Take a Bike!

Whenever champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong wins a Tour de France, interest in cycling perks up in the US. The more Americans hit the pedals for work or play, it's all the better for them and the environment.

The "Lance effect," as it's known, remains strong. Professional and amateur bike associations in the US report membership has risen since Mr. Armstrong's latest, and sixth, victory. Bike races, too, lure more to this sport. One race in North Carolina offers a $125,000 purse.

And perhaps bicyclists find a role model in presidential candidates. John Kerry and George Bush have recently raised biking's profile by often using their two-wheelers. (Mr. Bush rides a mountain bike; Mr. Kerry, a competition racer).

More than half the bicycles sold in the $5-billion-a-year industry last year were sold to adults, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. And the League of American Bicyclists reports that 57 million Americans bicycle regularly, with about 3 million commuting on a bike.

But for all of bicycling's popularity, the number of people biking to work stayed flat from 1990 to 2000. Communities can do more to support this alternative transportation by creating bike paths and lanes, as well as by promoting a "share the road" ethic between bikers and drivers.

The League of American Bicyclists honored 11 bike-friendly communities last May, including Boulder, Colo., where an amazing 16 percent of its citizens commute to work on a bike. The Rails to Trails Conservancy reports some 12,460 miles of the nation's 140,000 miles of unused rail lines are now converted to bike trails.

Towns that support cycling often boast a strong community spirit and improved quality of life. Bicycling needs public support as much as highways do.

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