Carmakers' Latest Idea: Two Wheels and Pedals

'Drivers wanted," Volkswagen beckons in its latest advertisements. But for VW's new JettaTrek sedan, the slogan might better proclaim "riders wanted." Not for the passenger seat - for saddle of the mountain bike.

Volkswagen's new special-edition compact, which comes complete with roof rack and bike, caters directly to outdoor enthusiasts. The popularity of the rugged image has already made sport-utility vehicles a huge success.

Now, in a surprising two-wheel revolution, mountain bikes are all the rage among carmakers, whether the company is known for off-roaders, economy or luxury sedans, or even sports cars. Some of the bikes are sold through dealers, others through bicycle stores, and Volkswagen's is sold part and parcel with a car. So far four automakers have introduced their own lines of upscale mountain bikes, and more are planned.

Here's a run-down by company:

*Jeep has licensed its name to a line of mountain bikes made by Rand Bikes of Long Island, N.Y. The nine bikes range in price from $150 to $1,500 and are available through bicycle stores. The more expensive models have lightweight injection-molded carbon-fiber frames, and one of the bikes is collapsible.

*BMW is selling two bikes through its dealers, a collapsible 21-speed special-edition red-white-and-blue Olympic Games mountain bike, and a mountain bike built for two, both of which are collapsible to fit in the trunk of a four-wheeled BMW. The Olympic mountain bike has front suspension and sells for $795. The tandem lists for $1,995.

*Mercedes-Benz just introduced a bike that matches its cars' reputation for sophistication (and price): full suspension, dual disc brakes, a collapsible frame, and a carrying case designed to fit in the trunk of most Mercedes cars. The bike is made by AMP Research of Laguna Beach, Calif., and sells for $3,300 at Mercedes dealerships.

*Porsche plans to introduce two top-of-the line mountain bikes in September. The bikes, already being sold in Europe, are designed by Porsche and built with Porsche supervision. The "S" bike, with front suspension, will sell for about $2,300. The "FS" bike, with both front and rear suspension as well as disc brakes will sell for about $4,000. The bikes will be sold at Porsche dealers as well as local bike shops, which will also be able to perform repair and warranty work, says Barbara Minha, media relations manager at Porsche US.

*The VW JettaTrek comes complete with a 21-speed mountain bike made by Trek and a specially designed roof rack to hold it and potentially another bike as well.

Marketing plans are vague, but Volkswagen is expecting to sell 17,000 of the special-edition Jettas this year, or about 15 percent of its Jetta production. The JettaTrek sells for between $14,500 and $17,600, and it is doubtful buyers will ever decipher how much of that pays for the Trek Jetta mountain bike.

Marketing officials are in almost universal agreement about the value of selling mountain bikes with carmakers' labels.

"All our products" both two- and four-wheeled "have an image of ruggedness, durability, capability, and an outdoor oriented, active lifestyle," says Bob Kirkwood of Jeep's licensing division. "For Jeep it's kind of a no brainer."

VW spokesman Tony Fouladpour expresses a similar idea.

"Jetta and VW buyers are into individual sports that connect them back to life," he says.

That's where that free roof rack comes in. Mountain biking isn't the only outdoor sport Volkswagen is pushing. Attachments for other sporting goods such as skis, surfboards, kayaks, and canoes are also available, and the company is making plans to fill those as well.

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