Roadie redux

20 06 2011

I’m on the road again.

Back on familiar pavement.

After Sunday’s reacquaintance with the mud and roots and rocks of trail riding on Burnaby Mountain, I was much more comfortable on the pavement out to UBC on Monday evening even as the weather deteriorated yet again.

I’m a roadie.

While the trails are a nice change of pace, especially when riding with buddies, I prefer the speed and long distances of the road. Through much of the 1990s us roadies were a vanishing breed; even I strayed for a time as my beloved steel Crammerotti accumulated more dust than kilometers while I mashed my Kona mountain bike in the mud. Mountain biking was hot, especially in these parts where many of the sport’s pioneers were pushing the envelope of trail building and riding over on the North Shore on the flanks of mountains like Fromme.

But, as with most trends, road riding is back. Wearing tight lycra is cool again. In fact, never being one to shy away from writing in the paper about my own interests, here’s a story I did to promote bike month about the resurgence of roadies:

When Neil Davies brought in an $8,000 racing bike to his Jubilee Bicycles shop, it was sold even before he had a chance to put it on display.

While some people may flinch at the idea of spending as much on a bicycle as a used car, it’s happening more and more says Davies.

Neil Davies with one of the high-end BMC bicycles he now sells at his shop.

Many of those bike big spenders are “MAMILs,” an acronym coined by a British publication to describe Middle Aged Men In Lyrca. Instead of spending their disposable income on a Porsche, they’re buying high end road bikes. Instead of strolling away an afternoon on a golf course, they’re training to ride in 120 kilometre Gran Fondos and charity cycling events like the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

“Their kids are older and they have more time for themselves instead of chasing around to soccer fields all weekend,” says Davies, who’s been selling bikes at the family store for more than 20 years. “Many of them can’t run or ski anymore because their knees are shot, and there’s no cost of admission to ride a bike.”

While mountain bikes ruled the last decade, the sleek, skinny-tired road bikes are making a resurgence, says Davies. Part of that is due to the “Fondo effect,” as cyclists and would-be cyclists sign up to challenge themselves in long mass-participation events that have all the trappings of a big-time European bike race like electronic timing, mechanical support and feeding stations along the route; last year there was one such Gran Fondo in British Columbia, this year there are four.

Another allure is the vast improvements in bike technology. A new carbon fiber road bike is feather-light, more comfortable and easier to ride than old steel Schwinn’s and Paramounts of yore.

“It’s two pedal strokes down the road and it’s like ‘wow, I can’t believe it,’” says Davies, who this year added bikes from Swiss manufacturer BMC to his store’s stable to meet the demand of discerning roadies.

“Twenty years ago we were the oddballs,” says Davies, a successful amateur road racer in his younger days. “Now it’s come full circle.”