Lance Armstrong: Secret Weapon to Fight Global Warming?
Cycling aficionados call it the Lance Effect: Lance Armstrong‘s unprecedented seven-win tear through the Tour de France sparked a surge of interest in bicycle racing in the U.S. — and a corresponding jump in high-end road bike purchases. Armstrong’s influence is credited with upping the popularity of bike commuting as an alternative to driving.
But the Lance Effect began to slacken after his retirement. American TV ratings for the first post-Armstrong Tour de France, for example, plummeted nearly 50 percent. Now Armstrong is coming out of retirement, with plans to race — and win — the 2009 Tour de France.
If the Lance Effect returns to full strength, will it draw more people to biking to work, instead of driving their CO2-spewing cars? And in that case, is Armstrong’s return to cycling good for the environment?
Alas, the Lance Effect probably won’t do much to blunt the greenhouse effect. Cycling industry insiders say there is no evidence that Armstrong has had a significant impact on the number of bike commuters. While Armstrong’s example has made cycling more popular, it hasn’t drawn many more people into the saddle so much as it has shuffled existing patterns in bike retail. The last few years have seen a sizable shift from mountain bikes to road bikes, with little change in the overall number of bikes sold per year (about three million).
One area where the Lance Effect definitely has taken hold: participation in charity rides to benefit the fighting of diseases — for example, the rides to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society — has grown dramatically since Armstrong first took to the Tour.
High gas prices are probably doing more to shift drivers into bicycle commuting than Lance Armstrong is. But Lance is doing his part in Austin, Tex., where he recently opened a bike shop of his own that caters especially to commuters.