Lance Armstrong: more bike commuters, please


Lance Armstrong will soon unveil his 18,000-square-foot Austin-based bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s (named after the Tour de France’s yellow jersey — or “maillot jaune”). The goal of the shop is to promote bike culture and bike commuting:

“This city is exploding downtown. Are all these people in high rises going to drive everywhere? We have to promote (bike) commuting…”

Showers and a locker room will allow commuters who don’t have facilities at their offices to ride downtown, store their bikes at the shop, bathe and catch a ride on a pedicab or walk the rest of the way to work.

Armstrong’s advocacy could move mountains. Cycling has always been a trend-driven sport. As far back as the 1800s, manufacturers promoted their technological innovations by sponsoring racers. In the U.S., bike sales boomed in the early ’70s (reaching a high they’ve never quite touched again) due to a sudden craze for road bikes.

That boom quickly fizzled. The industry lacked the breadth of products to sustain consumer interest. For casual riders, a lightweight performance bike just wasn’t the right choice for commuting, running errands, or hauling cargo.

Then, in the ’80s, a group of obsessed hobbyists in California invented the mountain bike, upending the industry and sparking a more sustained boom. At one point, mountain bikes comprised 60% of bikes sold, even though most of these machines never saw a trail. The sturdy frame, thick tires, upright riding position, and forgiving suspension of a typical mountain bike suited it well to cities and sidewalks.

Today, the mountain bike has led to a flowering of cruisers, commuters, and comfort bikes. Some have described the present day as a golden era for bikes. But despite the rosy outlook, sales have been level — decently high, but not really growing.

Back when Lance was powering his way to seven consecutive Tour de France victories, the cycling industry referred to the “Armstrong effect,” the sales boost that resulted directly from Lance fandom. The runaway success of Lance’s Livestrong campaign further testified to the man’s broadbased appeal.

Now Lance has turned his attention to promoting bikes for the rest of us. If he succeeds, his most lasting legacy might be as an environmental champion.

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  1. Aaron A. - February 15, 2008

    I’m sure the shop itself will be gorgeous, but it’s really encouraging to see Armstrong pushing for more and safer bike trails. This could have a big impact on Texas, whose cities are notorious for never-ending commutes and little or no public transportation.
    — A.

  2. Adam Stein - February 15, 2008

    Yep, I lived in Austin for three years, and it’s a shame the city isn’t more bike-friendly. The climate is right for cycling (if a bit warm), and there’s excellent mountain biking in the Texas hill country. But for commuting, Austin still lags.

  3. Sammy - February 20, 2008

    This is great, I was a Chicago (year round) cycle commuter before opting for a larger house in the burbs.
    I dearly miss my morning and evening rides. Aside from eco friendliness, I can’t tell you how much stress was bled off because of them.
    Chicago is become more bike friendly, but it’s still Chicago, taxis and buses still rule the road!

  4. Phil - February 20, 2008

    Austin seems like a pretty strange place to do this. If I recall correctly, it isn’t like Austin really does have a centralized downtown business core. There are tons of jobs in different sectors of the city that are far from downtown.
    I definitely think that promoting intermodal transfer spots for bike commuters is the way to go. Showers, locker rooms, secure bike storage is definitely critical… as are dedicated bike lanes that allow bicyclists to get to their offices without impeding or interfering with auto traffic flow.

  5. Aaron A. - February 20, 2008

    Austin seems like a pretty strange place to do this. If I recall correctly, it isn

  6. michael - February 20, 2008

    We – the US – are not a cycling culture and I doubt we ever will be; automobiles rule here.
    Our general mindset must change, then laws protecting cyclists must change – we have more rights as pedestrians walking across a divided highway than we do riding a bicycle along a country road.
    I’ve gone thru periods in my life where I trained and raced 10K-12K miles a year. I could eat for a week off the food and drink thrown at me while in the saddle – maintaining great road ethics. It’s a battle.

