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Will High Gas Prices Spur Bike Sales?

In 2003, worldwide production of bicycles hit 105 million - two and half times the number of automobiles produced. The United States is famous for preferring the car to the bicycle as a means of transportation. But the US National Bicycle Dealers Association says its members sold some 14 million adult bikes in 2005. That is the most since a record 15 million were sold in 1973, following a Middle East Oil embargo that led to high fuel prices. This year, once again, gas prices are up. And, as VOA's George Dwyer reports, signs are growing that bike sales may soon surge again as well.

Thousands of Washington area commuters turned out last week for bring-your-bike to work day - a promotional event supported by local bicycle dealers, and underwritten in part by local governments.

One biker says the commute was busier than expected. "Well today I think it is probably more hectic on the bike path than it is driving," said the bicyclist. "There are thousands of people commuting to work by bike, and it has been a packed bike path. But generally it is a much less stressful ride into work on the bike than in the car."

Many here cycle to work routinely, because it is fun, it is a healthy lifestyle choice, and it protects the environment. But it is also becoming increasingly clear that, as an alternative to driving, bike riding can make good economic sense.

Commuter, Randy Swart says bicycling is virtually free. "I think people underestimate the cost of driving a car to work," he said. "If you are riding a bicycle, commuting, you can use just any old bicycle and it is almost free."

Randy Swart serves on a local bicycling advisory committee. He says most people forget to consider the total cost of commuting by automobile. "They think about the gas cost, especially right now when gas costs are high, but they forget all the other expenses, the things like insurance and tags, and taxes, and tires, and repairs, and parking fees," he explains, "and they seem to ignore how much they are adding to the pollution of the atmosphere."

But as gasoline prices have risen in recent months, there are signs that the bicycling alternative may be picking up speed. John Brunow is owner of Bikes at Vienna, a bike shop about 30 kilometers west of Washington, D.C.

"We are seeing increases in people buying racks, panniers, baskets, the things that indicate that they are trying to do more errands and they are trying to commute to work by bicycle," he says.

John says he has not yet seen any sharp spike in bike sales, but he believes that may be on its way. "The cost of gasoline right now, people are absorbing, and they are not looking at it as cautiously yet," he says, "but it is going to happen soon because their disposable income is being chewed up by increased gas prices and that realization is going to come to them and they are going to have to start looking for alternatives."