Oak Park suburbanite Jay Townley wouldn't commute by bicycle to work every day to save energy even if the president asked him to.
Even if that president's name were Schwinn.
Which is at Townley's company.
The reluctance of those -- such as Schwinn's marketing vice president -- who have the greatest personal financial stake in the growth of the bike industry to mount their own products in the battle for energy conservation bodies ill for the Department of Transportation's expected announcement May 1 to peddle the bicycle as the next big gas saver.
Estimates are that the nation could save 87,000 barrels of oil a day if one million commuters took to the streets onbikes. And Phil Burkke of the Bicycle Manufacturers Association says "long range, the bicycle has to be perceived as a viable transportation alternative."
But this opinion isn't shared universally within the industry, much less within the government and the public.
"I do not think the bicycle will everbe used for transportation," said Thomas Albers, vice president of finance for Huffy Manufacturing, which claims to be the largest domestic producer, with 35 percent of the bicycle market.
After a five-year recovery from the 47 percent decline in sales that followed the bike boom in 1975, the industry faces its share of potholes.
And not just the kind that literally can throw you for a loop.
The credit crunch already has begun to hurt. Most bikes in this country are sold through mass-market retailers, and Albers sees sales softening at K-mart, Penney's and Montgomery Ward's, which sell Huffy made bikes under their own brand names.
Murray, Ohio, which supplies Sears,reportedly is experiencing a slight dip in sales after a strong first quarter this year.
The privately owned Schwinn company may not be hit as hard by the credit squeeze, though. Schwinn always has sold through its own small franchised outlets where the straight-cash sale is more common.
The big question for the industry today is whether the public will look at the bicycle as a pleasure purchase that can be deferred or as a necessity to get from place to place without paying through the nose at the gas pump.
And compounding that is the suggestion that as people spend more of their leisure time at home, they might see thebicycle as a cheap way of spending their time without taking a vacation.
Last year's gasoline shortages and price increases led to a 20 percent increase in domestic bicycle sales and the industry's first billion-dollar year. Spring sell-outs of the year's production were common in the six major companies in the market.
Although industry observers foresee some growth, they don't believe the momentum of 1979 will continue this year.It is generally agreed that the sales rise was caused more by the shortages' of gasoline than by the price increases.
Some people were buying bicycles and storing them for emergencies just like gas cans, according to Townley.
Still, he saw a strength in last year's market because of the increased activity in repair shops. People were bringing their vehicles in to be-reoiledand to have flats fixed. Which to Townley meant, that bikes bought duringthe boom were being, well, recycled.
The numbers of early teens will be declining in this decade but they remain the bread and butter of the industry. It was the 12- to 15-year-olds who were purchasing multispeed, lightweight bikes during the boom and they still are buying. The two-bike teen is common. The big growth in this age group is in Motorcross, the bicycle version of motorcycle racing. Townley says Schwinn just "can't make enough" of those bikes, which retail for nearly $500. s
For whatever reasons -- energy and low-cost labor being the most likely -- Oklahoma seems to be the center of the manufacturer's efforts in any bike boom.
Last June, Schwinn announced it wasbuying land in an industsrial park outside of Tulsa City. Three days after the United Auto Workers won a certification vote at Schwinn's factories in Chicago, a press officer for the company, would say only that there is noconstruction "currently" on the site.
Over in Ponca City, Huffy will be opening a plant this summer capable of producing one million bicycles a year, a move that causes some recessionary shivers in at least one analyst.
"The timing of the opening of the plant could be better, said Hal Vogel who watches the leisure industries for Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith. He tempered this pessimism by noting that Huffy plans to open the plant gradually and will need the capacity 5 or 10 years from now when construction costs likely will be significantly higher. Huffy was listed on the New York Stock Exchange last year for the first time. From Vogel's viewpoint, it hasn't done much.
Merrill Lynch is rating the company as neutral now and a buy for the long term.
Whatever President Carter might sayand do on May 1, his first officially declared bike day, the feeling is that local and state governments will have a much greater role in determining how much the bicycle will be used as transportation alternative and how this could affect the fortunes of the industry.