  7. Rory Gawler - February 20, 2008

    Cycling will be safer as soon as more people do it. The problem is that motorists are unacustomed to seeing bikes.
    Stop whining and get out there. I risk my life every day and I love it! Who needs (carbon-intensive due to lengthy travel and infrastructure needs) when you have bike commuting?

  8. michael - February 21, 2008

    I was whinning, wasn’t I?

  9. Anonymous - February 21, 2008

    I live in Seattle, and I’ve been considering becoming a bike commuter. The safety aspect is on my mind, so I’ve been watching cyclists around town to see how they’re doing. I am amazed at the number of apparently illegal and unsafe actions the average urban cyclist seems to undertake–switching from the road to the sidewalk and back, running red lights or ‘starting early’, consistently failing to signal.
    Can any cyclist explain this to me? If bicyclists ARE traffic, why don’t they ACT like traffic? Am I misunderstanding the laws here? With all due respect for those ahead of me on this path, I feel this may be undermining ‘the cause’.

  10. Adam Stein - February 22, 2008

    Anon —
    You’re right. I say this speaking as a sometimes guilty party: the behavior of cyclists in traffic is often atrocious, and it does undermine the cause. You can find a pretty interesting back-and-forth on this topic here:
    To their credit, bicycle advocacy organizations tend to be quite strong in their insistence that cyclists obey the rules of the road.

  11. Aaron A. - February 22, 2008

    Anon (#10) wrote:
    Can any cyclist explain this to me? If bicyclists ARE traffic, why don

  12. Drew - February 22, 2008

    Commuting by bike is great, I commute through Manhattan on a daily basis. The number one obstacle to commuting isn’t the safety issue of the streets but a lack of secure parking at your destination. The sad reality is that most of us have to park our bikes out on the street all day long – which means that our rigs are usually fugly beaters with low “thug appeal”. How about some bike lockers outside subway stations or other key locations around the city? Indoor parking in your office building or apartment? An actual bike rack at the grocery store so you don’t have to lock up at the cart corral? All the bike lanes in the World aren’t going to do any good if there isn’t anywhere to park at the other end.

  13. 2wheeler - February 27, 2008

    I commuted by bike 75 times in 06 and 135 times in 07. I usually Bus or carpool the other days. My 5 mile commute by bike is great for the exercise, time savings vs. other modes, and exhilaration of traveling under my own power.
    I agree with the need for secure parking at the workplace, and any other nice accomodations (showers, lockers) that might be possible. As a wellness investment it should be a cost savings for the employers to provide such. No need for coffee after biking to work, either!
    If we are ever to have sustainable future with energy and carbon emissions in balance with the planet we must move toward these kinds of solutions en masse. So I say Kudos, Lance for moving into a meaningful life beyond racing.

  14. The Shefman Law Group - April 1, 2008

    Thankfully, Austin has Lance. Hopefully, Lance means more bikes, more bike lanes, bike paths, and bike/pedestrian bridges to cross-over MOPAC. Which of course means, more bicycle safety for bike riders. – Let’s ride!
    Lenore Shefman

  15. Tom - August 3, 2008

    I haven’t been on a bike since I got my driver’s license in 1981. But now, for health and environmental reasons, I want to commute to work on a bike.
    However, I live in Rochester, NY and I’ve always found this area to be one of the most pedestrian/bike unfriendly areas I’ve ever been to. On top of that, I find Rochester drivers some of this country’s worst and most dangerous.
    I live just outside the city in a town that doesn’t even have crosswalks at intersections. When my car died 2 years ago, I walked to work for almost 2 months and found it to be extremely dangerous.
    Now I’m harassing our local county executive about transportation plans for the future and I’m pushing for “people-powered” forms of transportation–walking, biking, blading.
    What I’d really love to see are dedicated and safe bike paths–like Bogota, Columbia. Sadly, instead of bike paths, people talk about multi-million dollar light rail projects.