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Ross LaHaye of Green Bay rides his bicycle Thursday on the Fox River Trail in De Pere. Ross purchased the bike about four months ago. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette

Green Bay Press-Gazette

Racer Lance Armstrong helps rekindle interest among area's riders

By Terry Anderson

As Lance Armstrong rolls toward a seventh Tour de France championship, area bicycle shops are seeing a resurgence of interest in road riding and road bikes.

Road bikes are the specialty bikes with skinny tires and big price tags. They range in price from $500 to more than $6,000, with the average price more than $1,150.

"Lance Armstrong has been the best sales person for our business since Greg LeMonde in the mid-1980s," said Randy Bailey, owner of Stadium West in Green Bay. "We're seeing a lot of people who bought mountain bikes and are coming in and saying 'I want to ride faster.'"

Road bikes accounted for 28 percent of dollar sales by specialty dealers in 2004, up from 16 percent in 2002, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. And road bikes have taken the lead in terms of dollars generated in sales, now accounting for 28.3 percent of the dollars generate in the retail market, compared with 25.6 percent for mountain bikes.

The Tour de France is a 21-day, 2,236-mile grueling bicycle race through France that ends Sunday. Armstrong, who is from Texas, last year became the first person in the tour's 91-year history to win the race six times.

The resurgence of road riding comes at a good time for the U.S. bicycling industry, which has remained flat since 1999. It generated an estimated $5.5 billion in sales of bikes, parts and accessories in 2004, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

Armstrong's prowess and personal story has reinvigorated American interest in cycling, and no company has felt the impact more than Trek, the privately held company in Waterloo, 30 miles east of Madison that is the top U.S. manufacturer of bikes. Armstrong is riding a Trek Madone built to his special needs.

"The tour definitely helps with sales, but it's not the only reason," Bailey said. "We're selling bikes to people who are cutting back on their running, but they still want a cardio-workout. And we've probably sold 15-20 bikes this year to people who are going to commute to work."

Julie Petersen of Green Bay rather whimsically blames others for her road riding: her husband, Carl, who bought her a road bike out of guilt, and her Ironman friends who have convinced her that she should compete in Sunday's inaugural Door County Triathlon near Egg Harbor.

That's a 0.9-mile swim, followed by a 25.7-mile bike ride, followed by a 6.2 mile run.

Petersen, who has been a devoted runner, admits that one of the benefits of road riding is the socializing that comes from riding together.

"I do think that more people are riding road bikes and many are doing it for social reasons," she said. "When I was a kid the adults were bowling, playing cards and smoking, and I don't see people doing that anymore."

"It's a hard thing to put your finger on, but road bike sales have spiked dramatically in the past couple of years," said Dave DeKeyser, co-owner of the Bike Hub in De Pere. "There are a ton of different things responsible, but I think that the number one is the health and fitness thing."

DeKeyser said he believes that as Americans have followed Armstrong's saga they've come to realize that, "it's less of a skinny-guys-in-Lycra-thing and can be a rough-and-tumble activity. I think that people are watching the Tour so closely and seeing how much those guys can hurt and yet keep going."

Many of those who have turned to road riding have done so as an alternative to running, DeKeyser said.

Evan Miller of Green Bay is riding more and running less.

"I really got into cycling about three years ago," said Miller. "I've always been an active person, and I still do some running and work out at the Y every morning. But my interest started perking with the Tour de France. I think Lance Armstrong is largely responsible for the resurgence."

Miller said he now owns a mountain bike, a cyclo-cross bike and two road bikes, including one he picked up Tuesday at the Bike Hub.

"It's a custom bike that Dave and I put together," he said. "We picked out the components and he put them together in his shop. It's amazing that you start to understand the new technologies."

Miller concedes that a specially built road bike is expensive, but said he doesn't own a motorcycle or a boat or snowmobiles.

"I wonder what the interest will be after Armstrong retires," Miller said. "He has really had an impact, but will we care as much if an Italian or German is leading the race?"

Almost every day someone new to road riding shows up at Mark Ernst's InCompetition Sports store in Green Bay talking about the Tour de France and its terminology.

"There are never too many bikers and whether you want to ride casually or want to ride 40 to 50 miles at a high tempo, there's a ride for you in this area," Ernst said. "There's not one night a week when there isn't a ride."

And everyone is in agreement that Wisconsin is a premier riding area.

"Door County has some of the best riding in the Midwest and is certainly my favorite place to ride," Miller said. "I try to ride about five days a week, but I'm not one of those guys who goes out wearing a team jersey. I like nice equipment and I like the pure enjoyment of riding."

For information:

Bicycle types

- Mountain bikes are rugged bikes for off-road use, but many people ride them on pavement as well. Mountain bikes feature fat, knobby tires for comfort and traction, flat bars for control, and low gears for easier hill climbing.

- Road bikes are meant for pavement riding, and are built for speed. They have narrower tires and drop bars for a more aerodynamic riding position.

- Hybrid bikes are a cross between mountain bikes and road bikes. Hybrids generally have treaded tires which are narrower than mountain bike tires, flat bars, and higher gearing than mountain bikes. They're not quite as fast as road bikes on pavement, and not quite as rugged as mountain bikes on the road. They're good for commuting, and offer a compromise which appeals to a lot of people.

- Cruisers. One-speed or multispeed, cruisers are for the casual rider.

- Juvenile bikes come in many varieties, from one-speed cruisers, to performance BMX bikes, to multi-speed mountain and road bikes.

- Comfort bikes are specialized mountain bikes or hybrids with more upright riding positions, softer saddles and lower gearing. They're built for comfort, but are also designed to perform well.

- Recumbents/tandems/ electric-assist bikes. There are numerous niche bicycles available today. Recumbents allow people to ride in a "recliner-chair" position with feet forward. Tandems allow two riders on a bike. A number of companies offer bicycles with electric-assist motors.

Source: National Bicycle Dealers Association

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