A spike in gasoline prices is fueling what could be the biggest year for U.S. bicycle sales since the Arab oil embargo more than three decades ago, a leading bike association said Wednesday.
"For bicycles, high gasoline prices are a good thing," said Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, a national coalition of bicycle suppliers and retailers.
U.S. gasoline prices struck an all-time record above $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina shut several oil refineries along the Gulf Coast, though prices have eased slightly since then, according to government surveys.
"People's eyeballs pop out when they see the gas pumps and they say they need to do something. One of the options is biking," Blumenthal said.
Close to 20 million bicycles are likely to be sold this year thanks in part to the higher fuel prices, approaching the record hit after a cut-off of Arab oil triggered gasoline lines in the United States.
"It should be close to 20 million units. If you look back historically, the three best years for bike sales were 1972, 1973, and 1974," Blumenthal said.
Last year's U.S. bicycle sales were just under 19 million.
"Independent dealers, specialty sporting stores and big-box stores have told us that since August 1, bicycle sales have jumped dramatically," he said.
Gasoline prices have been on the rise for months due to the high cost of crude and a crunch on global refining capacity, and higher summer demand along with the recent hurricanes have pushed them to new peaks.
Travel and motorist group AAA said it has noticed Americans are looking for ways to cut their fuel consumption by using more fuel-efficient vehicles, or by using public transportation and bicycles.
"AAA is beginning to think that consumers may finally have tired of expensive gasoline," said AAA spokesman Geoff Sundstrom.
U.S. fuel demand over the past four weeks has fallen nearly 3 percent below last year's levels, the U.S. government said Wednesday.
Demand for gasoline in particular averaged 8.8 million bpd, or 2.6 percent below last year, the Energy Information Administration said.
With energy prices surging ahead of winter heating season, the U.S. government has launched a campaign to promote energy conservation, featuring a cartoon mascot "Energy Hog."