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.

Caffeine Powered SS

Okay Jake, you're crazy. Without getting into what a douchebag LA is, and as his mechanic from '89-'91 I have a person experience most don't to draw from...

but seriously, yeah, the production of a car has a more significant footprint than a bike of the masses. But a Madone has a greater footprint given the comparative ratio to an equivalent uber car. If Dick Trickle Jr from Cambridge Wisco won would every Dodge/Chevy/Ford/Toyota seeking dufus pony up a kabillion dollars to drive the nearest thing to what won at Daytona? Not quite. Long before LA started wining La Primavera, Mr Le Mond was winning on Bottecchias with Mavic. Neither flourished economically and commuters pedaled to and fro without a care.

I bought a Seven 10 years ago and I regret it. There was nothing wrong with my 1988 Serotta or my 1987 Vitus. I succumbed to displaced desires. Fortunately Ti doesn't wear out so it'll be under me longer than LA's EPO supply.


Two Wheels > 4 Wheels

So by this logic, if an American won 7 consecutive Formula One auto racing championships, it surely would cause a rise in driving very fast to work, and greatly reduce car pooling.


I think this was overshadowed by the Phelps Effect, which has inspired millions to swim to work. All the cool kids are doing it!


#24. I know that a car has much more metal than a bike. Bike = 15lbs, car = 2500 lbs. Every action has a carbon footprint, but you have to be realistic. If riding a "high end" bike to work cuts down on traffic and reduces emissions, explain how that is not green.

Also, Lance is a real role model. He is truly a great athlete and I actually prefer his type of attitude. He is raw and mean, just like a champion. He isn't watered down and P.C. The French attacked him, and he crushed the competition.

I commute on a bike to work in Chicago along the lakefront. Call me crazy, but its great excercise, takes about the same time as the el, and gives me joy. This year has been busy on the path, I suspect from high gas prices, not from Lance.

Tina Wagnon

I certainly don't see how Lance's return to cycling would bring the cost of EPO up considering that the sport of cycling itself has proven Lance as a clean cyclist over and over again. Until the sport of cycling comes up with tests that can't be passed unless you're clean...then Lance has done all that the sport requires of him to proven he races clean. It isn't shame on Lance, it is shame of the sport for failing it's athletes in the fight to prove them clean. As for commuting, Lance may not have made a huge difference there but he has certainly made a huge difference in the interest of bikes. Oh, and far more important...a huge difference in the interest of fighting cancer and finding a cure.


Now more than any time in history, people respond hugely to the media and are influenced by certain people that are in it. Lance Armstrong is a very special case. He has won the Tour de France, which is quite popular among the world, many times making him one of the best, if not the best, bicyclist ever. Apart from this, he suffered from cancer, appealing to even more people. The fact that he was able to overcome such a disease and still be able to win this competition consecutively amazes the audience. Consequently, people would be more encouraged to bike to work. Even though there might be other forces that encourage people to bike to work, Lance Armstrong has definitely had an impact on many people and certainly increases the amount of people that bike to work, even though it might be minimal. We will just have to wait and see how his return and new store will affect the sales of bicycles.



It is not just Lance that contributed to an increase in bike commuting, there are many other initiatives and high gas prices to credit. I wrote about some of the reasons for an increase in bike commuting on my blog (


Lance rekindled my passion for Cycling.. he is the best. He will win the Tour again. He work has surely raised the awareness about cancer and has also prompted people to start cycling again.


Economics book teach you clearly that, "causation is not necessarily causation". This is a common mistake in economics; partially, because many people assume, again another big mistake. It is possible that Lance A. has made people think about the damage of cars. How this pollution may affect them later, with probably cancer. Something that I am sure no one wishes to go through. But with time this motivation may have decrease on many citizens. Because people need constant reminders of certain things, since everything everyday changes. Conscience probably was stimulated, but it needs to be constant, in order for people to make the right choice.


Didn't you have a post not too long ago that said that consumption of milk after riding a bike to work could actually make global warming worse?


