I’ll bet you’ve heard that line before. It’s become almost a cliche. But at its heart, the expression tells us something about the changing tastes of adults in recreation.
Industry figures sum up the story: The National Bicycle Dealers Association says bike sales (20″ wheels and larger) were up 15 percent in 2010 over 2009. A total of six billion dollars worth of bikes were sold last year. Service and repair work is reported to be up, too.
Golf, however, is declining. For the past three years, according to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golfers has dropped. It’s down to about 26.1 million. The recession, of course, was a large factor in that decline, and so was the generally poorer weather during the summer of 2010 compared to the previous summer. But those don’t account for all of golf’s loss.
The Bike Noob might be a typical golfer-turned-cyclist. Senior golfers — those of age 60 and up — are about 45 percent of all golfers. But that group is not growing, partly because they die off, and partly because they stop playing regularly.
Golf has traditionally been considered a business relationship builder. I remember my father telling me years ago to take up golf, because business deals are done on the golf course. My dad was part of a golf league in the large company where he worked. But just last month, I visited the headquarters of a company renowned for its employee health and wellness program. It has a cycling group of over 100 people. No golf league.
Now, however, cycling clubs might offer the chance to grow business relationships. On a weekend ride, club members can churn out the miles, then discuss their biking and their business over coffee, or lunch, or whatever, afterwards. I’ve seen it happen among members of my own club — many of whom work in the same general field.
And as adults age, another popular recreational activity — running — might be losing its attraction because of the way it contributes to knee problems. Cycling is a good alternative, because while it can cause trouble with the knees, more often it eases chronic knee trouble. That’s why I switched from running to riding.
So it might not be much of a surprise to learn that the high growth area within cycling last year was among road bikers.
The golf industry, meanwhile, is concerned that the number of kids between 6 and 17 who take up golf has been falling — by about 24 percent during the last decade. Optimistic predictions about golf’s growth peg it at only one percent between now and 2020.
On the cycling side, high gas prices are causing more adults to look into bike commuting as a way to hold down their costs. Commuters are still a tiny percentage in most cities, but their numbers are growing.
Since 2008, my golfing has taken a precipitous nosedive. I played one round of golf last year. Just one. None so far this year. But I’m on my bike three or four days a week. I’m meeting new people and finding I have a lot in common with them. Neither my wife nor I miss golf at all, although we’ll happily play a round if the opportunity arises.
For us, cycling is indeed the new golf.