I started mountain biking back in the mid-90's. It was awesome! Still is, but back then it was going from the development stages to mainstream. It was around since the late 70's and 80's, but it wasn't till the 90's that it really took off. Pro's were easily making 6 figures. Pro roadies were changing to off-road. In 1996 Mountain Biking became an Olympic event with an American woman taking the Bronze! (unfortunately, the American men missed the podium by a pretty large margin.)
Mountain biking started to fade as 'the thing to do' in or around 2002/2003. There is still a huge base of mountain bikers, big events all over the place, states have their own series of races, etc, etc... There are several different kinds of mountain bikes [free ride, down hill (DH), cross country (XC), single speed (SS), to name a few]. Mountain biking has secured a place as a true disapline of cycling.
In 1999 with the popularity of Lance Armstrong and unarguably the greatest comeback in the history of sports, Road Racing also made a comeback. Lance won the Tour de France, the most coveted podium finish in cycling, and continued the streak for a record breaking 7 years in a row. The momentum and popularity of road racing/riding continued to grow stronger yearly with the each July as Lance won. Charity rides (RAGBRAI, tour de cure, MS150's, etc) were huge! Families road in them. People pulled their kids in Burleys--even pulled their dogs on these long (relatively speaking) road events. After the 7th win of 'le Tour' Lance retired and so did the comeback of road. It looked like Floyd Landis could possibly take over as the American role model in cycling as he won the 2006 Tour de France. The torch was being passed from Lance to Floyd. He had the potential to take on a different athlete image, opposed to the pretty-boy perfect athlete image Lance had. Floyd started as an off-roader that changed to roadie. He was a partier, a drinker, and the kind of guy everyone knows. He was accused of doping and wrongfully winning the tour. Torch extinguished. Throughout the comeback of road cycling was the looming accusations of doping which didn't help things much. Doping has clouded the sport and with the departure of Lance and no one taking over in American cycling, it appears that the comeback of road cycling had a good run, but was short lived. It is still bigger than ever among regular everyday people, local cycling clubs, and road riding/racing will remain backbone of American cycling.
The cycling world is ready for a new disapline or the resurrecting of a current one. Looks like multi-sport (triathlon/duathlon) and Cyclo-Cross (CX) are coming back. I say coming back because they have both been around since the 70's. I think tri's are and are going to be the 'thing to do' for a while. I believe the popularity of tri's started to gain momentum among the masses simultateously with road cycling, but didn't have an American Hero as did road cycling. I have said this before, and I will continue to say it--tri's are the new Charity ride. Since doing a tri successfully means finishing, they're easy to do. You can and will most likely finish a road race if you enter, but to be competitive you have to be a well-rounded cyclist able to match others at your level, not age. You need to match or out-do them with the ability to sprint, climb, pace, draft, turn, respond, accelerate, predict, trick, outsmart, etc. You don't need all those abilities working at once, but you need a few of them and you need to work them well. If you enter a road race and 'fall off the back' of the peloton, your race is over and your time trial begins. In a tri you have 4 things to work on and at your own pace--swim, bike, run, and the transitions from each. It's like a multi-sport time trial. Time trials in road racing are called sometime referred to as 'a race against the clock'. You are racing others, but your finishing time is not dependent or altered by others (unless the tri allows drafting, but that's a whole different topic). You are trying to get from point A to point B then to point C faster than the others. If you want to be competitive in a tri or du you have to improve your times in some or all of the events there in. Although there are overall results, they are also compared and divided by age groups--small age groups usually--5 year increments. The previously mentioned attractions to tri's and du's make them realistically possible for anyone. Also, if you don't like or aren't good at one of the events, you can form a team and divide the events up--another attraction. Again, a road race requires you to do it all and keep up with the pack--you can't tag off at the base of a climb so your 'climber' can take over for the hills. To back up my theory that multisport (tri's/du's) are the sport that is taking over, two things happened in June 2007: the biggest cash purse in the history of triathlon was paid out at the ITU World Championship sponsored by HyVee-- $700,000 (divided among pro's and age group amateurs), and Hunter Kemper (pro triathlete) is on the Wheaties box. To support my theory that triathlon is the new Charity event. Go to a charity event, then go to a tri-- you'll see serious athletes, but also families taking part.
With that said, I think that a sport that attracts people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and ages and gets them off the couch is great. They can use any bike, borrowed or bought, and enter a tri or duathlon. The problem I have with them is that, unlike the early triathletes, several of the new "triathletes" have no experience in any of the 3 sports they enter. Never competitively swam, cycled, or ran. Yet now they decide they are going to do all 3 in one event. Also, many of them are in no condition to enter the event. Even the governing body of most tri's, USAT, says that a person must be "in excellent health, based on recent training, physical examinations, if any, and generally accepted standards of good health." That is in their rule book. Who makes that call? Many of the people that enter tri's can be eliminated just by visually assessing them. Anyway, what's important is that people are out doing it. I wish them well and hope that they are inspired not only to compete, but to continue to pursue it and maybe take and interest in the other cycling sports out there. I, however, am leaning more and more toward the world of multisport. Why? Because with a family and limited training time, work, and the other challenges in life, when cycling competitively, its far too hard to stay "in" the race. I have done 3 duathlons and due to my cycling and running (limited) background, have done fairly well within my age group. Tri's could be next.
So, as we watch multisport take off in the realm of the common joe, and we see CX (I'll write about that later) evolve as the new disapline within cycling, we have to wonder "What will be the next thing to come along?" Will BMX take the forefront again as it did in the early/mid-eighties (remember the movie "Rad" ?) or will it be something altogether new that anyone can take part in at any age or ability...?