When a cigarette-puffing motorist struck up a conversation about Lance Armstrong at a red light, Toledo cyclist John Drake recognized the fame Mr. Armstrong has created for their mutual sport.
That's a good thing for Mr. Drake, who operates a cycling shop on Alexis Road in Sylvania. "The awareness among the cycling community was always there, but what Lance has done is to broaden the awareness," said Mr. Drake, owner of Bikeworks.
Although the U.S. cycling industry has been flat at $5.5 billion for six years, the pricey "road" bike used by the seven-time Tour de France winner and other racers is the fastest growing category of cycle, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association.
The bikes - averaging $1,153 - accounted for 11 percent of cycles sold at bike shops nationwide last year, up from 5 percent just three years earlier.
The fast, lightweight cycles continue to be outsold by mountain, crossover, and so-called comfort bikes, but accounted for 28 percent of shop revenue in 2004, up from 16 percent in 2002.
Besides the attention attracted by the U.S. cycling champion and cancer survivor, the sport is also benefiting from the aging of the baby boom generation. Many longtime runners in their 40s and 50s have switched to cycling, which can provide the same high-intensity workout with less stress on bones and joints, said Mr. Drake.
Still, the 33-year-old Mr. Armstrong's role in promoting cycling and cycling equipment can't be underestimated, dealers said.
"Over the last three to four years, he's had a tremendous affect on road bike sales," said Terry Waltzer, of the Bike Route on Monroe Street in Toledo. But he was unable to say how many road bikes the shop has sold.
Because of the high price of road bikes, Mr. Armstrong's latest win resulted in no rush of customers. But, as after previous wins, publicity surrounding the race likely will trigger future sales, Mr. Waltzer added.
"It's been gradual," added Rob Foshag, of Jack's Bicycle Shop in Monroe. "Every year, it gets a little bigger." The most popular road bikes there are lower-end models averaging $700 to $800.
To capitalize on Tour de France publicity, Jack's distributed prizes in a scratch-off-ticket game. That brought people into the shop who could turn into customers.
At Bikeworks, the most popular items have been jerseys, ball caps, and T-shirts bearing the name of Mr. Armstrong's Discovery Channel racing team, said Mr. Drake. The shop has received some requests for helmets and jerseys like those worn by Mr. Armstrong, but "off-bike garments" like the caps and T-shirts have been more popular. "We get them in and they go," he said. "They're a really hot item."
The store's main line of cycle is made by Trek Bicycle Corp., of Waterloo, Wis. It's the same firm that supplies Mr. Armstrong. Prices of $3,500 to $4,500 aren't uncommon. "We sell quite a few," said Mr. Drake, although he was unsure of the exact number.
Most buyers spend a minimum of $300 on helmets, shoes, eyewear, jerseys, gloves, shorts, and other equipment.
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