LAS VEGAS--It's never been a better time to be in the bicycle business, what with global warming, childhood obesity and a failing economy.
The nation may be wracked by collapsing banks, foreclosed houses and a tanking economy, but there's no sign anything's amiss here at Interbike, the bike industry's annual trade show. In fact, it's party time as a perfect storm of eco-conscious consumerism, health-conscious lifestyles and wallet-sapping gas prices conspires to get people out of cars and onto bikes -- especially electric ones. "The gas prices are the best thing that ever happened to cycling," says Kevin Menard, whose year-old custom bike business, Traitor Cycles, is thriving. "I hope they go up even more."
The gargantuan trade show, and the crowd filling it, has never been bigger, organizers boast. A record 23,000 people and 750 exhibitors fill several acres of the Sands Convention Center, further proof that all is well in the bike biz..."You can feel the collective buzz," a smiling Tim Blumenthal, executive director of the bicycle advocacy group Bikes Belong, says from the middle of the bustling show floor. "It's a really, really heady time for us. This show feels very optimistic and that bucks the general economic trends. There doesn't seem to be many businesses that are thriving, but the bike business is doing very well."
Cycling enjoyed a "huge spike" in interest in June when gas topped four bucks a gallon, Blumenthal says. Much of the bike industry has enjoyed double digit growth since then. Some manufacturers have seen 50 percent growth in the last quarter, and dealers can’t keep up with demand. The service sector ("tubes and lube" in industry jargon) also is booming as old bikes are hauled out of sheds and garages and dragged into shops for tune-ups and tires. A growing number of people are ditching cars in favor of bikes for commuting to work or running to the supermarket, Blumenthal says. "Cycling for recreation in America has always been big," he says. "Now we're starting to see cycling for transport." (Read more.)