Here at Dandelion Chandelier, we’ve noticed that a lot of wealthy people are avid cyclists, either outdoors or on a stationary bike or both. It’s a strong pattern in finance and tech, in particular. Golf used to be the sport of the business elite, but cycling seems to be poised to surpass it. In fact, if you’re an entrepreneur pitching your business to investors in Silicon Valley, you’ll find it a distinct advantage to be able to do so while on a bike.
The trend isn’t limited to the rich, of course. In 2010, cycling became the largest sports market in the world, according to research firm NPD. Including bikes, parts, accessories, apparel and maintenance, global sales were $46 billion that year. Since then, the market has maintained a steady 4.7% annual growth rate, and is on track to exceed $70 billion in the next few years.
In addition to large urban market bike-sharing companies like Citibikes in New York, Ofo in China, and Santander Cycles in London, peer-to-peer bike sharing is catching on: Spinlister and AirDonkey are “Airbnb for bicycles,” created to encourage people to ride instead of drive. Germany is building a 60-mile bicycle autobahn exclusively for cyclists, and London is committed to becoming even more bike-friendly – already more than 2 million people a year ride a bike in the UK.
So cycling is on the rise, and easier and less expensive than ever. But what exactly is the allure of cycling for the rich and powerful? And do they experience the sport differently than the average cyclist? We decided to take a ride and find out (this post will focus on outdoor cycling – we’ll come indoors in a subsequent post).
First, the basic nomenclature. For outdoor cycling, there are three basic types of bikes – road, mountain, and hybrid.
Road bikes are meant for smooth surfaces. They have skinny tires, a small saddle, and curved handlebars. The primary goal in their design is aerodynamics and weight reduction. Their frames can be made of either aluminum, titanium or carbon fiber – carbon fiber is light and strong, but also fragile. The frames are the most expensive component of a road bike – the wheels are the other big element driving both cost and performance. As with the frame, lighter wheels are better. Top-of-the line wheels from brands like Enve, Zipp, HED, Mavic and Campagndo can cost between $2,000 and $3,500.
Our friend the wealthy cyclist shared these insights:
–The cost of a road bike is largely determined by how lightweight it is: lower weight means better performance (a 17-pound bike is considered “crazy light.”) Devotees will spend a fair amount to reduce a bike’s weight even by 6 ounces (to a novice, this may seem like a minuscule benefit, but apparently the pros care a great deal about even that last 6 ounces; personally, I would just go on a diet and save the money).
–There are number of a very good factory-made (also known as stock) bikes – Specialized, Giant, Trek, Cannondale and Scott are among the recommendations from our expert friends, and they’re fairly widely distributed. Cervelo and BMC are also good, but harder to find. The price range is anywhere from $1,000-5,000 for a great stock road bike, and you can expect delivery within 1-2 weeks of ordering it.
–You’ll see the Japanese brand Shimano on a number of these stock bikes, as the company is the industry leader in brakes and other components.
–Those who are serious riders and can afford it usually opt for a custom-made bike. They generally take 4 weeks to deliver, and can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 (the norm is $10-13,000). You can choose the paint colors and patterns to make it truly your own. For custom bikes, our friend the expert recommends the brands Seven or Moots (for titanium frames) and Parlee (for carbon fiber). Giant and Passoni are also good bets. Sadly, the much-loved Serotta brand closed for business last year, and its fans still maintain a Facebook page for communal grieving.
Mountain bikes are meant for off-road, dirt trails – not pavement. To absorb the shock of rocks and other detritus, they’re heavier than road bikes, and they have wider, flatter, and straighter handlebars for easier maneuverability. Almost all have disc brakes, and the frames can be made of either aluminum or carbon fiber. Almost all mountain bikes are stock bikes, which can be further adapted at an upscale bike shop for a more customized fit. The consensus among our experts is that Specialized is a great mountain bike brand. Depending on features, their bikes can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $10,000, with $3,500 getting you a very good one.
There are also stock bikes that are hybrids of road and mountain bikes. Some are more like road bikes, and some more like mountain bikes. Many people use them as commuter bikes. The Cannondale Quick Carbon 1 hybrid bills itself as an “outdoor health club.” Others swear by the Trek 7.2FX or Specialized’ Sirrus Series.
Whether you decide on a road, mountain or hybrid bike, stock or custom, your first stop should be at a great bike shop (we know lots of people who swear by Signature Cycles in Connecticut). You’ll need a fitting session to determine either which stock bike brands are likely to be best for you, or what the specs should be for your custom-made bike. The process takes one or two hours, and it’s crucial – like shoes and jeans, some brands are going to fit you better than others, and the only way to know is to get fitted. You’ll do a shorter fitting session when your bike arrives, even if it’s a stock bike, so that the handlebars and saddle heights are perfect for you.
It wouldn’t be a luxury sport if it didn’t involve expensive clothing, accessories, and gear. Cycling chic is pretty straightforward:
—Helmets can run anywhere from $45-300. Lazer, POC, and Bell get high marks.
—Goggles can run from $35- 225; Uvex, 100% and Smith are well-reviewed brands.
—Bike shoes are a sound investment if you’re planning a ride of longer than 15 miles; they have stiff soles that are almost fully rigid, so that all the power you’re exerting goes straight to the pedals. They can cost $100-500.
—Clothing and protective padding are important for comfort, safety, performance and style. Swiss brand ASSOS is very popular amongst the luxury crowd, as is Italy’s Castelli.
—Accessories run the gamut: as needed, you can buy headlights, gloves, GPS systems, water bottles, seat bags, and “muscle butter” cream to help you recover after a ride.
