While the economy struggles to get back on track, the Springs’ cycling industry is on the ascent.
The city’s bike shops are busy, seasonal hiring is about to kick into high gear and membership in the sports’ Olympic governing body, USA Cycling in Colorado Springs, is on the rise.
On the horizon: a 6,000-square-foot conference center where USA Cycling can host dozens of events each year that often draw international participation.
The Springs’ cycling scene looked far less promising in 2007 when USA Cycling nearly pedaled out of town after losing its donated space on the Olympic Training Center campus and receiving overtures to relocate from other communities.
Today, the industry’s leading amateur body can no longer suggest it is being neglected, and cycling has become an even bigger force in the local economy.
Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. CEO Mike Kazmierski said the “sports, wellness and fitness” industry is one of seven sectors identified by the EDC as targets for business retention and relocation efforts this year.
“Biking is a big deal throughout the state — and it’s a great fit with our business community,” he said.
Colorado Springs was able to hold onto USA Cycling thanks to the donation of land and space by local Nor’Wood Development founder David Jenkins — an avid cyclist — and a $100,000 cash gift from the El Pomar Foundation. USA Cycling Foundation CEO Steve McCauley said the value of the property was close to $4 million.
Now housed in a 26,000-square-foot Rockrimmon retail center on two acres, USA Cycling has plenty of room to grow.
Membership in the organization has climbed 6 percent during the past year to 67,000 and looks to post similar gains for 2010. Membership had been 42,000 in 2002.
A building for its conference center is available next to its headquarters but the group needs $1.5 million to $2 million in private donations before it can move ahead.
In its plans: new reception areas, retail space, a Hall of Fame recognition area, room for memorabilia and a large conference room.
The U.S. Olympic Committee provides some support to USA Cycling but most of the money it’ll raise for the center will be in private donations.
“The USOC does a great job, but we need to raise more to support our international athletes’ sustained success, year after year,” McCauley said.
Once it’s open, the facility could become self-sustaining.
“We plan to make it available to other nonprofits or catered events. Other sports groups may want to rent it. The Olympic Training Center has meeting areas, but they have to be reserved well in advance — they’re not always available,” he said.
The cycling business itself also is growing, and EDC officials are hoping for more.
It helps that the area’s reputation for mountain bike trails and its velodrome, built to Olympic standards at Memorial Park, already serve as draws for cyclists and the companies that cater to them.
“We haven’t always marketed the city as a sports center, but it’s a real selling point,” Kazmierski said.
Dozens of cycling-related businesses, including 22 online and local retailers, have opened or moved here since USA Cycling came to town in 1996.
Today, those in the business say orders are up.
Take, for example, Spectrum Powder Works.
When former professional cyclist Mark Brandt opened the company 14 years ago, he figured his contacts in the cycling world would become his clients. He was right. But a lot of his customers also are simply weekend enthusiasts.
The firm ships between 2,000 to 3,000 customized bike frames a year from its headquarters on Colorado Springs’ west side.
“We have a $6,000 bike in the back right now, and it’s not owned by a professional cyclist. The owner’s just a regular guy, but he wants a $1,300 paint job,” Brandt said.
He said his business dropped 15 percent or so during the recession, but that it’s already picking up.
Another big name in the industry here is Chris Carmichael, member of the 1984 USA Olympic cycling team, Lance Armstrong’s coach and founder of Carmichael Training Systems.
Carmichael Training’s Jim Rutberg said there are plenty of reasons Colorado Springs has attracted cyclists and other outdoor sports enthusiasts.
“The area’s natural landscape is stunning, our altitude is close to an Olympic athlete’s ideal 6,200 feet, there’s been strong support from the local community for trails and open space preservation, and we’ve got about 300 days of sunshine annually.
“The Pikes Peak region is considered one of the nation’s premier cycling destinations.”
And that’s good for business.
In Carmichael’s 10 years, amateur and professional participation in endurance sports such as triathlon, strength and conditioning, and cycling have mushroomed.
“When we opened, there were about 220 licensed cycling coaches (nationally). Today, there are more than 1,400,” Rutberg said. “And our growth area is the 35-plus market. We were down a little last year, but business has already begun to pick up.”
So long as the economy continues to cooperate, he should expect to pick up a nice draft.