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Road warriors take to the streets

Pavement pedaling 'the new golf'

The Sea-to-Sky corridor is turning into a community of road warriors, two wheels at a time.

With baby boomers ditching their golf clubs and jogging shoes for bicycles, the popularity of road cycling is on the rise.

"It's really exploded. We kind of consider it the new golf," says Tyler McDougall of John Henry Bikes. "In a way it's better than golf because you can go do it for an hour or two, whereas golf you're kind of stuck on the course for six hours."

McDougall has been ringing up sales and adjusting handlebars at the Brooksbank Avenue shop for six years, and says he's witnessed a major shift in the types of bikes being sold and the customers buying them.

"When I started here we barely sold any road bikes and now we sell a ton of them," McDougall says. "That's who you're selling most road bikes to: middle-aged babyboomers, even older than 60."

Events like the GranFondo and the Ride to Conquer Cancer have also raised road cycling's profile, according to McDougall.

Approximately 7,000 riders are scheduled to stream across West Vancouver and up Highway 99 this September as part of the GranFondo Whistler.

"We hadn't anticipated this type of growth," says Granfondo Canada cofounder and president Kevin Thomson.

Impressed with road cycling's popularity in Europe, the North Vancouver resident decided to try to combine the burgeoning sport with the scenic beauty of the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

"We didn't know if we'd get 1,000 people," he says, recalling the first event in 2010.

The event attracted 7,000 cyclists in 2011, far beyond their initial expectations.

With a few staggered starts and other safety measures, Thomson is hoping the GranFondo steers clear of the giant clusters of cyclists that irritated a few drivers last year.

This year's event will feature riders from every state in the United States, most countries in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and many Asian countries, according to Thomson.

"It brings in $8 million in economic activity," he says. "It (showcases) this region as an attractive place for healthy living."

Part of the enthusiasm for road cycling may stem from a commitment to commuting. On the North Shore, in Squamish and in Whistler, town centres and business districts are easy to ride to from residential areas.

"A lot of our customers that we deal with throughout the year are commuting in all conditions, even when we get snow," says Pat Podolski of the North Shore Bike Shop. Although the store specializes in mountain bikes, Podolski says they've also experienced a bump in sales.

"Cycling in general has evolved and jumped right up in all aspects," Podolski says, mentioning the riders in their 50s and 60s who bike trails.

"There's tons. We've got customers that still ride, maybe not riding the hardcore stuff, but there's a lot of cross-country

all-mountain stuff that's starting to develop here on the Shore."

When riders have had their fill of the rocks, roots and drop-offs of mountain biking, McDougall says they tend to turn to road cycling.

"They're going for the fitness, fun, recreational aspect of it," McDougall says. "We also get a lot of people that were previously runners and were told by their doctors that they can't run anymore."

John Henry Bikes offers bikes with aluminum frames, which sell for between $800 and $2,000, as well as the carbonfibre bikes, which start at $1,800.

"Try out a lot before you buy," McDougall advises.

"Even if you're not an avid cyclist you're going to be able to tell the difference and discover what's comfortable for you."

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