—Floor pumps can cost as much as $450 – Silca, Lezyne and Topeak are among the best.
Tech is transforming the sport as both bikes and helmets get smarter. For example, Livall Bling helmets display LED turning signals and have cameras, speakers, mics and heart rate monitors. The Sena Smart Cycling helmet allows you to chat with your cycling buddies, take video and hear audio in transit; Closca’s Fuga is a new folding bike helmet for the commuting crowd. Shield TL by iLumaware is a rear taillight with a radar that makes bikers more visible to cars.
The cycling world has communal and competitive events that come in a few different varieties. The highest-level ones are governed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Most people have heard of the three UCI Grand Tour pro-cycling races: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a Espana. Weekend warriors can participate in a number of other cycling events:
Century rides are 100 mile-rides that usually take 4-8 hours. Our friend the cycling expert did a century ride in Oregon from the top of Mount Hood and back down to the Columbia River and said it was one of the best rides ever. “The Ride” is a three-minute animated film by Drew Linne that is a charming ode to father-son bonding on a century ride at Lake Tahoe. Other spectacularly scenic centuries are the Tour de Steamboat in Colorado and the Mammoth Fall Century in Mammoth Lakes, CA.
Cycling Races for amateur cyclists are too numerous to count; they include:
—Short-circuit single-day races called criteriums, which can be as long as 150 miles
—Multi-day races like the Haute Route, which can be done in the Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites, or the Rockies (a 7-day, 545-mile ride); the 2-day 160-mile Pan-Massachusetts Challenge; and the CTS Tour of California Race Experience, where amateurs can ride the same 8-day, 650-700 mile course as the pros.
–One of the most extreme races is the ultramarathon “Race Across America,” an annual event where participants race across the country with no scheduled stops, in solo or in relay teams. The 35thedition was held this June, starting in Oceanside, CA and ending in Annapolis, MD. At 3,000 miles, the course is 30% longer than the Tour de France, and the first one to get across the finish line wins. Solo competitors have a maximum of 12 days to complete the race. These riders are in the saddle 20-22 hours a day, and sometimes begin to hallucinate. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like fun to us, but cycling enthusiasts seem to think it’s awesome.
Cycling+ Races, for the cross-training crowd, include:
—Duathlons, which consist of a running leg, then a biking leg, then another running leg (for example, run 10K, ride 25K, then run 5K).
—Biathlons, in which competitors combine biking and shooting. For example, Montana’s Big Sky Games each July include a Mountain Bike Biathlon with a 4K biking leg, 5 rounds firing prone, another 4K biking leg, 5 rounds firing standing, then a final 4K biking leg. If you miss a shot, you have to ride a penalty loop. There are also archery and mountain biking biathlons.
—Triathlons, which involve swimming, running and biking.
—Gran Fondos originated in Italy (the phrase means “big ride.”) They’re one-day, long distance, non-competitive, go-at-your-own pace rides (the vibe is exactly like a classic car rally). There are stops for socializing and food and drink, and cyclists of all skill levels and ages can participate. Many are hosted by elite pro cyclists in their home towns, and some benefit local charities. The Sea Otter Cycling Classic in Monterey in April is but one example of a popular Gran Fondo in the U.S. The UCI has announced that it will launch an annual Gran Fondo World Championship, in which amateur riders can compete, with qualifying events in late summer and fall, and World Finals held in Albi, France in August 2017.
Cycling can be a fantastic way to take a luxurious multi-generational family vacation. Tour operators in the U.S. can arrange 4-7 day excursions, like riding the Oregon Coast Bicycle Route along the Pacific to the California border. Or doing the Asheville to Greenville Bike Tour, in the “Cycling Capital of the South;” they’ll arrange for you to stay at the Hotel Domestique, a cycling-friendly boutique hotel run by former pro cyclist George Hincapie.
The most luxurious and hassle-free way to take a luxury cycling vacation outside of the U.S. is by booking with the renowned tour company Butterfield and Robinson. They have a global range of biking vacation trips; options include the south of France, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Laos, and Chile. My travel agent, who is part of the luxury-travel Virtuoso network, swears by them – she took one of their “By the Sea” trips to Sicily and Tunisa; participants travel by luxury yacht, and bike at each port of call. The tour operator takes care of everything, including getting everyone on the right kind of bike. A van follows the cyclists so that anyone who wants to bail out can meet the group later in the day.
My travel agent also recommends Backroads and Austin Adventures, for those who want sportier and more adventurous itineraries.
So back to our original question: why do so many rich and powerful people love cycling? Our wealthy friends tell us that it’s the combination of getting exercise, seeing scenic places, supporting sustainability, riding together with people you like, and the self-sufficiency of powering yourself over long distances. Nothing else allows you to do that in quite the same way.
OK, we’re sold. Count us in! Our Pinterest board, at the end of this post, will give you some ideas and inspiration if you want to join this ride.
Before we hit the road, one last story – the very best one I heard during our exploration of outdoor cycling. It was from a friend who commissioned an $8,000 custom-made bike for two from Da Vinci Designs in Denver. Each seat is bespoke for one passenger. That way, if one partner is really fit, and the other perhaps not so much, both can ride, talk and enjoy the scenery together. One can coast while the other keeps pedaling, and both get the workout they choose. I thought this was so romantic and sweet! It’s the ultimate sign of love and commitment: many things, including diamond rings and expensive houses, can be repurposed. But a custom-built bike for two is forever. The holidays are coming – it’s not too late to add this to your list. Happy trails!