By Jon Garrett
Killeen Daily Herald.
In the 90s, a popular ad campaign for Gatorade featured a song whose refrain included the phrase "I wanna be like Mike," referring to NBA superstar Michael Jordan.
Jordan is still doing pretty well for himself, earning $35 million dollars in 2004 to secure fourth place on the top-earners list in sports despite not lacing up his Nikes since leaving the league in 2003 after his last retirement.
Walk up to kids today, however, and ask what sports celebrity they most want to emulate, you're as likely to hear the name Lance Armstrong as that of "His Airness."
And why not? With the way Livestrong armbands are being spotted among the celebrity and plebeian crowd alike and the big buildup to Armstrong's attempt to win a seventh straight Tour de France, all eyes are on the Texan.
It's no wonder that hordes of people are converging on bike shops across the state to emulate the cycling icon.
Getting back on a bike is easy, but it's not necessarily cheap.
Ross Vest, owner of a high-end bike shop in Killeen (there is also a Temple location), estimates that it can cost recreational bikers anywhere from $800 to $1,000 to get road ready.
Vest isn't worried about prices keeping buyers away.
"Once the Tour (de France) starts, we'll get people in here looking for the things he wears and the bikes he rides," he said.
"Sales have gone up because of him, I'm sure," Vest added. "It's American pride ... a lot of people now are just more interested in road cycling instead of mountain biking."
The resurgent interest in cycling combined with the Texas climate, which in spite of the sometimes oppressive heat is ideal for the sport, a magnet for serious cyclists.
"We are on the edge of the Hill Country and there is a large market of adult, serious bicyclists that will drive a lot of miles for a good ride," said David Landman of the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce.
Vest agrees, noting that annually there are numerous organized rides all over Central Texas.
Dustin Bayer, a 21-year-old worker at Vest's Killeen shop, prefers to do his riding on a BMX. The competitive rider who heads to Austin and other surrounding areas to try and emulate idols like BMX legend Dave Mirra, said Armstrong's popularity helped all cyclists, not just road racers.
With Armstrong's fame comes a retailing bonanza. His Trek bicycle line is a top-seller. A lower-end model retails for around $569. For those with a more adventurous spirit and heftier wallet, specialized bikes similar to the product he uses on the Tour start in the thousands and go up from there.
"His bike has to be at least $10,000," Bayer said, noting that an average bike weighs between 20 and 40 pounds and Armstrong's cruiser weighed in at 15. "He has a lot of special things on his that the other bikes don't."
You get what you pay for, though, said the clerk.
Contact Jon Garrett at firstname.lastname@example.org