Push Those Pedals

Why Boomers Are Flocking To Biking

Paul Rady's interest in cycling started in front of the TV. "I decided to start road biking after I saw Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France in 2000," says Rady, chairman and CEO of Antero Resources, a 25-employee natural gas exploration company in Denver. Rady bought a bike, started riding with his "roadie" friends, and since 2001 has taken a biking trip to Europe every summer. "Each year it gets a little more ambitious," says the 52-year-old Rady. In June he rode four stages of the Tour course--about 500 miles--in four days.

Although Armstrong, who won the Tour seven times, has retired, the interest in cycling he helped spark rolls on. Sales of road bikes--the light bikes with skinny tires used by racers--rose from 5% of bike sales in 2002 to 16% last year, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Assn. (NBDA). "The baby boomers are getting older, they want to be fit, and they are looking for a low-impact alternative to running," says Fred Clements, executive director of the NBDA in Costa Mesa. Calif.

They're also looking for a challenge. Statewide bike tours, such as the seven-day, 472-mile Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, attract thousands of riders of all ages. And business is booming for tour companies that specialize in two-wheel journeys. "We've seen a definite increase in cyclists wishing to add adventure to their vacations," says Joe Tonon, co-owner of Destination Cycling in Marblehead, Mass., which offers "wine-and-cheese" bike trips but specializes in performance tours such as the one Rady did. Other cyclists on that trip rode all 21 stages of the 2,261-mile race.

Before you can think about conquering the Pyrenees or the Alps, you'll need to get a bike and log some miles. Don't be intimidated by the skinny tires, delicate frames, and narrow seats typical of a road bike. "At the end of the day, you're just riding a bike," says

Turner Waskom, co-owner of Bend Bike 'N Sport in Bend, Ore. Think about how you plan to use your bike and check out a few shops, asking employees for guidance. The average road bike sells for a little more than $1,000, but it's possible to spend several times that on ultralight, ultrasleek race bikes. Be sure to get the right fit: A bike too large or too small is like a sneaker that doesn't fit. Once you do find your ride, don't leave the shop without a helmet, bike shoes, and a pair of quality bike shorts.

Don't plan to start racing until you become familiar with your bike. "Get out with someone, whether it's a friend or a coach, and have them show you how to use the bike," says Kevin Dessart of Carmichael Training Systems, a Colorado Springs coaching company. If it's been a long time since you've been on a bike, practice changing gears, braking, cornering, and riding in traffic. It's also important to learn some basic bike maintenance; at the very least, be sure you know how to change a flat tire.

To fine-tune your skills and have more fun, ride with other people. Ask your local bike shop or cycling club about organized rides that cater to beginners. "Find the leader and ask how the ride works and where you should be in the group," says Waskom. "You learn everything else as you go."

Once you're confident and in shape, you'll be ready to try a trip or race. To prepare for his trip to France, Rady rode about three hours a day by adding loops to his 30-mile commute to and from work. On weekends he rode four or five hours in the Rockies. But after getting even a small taste of what Tour de France racers endure, Rady's daily rides now seem like a vacation.

By Sarah Max

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