The number of people cycling in the United States is growing, according to a report from Statista. In spring 2008 the number of people who had been cycling in the previous 12 months was just over 47 million. In spring 2016 that number was 66.5 million.
The Upstate also is seeing an uptick in cycling. A number of trails and cycling groups have formed in the area and cycling shops have followed suit.
A segment of the population taking up the hobby is executives.
Hank McCullough, senior manager of government relations for Piedmont Natural Gas, is one of those cycling executives. He started cycling in 1976 and started competing in 1979.
“When I started cycling I lived in Kentucky and started cycling as an opportunity to see the countryside,” he said. “Then I caught the competitive bug. And I do it because it’s the discipline with staying dedicated. It’s also a stress relief. Busy executives need an outlet.”
According to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center, cycling does relieve stress. According to the center’s May 2016 report, “chronic stress can have big health impacts. But physical activities like cycling can help reduce daily stress.”
Also, a 2016 report from Harvard Medical School identified five benefits of cycling:
- It's easy on the joints. When you sit on a bike, you put your weight on a pair of bones in the pelvis, unlike walking, when you put your weight on your legs.
- Pushing pedals provides an aerobic workout. That's great for your heart, brain, and blood vessels.
- Cycling builds muscle.
- It helps with everyday activities, like balance, walking and stair climbing.
- Pedaling builds bone.
Jim Cunningham, founder of Greenville Cycling and Multisport, said he’s seen executives get into cycling for a long time.
One reason, he said the fact that Greenville has hosted the men’s U.S. National Professional Road Race Championships helped the sport gain popularity. “A lot of businesses and executives saw that and it got them into it,” Cunningham said.
“Also, when you have a ‘Michael Jordan’ of the sport it brings great attention to it,” he said, adding that Lance Armstrong’s wins drew attention to the sport. He said and in the 1980s it was Greg LeMond who brought attention to the sport.
“And, as cycling grows in popularity, your buddy might pick it up and that makes you pick it up,” he said.
Cycling may or may not overtake golf as the sport of executives, but McCullough said he has developed a broad network of friends through cycling. He said cycling is a sport that is accessible to a wider demographic than golf. Also, people have a broader recognition of it as a sport and activity.
“Cycling is something anyone can do. It can be as intense or as casual as you want it to be,” he said.
Billy Webster, adjunct health care policy professor at Wofford College is another Upstate professional who hops on his bike when his schedule allows. He too has seen the sport grow in popularity in the Upstate.
“With busy folks, it’s easy to just get on a bike and go,” he said. “A lot of executives are picking up the sport because they’re driven by the intensity.”
Webster identified two reasons for the growing popularity of cycling in the area – infrastructure and George Hincapie.
The infrastructure Greenville provides, as well as the rest of the area, makes it easy to hop on a bike and take off. There are hundreds of miles of accessible roads for cyclists, he said. That infrastructure includes bike lanes, the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail and mountain trails for the mountain bikers.
Retired professional cyclist George Hincapie, who lives in Greenville, said the infrastructure in this area is “the reason why we started the Gran Fondo Hincapie,” an annual cycling event that’s headquartered at Hotel Domestique in Traveler’s Rest. The event offers three different rides, as well as an all-day festival free to family and friends.
“Cycling is our life, and we like to bring people together to enjoy it. We love to see new people getting on bikes, and it’s also rewarding to see people come back every year to the Gran Fondo,” Hincapie said in an email to GSA Business Report. This year’s Gran Fondo Hincapie is Oct. 21.
The riding trails, along with cycling being an approachable sport, contribute to its popularity, Hincapie said. But, “if you’ve never ridden before, it can be a little intimidating to get started because of all of the gear, not knowing the best routes, and other factors,” he added.
There are various cycling shops and groups in the Upstate, and, according to Webster, group rides are arranged according to skill level. The groups also make safety a part of their training.
And, according to Hincapie, he and the folks at Hincapie Sportswear in Greenville are working on a new program that will, among other things, help more people start riding.
“The idea is that this program will provide cyclists with an immediate support network, riding routes, and discounts on cycling gear,” Hincapie said, adding that more information will be available in July.