - The struggling U.S. automobile industry might do well to take some lessons from its nonmotorized brethren, because bicycles are selling like hot cakes.

By RASHA ELASS Reuters News Service

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, priced 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.

Earlier this year, Kent International introduced a new, midpriced bicycle with the Cadillac brand name. One popular model is the 21-speed Cadillac Comfort Bike, which has an upright position and a shock-absorbent seat.

"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.

With oil prices at an all-time high and the nation's obesity epidemic raging, more people are riding their bicycles to work.

Last month, Congress passed a transportation bill that allocates more than $3.5 billion in federal funds to create bicycle pathways through 2009.

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