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What’s Next for the Potential Boom in Endurance Sports?

One year later, what have we learned from the pandemic? And what does it mean for our sport?

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A little over a year since the start of the COVID pandemic, bike sales have soared. At this point, most bike shops are extremely short on bikes, orders for 2022 are complete, and many are already planning 2023. Bike parts are a huge issue. I heard recently that one manufacturer was been told it may be 800 days for brakes, and Shimano is rumored to be backordered through the end of 2021. That’s the good/bad news: major demand overriding supply.

However, this isn’t necessarily true for triathlon bikes. Go into any true triathlon store, or check online with direct-to-consumer brands, and you can find mid- to upper-end tri bikes (ie. those over $4,000). Without races essentially for the past year, not many people have a need to buy a high-end triathlon-specific bikes. Lots of triathlon-specific stores have seriously struggled during the triathlon drought; they’ve redesigned themselves or closed. RIP Nytro. Good luck Colorado Multisport.

Although bike sales have been declining since a peak last September, overall sales continue to impress. And most importantly, the record number of bike-buyers in the early months of COVID brought a tremendous number of new cyclists.

All of those new cyclists and runners, people who became more active during the last year, are now prime targets for organized events. Many got their first taste during the pandemic through virtual events. Damon Ortega is one such athlete.

Damon was very active in Crossfit—but when gyms closed, he wasn’t sure what to do. His wife suggested triathlon. ‘I think you could do good at an Ironman because you like to suffer.’ Damon got a bike, started riding with a friend, and when he got an Ironman email talking about virtual events, he signed up and completed two virtual Ironman events, “which made it official that I wanted to try in-person races,” he said. Now he’s already done three sprint races and is signed up for for his first full Ironman in Tulsa next month.

“Remember the Color Run, the Electric Run, all those obstacle course runs? I guarantee triathlon benefited from that by getting people off their ass who would have never done so had it not been for those mass participatory events,” said Stephen del Monte, the race director of DelMo Sports. “So I say, bring it on.” People getting out there and trying different things is a growth opportunity for triathlon now.

All that money that was being spent on gyms can now be spent on races. All of those people who started biking more can now take that bike out for an event.

Vic Brumfield, USA Triathlon’s Chief of Staff, points out: “A recent survey showed that Americans spend an average of $177/month on gym memberships and nearly 60% are planning on not renewing their memberships. So right now, we have a huge opportunity to attract new participants, who recently cut their gym memberships and either purchased a Peloton or a bike to enjoy the outdoors.”

Of course, that opportunity requires our sport to reach out to these new potential athletes and welcome them in—not just wait for an influx of new participants. “We’re not just looking at duathlon, aquabike, aquathlon, winter tri, and off-road tri, but also tandem type races (swimrun), point-to-point multisport experiences, mixed relay, and even the athlete-at-home and DIY triathlons that sprouted up during this past year amid the pandemic,” said Brumfield. They’re trying to be innovative to get all those people into whatever event works for them. And we can do this too.

Let’s capitalize on those would-be-triathletes, like Damon Ortgega, who have now tasted the joy and benefits of endurance races for the first time. Let’s open new pathways for this coming boom and give people fun, excellent, innovative events to try.

Barry Siff, former President of USA Triathlon and World Triathlon Executive Board member, will jump into the first paddleboard, bike, run, tri in or around Tempe, where he lives.