From the exhilaration of finding a new trail to the satisfaction of leaving the car at home, cycling offers a key to unlock a world of opportunity for a healthy mind, body, and planet. The simple, centuries-old concept of propelling oneself on two wheels using all-natural energy has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar movement towards a greener planet, and a smaller waistline. The rebirth and staggering growth of the bicycle market illustrate how humans can match the challenge of a shrinking environment with a proactive return to basics, like riding a bike. New technology abounds in the biking world, with galloping innovation and invention keeping pace with a growing global awareness.
There is now a bicycle model that is built for virtually anyone, regardless of age, fitness level or needs. Comfort bikes, hybrids, adult tricycles, and cruisers have filled a void in a market that was limited to 10-speeds and mountain bikes not many years ago. Kids and grownups ride BMX bikes now. An entire culture has sprung up and thrived around the fixie bike, which is a stripped back single speed urban flyer that harkens back to the penny-farthing bikes from the turn of the century. The full-suspension mountain bike commands the lead in recreational cycling, with a combination of comfort and physics-driven performance. For every rider, there is a perfect match. In the April 2010 issue of Bicycle Retailer Magazine, more quality bikes at lower price points are the strongest growth factor in the retail industry for 2010, making a better fit for more budgets.
Baskets, panniers, and a variety of trailers make it easy to bring everything along on any ride, including children as young as 18 months. There are doggie trailers and bike-mounted tent systems for camping. Roof racks and hitches lend secure portability to the cycling experience. Locks, lights and helmets are necessities that complement a dazzling universe of clothing, shoes, packs, gloves, hydration systems, and indoor trainers. Parts, from fenders and tires to custom spokes and tiny hydraulic valves, comprise a massive branch of products which expands daily.
The science of fitting and customizing a bicycle for every body type and activity level has grown and expanded the bike market into age and lifestyle sectors not considered ten years ago. From the local shop to the big box stores, more retailers now offer trained staff and technicians to advise you on the best purchase and maintenance of your new bike, and a wealth of no-nonsense information is available on websites of most manufacturers.
Countries such as India and China have long relied on the bicycle for necessary urban travel, and the rest of the world is following a trend toward replacing cars in the inner city with bicycles. Green initiatives in major cities, strained by choking traffic, have led to more dedicated bike lanes. In the case of Montreal, Canada, for example, a vast fleet of Bixi Bikes is now available for self-rental across the downtown core. The US Department of Transport (DOT) has expressed support for the Complete Streets Coalition in shaping and reworking policy to add bicycle and pedestrian facilities in urban areas across the country.
The facts are clear. Bikes use less space and energy than automobiles, and the emissions amount to little more than good old-fashioned sweat. The cost of a new custom-fitted hybrid bike to ride to work or down the single track will often be less than a new clutch or carburetor for the family car. Calories burned on a bike can total anywhere from 10-30 per minute depending on the type and average speed of the activity. Whether riding alone or with a group of friends cruising the waterfront, the experience is dynamic and satisfying. The world is turning into the benefits of the bicycle, for the sustainable ride into the next century.