The gas shortage fueled the last bicycle boom. The next may be sped on its way by the gas glut.
In the early 1970s, worried motorists, convinced that gas would soon be $3 a gallon, stampeded to bicycle shops. An average of 14 million units a year were sold from 1972 to '74.
In 1975, when the enthusiasm dimmed, sales -- which had also been spurred by baby-boomers interested in ecology and back-to-nature -- dropped by half.
"Reality hit," says Katie Moran of the Bicycle Federation. "You walked out with your bicycle, and it was like walking into no man's land. Not only were there no good facilities, but people felt unsafe. So the bicycles all went into the garage."
Sales averaged 9.5 million units for the next seven years, bottoming out at 6.8 million in '82. Since then, there has been another upswing, with 11.4 million sold in '85.
"People now have a more serious attitude and better equipment," says Chris Grimm of Bicycle USA. "Sales won't have the explosive growth they did before, but there also won't be a dropoff."
The federal and local governments also have gotten their acts in gear. There are many more bike programs, bike coordinator positions and bike paths than in '72.
And this time, bicyclists are not taking up the sport out of hardship, but because it's upscale. Connie Carpenter, winner of a U.S. cycling gold medal in the '84 Olympics, and Greg LeMond, given a good chance to be the first American winner of the Tour de France this summer, are the new heroes.
Plentiful gas and the desire to avoid a terrorism-plagued Europe should help produce an abundance of two-wheeled activity during the next six months, as vacationers take their bikes along.
"It could be the summer of the bicycle. There's a lot of potential for increased awareness," says Grimm. "If people actually get out and ride, they'll be a lot less likely to cut off cyclists when they get back."
For more information:
Washington Area Bicyclist Association, 530 Seventh St. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. (202) 544-5349.
Potomac Pedalers, Box 23601, Washington, D.C. 20026. (202) 363-8687. (A local recreational riding group.)
Bicycle USA, Suite 209, 6707 Whitestone Rd., Baltimore, Md. 21207. (301) 944-3399. (A national membership organization, with information on local clubs across the country.)
Bikecentennial, P.O. Box 8308P, Missoula, Mont. 59807. (406) 721-1776. (A nonprofit touring group that also sells bike maps.)