Is Biking the New Golf?

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Biking just might be a better way to network than playing golf. (Photo: iStock)

“Biking is the new golf,” Jack Ezon, President of Ovation Vacations in New York, declared on a panel during Virtuoso Week.

So is it?

On any given day in Central Park, I see bikers whizzing by in tight shorts and helmets, circling the park’s loop. There’s even an acronym for the men: MAMILS, or middle-aged men in Lycra.

But the popularity of biking isn’t limited to a certain age group or gender. Bike tours all over the world are growing exponentially in popularity, and many more hotels are providing free bikes for their guests to use during their stay. Even river cruise lines like AmaWaterways are getting in on the biking mania.

It’s no secret that bikers often have a much more intimate, immersive experience. One of my best travel experiences was biking from Stratford-upon-Avon to London with the UK’s Carter Company. “A bike is a very flexible mode of transport. We call it the ‘art of slow travel,’ and we specialize in gentle cycling and laid-back itineraries,” says Iona Carter. “In the UK, biking is especially good because of the density of things to see. You don’t have to travel massive distances to see things.”

The market for golf trips isn’t disappearing, but biking might be taking a bigger piece of it. Here’s why.

1. It’s become mainstream

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These days, biking is a common activity throughout America. (Photo: iStock)

The popularity of biking kicked off in the 1980’s. “It was a confluence of more money in the American market and an appetite for fitness,” says Norman Howe, President & CEO of Butterfield & Robinson. From this, the desire for biking in rural Europe took off. But it wasn’t until Lance Armstrong, the Tiger Woods of the biking world, kicked the concept of road biking into the mainstream in the 1990’s. “We saw a lingering boost from him, and yes, it cooled off a bit during the disgraced Lance years,” Howe says.

Related: 7 Summer Biking Vacations to Book Now

2. It’s more accessible and takes less time

Even with all the great women players and hobbyists, golf has traditionally been a men’s sport. But with biking, there’s more of an equal opportunity allure: men and women love it. It also takes less time. “There’s a shift to bonding on the back of a bike,” Howe says, “with guys dropping 5-10k on a performance bike, getting together with their buddies on a Saturday morning, and doing a century ride (100 miles). Golf is a much bigger commitment but a weekend ride is very appealing.”

3. Spin class fanaticism

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Spin classes are a great way to train for road biking. (Photo: Getty Images)

The spin class isn’t new, but the sleek studios and sold-out classes filled with bouncing spin devotees are a recent phenomenon. “It’s tipped into the pop culture access and awareness,” Howe says. “It’s very intense and there’s an addiction that comes with it.” Classes also helps travelers prep for hilly rides in places like Spain, Tuscany, and Portugal.

4. It’s a better opportunity to network

With golf, you have a limited number of participants. On a group ride, you can “develop a community with 20-50 people on a ride,” says Natalie Cook, VP of BikeTours.com. “Often, that will end with drinks or dinner somewhere, a larger group networking opportunity.”

5. Being healthy is more important

But it’s a different kind of health-conscious. “We incorporate activity into our lifestyle rather than hitting the gym on a lunch break more than ever,” says Cook. Obviously, driving a golf cart doesn’t give the same calorie burn as a great bike ride.

Related: Best Cities on Earth for Biking

6. We love food more than ever

Our passion for food while traveling is only growing. If you bike, this is an easy justification for sitting down and truly enjoying a great meal with local wine, cheese, and dessert. “All of us love to eat well and drink well,” Howe says. “But when you feel like you’ve earned it, it’s different. You just don’t get that from golf.”

7. E-Biking is Exploding

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Electronic bikes help to propel bikers up difficult hills. (Photo: iStock)

Riding on an e-bike, which gives you as much or as little support as you want by way of a battery, broadens the market for potential bikers. As Norman Howe explains, “No matter how good you are, it flattens Tuscany, and that’s a good thing. It also prolongs the longevity of travelers whose knees and hips gave out. And an e-bike takes away anxiety and fear that a biker can’t keep up or they’re going to hold people back.”

Interested in a biking experience? Try these great companies.

The Carter Company offers mostly self-guided, immersive tours, specializing in gentle cycling in the UK and Europe.

BikeTours.com has a network of over 150 local bike tour operators. They serve as advisors, helping you pick the right tour and company.

Butterfield & Robinson has been in business since 1966 and offers luxury tours all over the world, specializing in passion points like food and wine.

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