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Play It By Gear

Need a latte while you ride? Getting cold feet? From helmet to toes, cyclists can find products that make those uphill climbs easier--or at least more fun.


In the early days, there were sissy bars, banana seats and rearview mirrors. These, every bicyclist knew, were the tools of the cool.

Today, bicycle owners have a far greater range of cycling-related products from which to choose--from functional to frivolous to downright ridiculous. Bicycle-shaped lollipops, anyone?

The sport breeds a culture all its own. Spandex-clad and logo-covered, road cyclists often ride in packs like members of a two-wheeled tribe, speaking of gear ratios and anaerobic thresholds. Their mountain biking peers--who now make up almost two-thirds of the market--tend to possess a more youthful attitude. Says a T-shirt by mountain bike clothier Zero Defects: "If It's Too Steep, You're Too Old."

Either way, bicycling is hot, ranking third nationwide among participation sports after exercise walking and swimming. According to the Bicycle Industry Organization in Boulder, Colo., about 60 million Americans call themselves cyclists.

Fred Clements, executive director of the Newport Beach-based National Bicycle Dealers Assn., says bicycling is riding its greatest popularity in history. An estimated 13 million bikes were sold last year. "There was a quick bike boom in the mid-1970s . . . but we're sustaining a higher level of sales today," Clements says.

At the giant Interbike Expo in Anaheim last fall, hundreds of new companies promoted everything from disc brakes to bikes with automatic six-speed transmission. "There are loads of new companies and entrepreneurs--each has a great idea," Clements says. "That makes it more fun for the consumer. The enthusiasm just feeds off itself."

How about high-tech helmets that seem styled by Darth Vader? Or bikes that fold up and fit into a Samsonite suitcase? How about cycling jerseys made of not cling-to-you Lycra but cool, cotton weaves from Guatemala?

And let's not forget goo--aka "carbohydrate energy gel," the latest in a line of cycling's power snacks. As with other new products in the industry, cyclists are lapping it up.

Here's a closer look at some of the more interesting offerings.

Helmet Character Kits

A foam rubber spider or dinosaur may seem nothing more than a toy, but the purpose of these helmet kits is no game. Wearing a safety helmet significantly reduces the chance of head injuries in bike accidents. (California requires that children under 18 wear a helmet while riding a bike.) The kits turn ordinary children's helmets into whimsical foam characters--dragons, lightning bolts, pixies, scorpions, unicorns--and make the wearer more visible too. Easy to apply. Adults can use them too.

Price: $9.95.

By B-Safe B-Fun, Steamboat Springs, Colo.; (970) 736-0033.

Polar Soks

Winter morning rides can lead to painfully cold tootsies. Fleece-lined Polar Soks slip over your cycling shoes to keep your feet warm and dry. Heading to the mountains? Polar Soks are equipped with an optional inner heat pack that will stay warm for hours.

Price: $30.

By Hot Concepts, Auburn, Wash.; (800) 854-5424.


Shock absorber forks are all the rage in mountain biking these days, but how can road riders cushion themselves over bumps? The HydraPost substitutes for a standard seat post, using a patented hydraulic spring system to reduce shock and vibration. Cushioning hounds can add one to their mountain bikes too.

Price: $109.95 (seat not included).

By KEI Suspension Performance Products, Kent, Ohio; (216) 673-7656.

PIGG Porkk Belly

Tired of having to slow down for pokey cycling buddies? Strap a Porkk Belly to your bike and start sweating. The Porkk Belly, developed by hill-starved cyclists on Cape Cod, is a compact weight that attaches to the lowest point on your bike frame, safely adding resistance to your ride.

Price: $42.95 to $52.95, depending on weight.

By Porkka's PIGG Cycle Co., Hyannis, Mass.; (508) 775-0038.

The Ibis Hot Unit

Can't wait until the ride's over for your cafe au lait? With the Hot Unit, you can caffeinate en route. The brushed stainless steel container holds half a liter of liquid, includes a matching bottle cage and mounts directly on your bike frame. Says Ibis Cycles President Scot Nicol: "It links the two great passions of Homo sapiens: caffeine and cycling. It's the perfect accessory to ride to Starbucks with."

Price: $50.

By Ibis Cycles, Sebastopol, Calif.; (707) 829-5615


Wheele (rhymes with "really") is an all-terrain, one-wheeled trailer that attaches to your seat post and can hold 75 pounds of gear. It attaches/detaches quickly, folds in half and weighs barely eight pounds. Its knobby tire makes for secure off-road riding, so camping trips by mountain bike just got easier. Also great for carrying briefcase, change of clothes, etc. on rides to work.

Price: $189 to $259.

By MC2 Research, San Clemente; (714) 361-5800.


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