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The bike boom

Wearing a black Jil Sander skirt matched with an elegant Velvet T-shirt, Lucy Wallace Eustice is pedaling her bike to work on a day as clear as Baccarat crystal. Her four-mile journey takes her along a bicycle path, one of the nation’s busiest, that parallels the Hudson River on one side and the Manhattan skyline on the other side.

To get to her SoHo office in the middle of the city, she weaves through side streets, dodging UPS trucks, squawking taxis, and workmen perforating roadways with jackhammers. Ms. Eustice could easily take other methods of transportation – the teeming subway system or one of the New York’s ubiquitous cabs.

But instead she chooses her silver Globe commuter seven-speed – even on cold days. “You are free when you’re on the bike,” says the fashion designer, whose bike, appropriately enough, has chic saddlebags. “You belong to yourself.”

RECOMMENDED: 10 great books about cycling

Yet a sense of emancipation in a city that can feel claustrophobic isn’t the only reason Eustice bikes to work. She sees her ride as the equivalent of a trip to the gym and relishes the fresh air and “solitude.” On weekends, she and her husband, John, and their two children often bike in the countryside as a family outing. “You gotta love your bike,” she says.

Indeed, millions of Americans are doing just that – having a sudden romance with their bicycles. From the cliffs of Santa Monica, Calif., to the canyons of Wall Street, Americans of all generations and incomes are jumping on their Cannondales, Treks, and Specializeds in record numbers, turning to them both as a form of transportation and recreation.

The bike craze is being driven by a confluence of forces – perpetually high energy prices, the green movement, and an enduring fitness craze. At the same time, a new generation of mayors is pushing bike lanes, bike-share programs, bike garages, and other accouterments to wean people from their cars and couches onto the seats of Schwinns and Peugeots. In some cases, the municipal chief executives are engaged in friendly – but fierce – competition to get their city labeled the most “bike-friendly.”

The result, on any given morning, is a growing legion of people in spandex, skirts, and Brooks Brothers suits coursing down urban streets from Minneapolis to Charlotte, to Seattle in a way that is changing how the country travels to work. Enough of them are now filling roadways that they are creating new clashes with motorists and pedestrians for their share of asphalt in the nation’s cities.

What, exactly, is America becoming here … the Netherlands?

Well, not quite. The Dutch use their bikes for 26 percent of all their trips compared with 1 percent of Americans. Danes use bikes for 19 percent of their travel, while the Germans tap them for 10 percent.

The US is definitely gaining ground, though. Between 2000 and 2011, bicycle commuting in America was up 47 percent overall and 80 percent in communities that are bike-friendly, according to the US Census Bureau.
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