When Lance Armstrong retires from pro cycling, the industry might see a fall in interest. To fight that, it's now touting its lifestyle benefits.
The buzz around Lance Armstrong's participation in the Tour de France might represent the high-water mark of media interest in bicycling as a sport.
"Historically, bicycle coverage has been virtually nonexistent in terms of the non-endemic media," says Zapata Espinoza, PR manager for Trek, which built the bikes Armstrong used during his French winning streak. "But over the past six years, the response in terms of media interest and in our bike sales has been phenomenal. The San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News both have Tour-specific websites where people can get updates. I've been in the sport a long time, and it's never reached that level."
The Armstrong phenomenon has benefited not only Trek and his other sponsors, but also the bicycling industry in the US.
"For the past seven years, we have been able to count on a bicycling story and a photo of a bicyclist on the cover of USA Today every July, so that's good for the sport," says Steve Madden, editor-in-chief of Bicycling.
Life after Lance
With Armstrong indicating that this will be his last Tour, the real question is whether the public and the media will remain interested in not only the race, but also in the sport and the lifestyle.
"When Lance steps away, we do anticipate there will be some sort of dip in media interest in cycling because he has been such a phenomenal athlete, as well as a great human-interest story," says Andy Lee, director of communications for USA Cycling, which identifies and trains the cyclists that represent the US in international competitions. "But the media will tend to cover competitive cycling if there's an American doing well, and we've got a real deep pool of talent now. So we're looking at other top riders to carry the torch."
There are only 35,000 cyclists in the US registered to race competitively, only a fraction of the 8 million enthusiasts and the tens of millions of casual riders.
Madden notes that Armstrong's emergence as a national icon has certainly helped raised awareness for bicycling in general, but adds that the industry has never been solely dependent on him alone.
"What it is dependent on is getting people to remember how much fun they had riding bikes when they were a kid and making sure people realize that it's a great way to stay in shape, lose weight, and spend time with family and friends," Madden says.
Scott Struve, product marketing manager for bike company Cannondale, adds that it is this lifestyle message that seems to resonate best with reporters.
"We're selfishly more interested in product reviews," he says. "But we realize that often the best way to generate interest in our bikes is to strategically weave them into stories that show how cycling can contribute to overall wellness."
Struve adds that media interest in bicycles tends to follow the sales season, which runs from March through early November, with an additional spike during the holidays. "Most of the coverage is print," he says. "But we do get some interest from TV, usually in health and fitness or gadget segments."
Though the basics of two wheels, a handlebar, pedals, and a seat remain the same, bikes have come a long way, both in terms of design and technology. This enables many outlets to do stories on bikes right alongside reviews of the latest MP3 players.
"Things that are very cutting- edge with new technology are getting picked up by the broader consumer publications, such as Details and Maxim," says Mo Moorman, marketing and PR manager for Pacific Cycle, which builds and markets bikes under the Schwinn, Mongoose, and GT brands. "But we're also making a concerted effort to get away from the typical technology review, especially with women's magazines, [which] are more interested in bikes that are more accessible and can be used around town."
Moorman points out that few outlets outside the enthusiast press have dedicated biking reporters. "The challenge is figuring out each outlet's audience and then coming up with a model that appeals to them." But he also suggests that bicycling does seem to have an advantage over other recreational sports because so many reporters grew up with a bike in their garage.
"Last year, when we launched the new Sting-Ray, we got a huge amount of media interest," he says. "And a lot of that was because of the nostalgia factor and people remembering the brand from their youth."
in the outdoors