Does divorcing the wife that supported you while you endlessly trained for the Tour de France and went through cancer treatment help global warming now?


I think that the publicity of bike races does much more to encourage cycling as a hobby than as a form of commuting transportation, unfortunately. And here's something on the bike commuters who don't get so much attention:


Armstrong may help a little but it is really up to municipalities and regional governments to encourage protected bike lanes and paths (preferably with barriers between cyclist and automobiles and pedestrians) to make biking safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Also these lanes will validate the notion that bikes are transport and not just a recreational vehicle.

Rich Wilson

Lance made cycling popular in America, which I think had some small effect on attitudes. Where some car drivers used to think "get off the f*ing road!" they instead thought "hey, like that cancer guy!"

Unfortunately, Americans have short memories. Too often it's now back to "get off the f*ing road!"


I work for one of the largest bicycle companies in America (no, not Trek, but that's a very good guess) and it seems to me that the increase in cycling interest does have much to do with Lance Armstrong. It's like the surge in Jeopardy viewers while Ken Jennings was was on the show. Or when Mark McGwire broke the home run record.

Industry insiders probably don't want to credit their company's growth to a novelty like Lance Armstrong, they want to assert the industry's naturally growing popularity, function, benefits etc. etc. Road cycling has been such a European thing until Lance Armstrong came onto the scene and made Lycra (spandex) look cool.

Raj Pandravada

Why would one man's (admittedly slightly dubious) success in competitive cycling result in people adopting bikes as a regular mode of transport? My commute from home to work is nice, but ain't no French countryside. Besides, wearing a bright yellow or green jersey to work is just plain tacky.

How come people aren't surprised that the Usain Effect hasn't gripped American commuters?

One thing, though - I hope the Usain Effect does happen. People might begin to prefer spending national holidays sprinting across the vast American outdoors instead of biking, thereby reducing the ridiculous number of SUVs packed to the brim with bikes and biking paraphernalia crowing our freeways.

Why? Something called 'drag coefficient', which pertains directly to fuel consumption.

Here we go again.

Nate C.

Unlike most commenters, I actually see a link between Lance and cyclocommuting.

At least for me, the causation didn't go: Lance > Commuting via bicycle, the causation went Lance > Racing bicycles > Commuting.

My interest in bike racing led to a much greater knowledge and appreciation for the bicycle. I realized how easy it was for me to build and ride bicycles, and I had the strength necessary to complete a commute every day of the week.

I agree, Lance-watching TV viewers don't see the Tour and decide they want to commute to work. But Lance brought the bicycle back to the forefront of our attention.

Caffeine Powered SS

Cycling "green?" Maybe, but certainly not at the higher end. Do you think carbon fiber and composites grow on trees? Are the unobtainium metals simply plucked from the soil with our bare hands? Significant industry from all over the globe mines, smelts, refines, produces, ships and distributes all those bicycles. That bike underneath that "Lance wannabe" might only weigh 16 pounds but has anyone measured the wastes accumulated during production? That's not "green."


Club cyclist here, for fifteen years or so. We saw plenty of newly minted cyclists as a result of the Lance effect. Most of them were astride Treks and wearing Disco jerseys. Bike racing is the least green sport ever. Racers drive miles to the starts. I've been on the crew of races from the Tour de Georgia to the San Francisco Grand Prix. Every one has a car sponsor.

Bike racers and charity riders are like downhill skiers. Do you know anyone who uses downhill skis to get to work? They bust out their skis, go somewhere to ski, then go home, all by car. Same deal with racers and charity riders.

The late geat Sheldon Brown said it best. Cycle commuting is the highest possible form of use of the bicycle.

Tkwon CMS

Just like this Freakonomics entry has said, there is only the slimmest of correlations between Lance Armstrong being at the Tour de France. Armstrong's influence in increasing number of bike commuters is a temporary boost at best, and an illusionary correlation at worst (probably oil prices were rising as Armstrong was busy pedaling in France)