By JOHN HEILPRIN
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 23, 2006; 2:37 PM
WASHINGTON -- Swapping his running shoes for bicycle pedals, President Bush bid adieu to painful runner's knees and transformed himself into a devoted mountain biker _ and high-tech gearhead.
Even with elections looming, the cyclist-in-chief made time earlier this month for his ritual mountain biking on weekends. He changed into biking clothes and muddied up his newest ultra-pricey mountain bike given him by a manufacturer, a $5,000 Cannondale with a custom red, white and blue paint job. The 2007 model was put in his hands even before it had been shipped to stores.
Such a passion it is: he also went biking Thursday while spending the Thanksgiving holiday at his mountaintop retreat in Camp David, Md.
"He's an avid rider, a fanatic," said Matt Mannelly, president of Bethel, Conn.-based Cannondale, who hadn't publicized but confirmed what he called an unsolicited gift to Bush a month ago. "We also made it very clear we wouldn't do anything to market this. To give it to someone like the president, who's actually going to use it a lot, means a lot to us."
Bush already has two Trek mountain bikes, one worth $5,500, the other $2,700.
The president likes super lightweight carbon frames, trail-absorbing shocks front and back, a light but supportive seat, top Japanese components and special paint jobs. But they are essentially stock bikes, similar to what ordinary buyers can get.
The president's thoughts drifted to his newest bike on the campaign trail. Maybe it was a calorie-conscious moment at a local farmer's ice cream store in Pennsylvania, or the anticipation of busting his lungs on an expensive new machine over rocky ruts. Whatever the impulse, Bush said he'd gotten a new bike and was looking forward to riding it.
Rolling around the dirt track at a Secret Service facility in suburban Beltsville, Md., Bush tried out the Cannondale but also brought along one of his "old" mountain bikes _ a 2006 Trek painted up like Air Force One.
The Trek has "United States of America" painted in white letters across the blue top tube, and a 2-inch presidential seal affixed to both sides of the head tube. Revolution Cycles, a local chain of stores, maintains the bike and owns an identical backup that it keeps ready for Bush.
"It's kind of like the backup space shuttle," said Darrin Misiera, a manager of the stores.
None of Bush's mountain bikes, in fact, is very old. His other Trek is a 2005 model.
The stores' president, Mike Hamannwright, fitted Bush with his Trek bikes and has ridden with him. Co-owner Santiago "Pinkey" Gonzalez doubles as the president's bike mechanic.
The Trek bikes came courtesy of John Burke, president of Waterloo, Wis.-based Trek Bicycle Corp., who also chairs the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Bush reported the bikes on his financial disclosure forms the past two years. He also got a $1,700 indoor cycling trainer from Saris Cycling Group president Chris Fortune, two pairs of cycling shoes from Rob Teskey of Trek Nike Cycling Division, and three helmets, at least four pairs of riding gloves and other cycling equipment worth $532 from Burke.
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said the president "is in full compliance with federal laws governing the acceptance of gifts." Those laws say presidents and their spouses must list on financial disclosure forms any gifts from constituents worth $305 or more. Often the gifts wind up in presidential libraries.
It was only three years ago that Bush took up cycling after a painful knee forced him to cut back on jogging. At 60, he is an exceptionally fit rider who likes to go hard, always at the head of a small pack of other riders.
Most of his cycling is at Beltsville. But he also bikes occasionally at the Marine base at Quantico, Va., Camp David at Catoctin Mountain Park and at his ranch at Crawford, Texas. He also sneaks in rides during presidential trips.
Misiera said he has turned down offers from collectors of up to $21,000 for his store's spare presidential bike.
"We could probably get $25,000 for it on eBay," he said. "But of course we can't sell it. It has the seal of the President of the United States."