"When you get into a car, you don't have to remember to bring special tools or a change of clothes," he said. "As we focus on the segment of the population for whom this is not already a lifestyle, we're finding they want to be able to get onto a bike and not worry about a lot of special equipment or clothing."
Though recent studies point to a growing interest in public transportation or car-free living, especially among young Americans, we still have a long way to go before most would consider hopping on a bike as feasible, he said.
"More people are going to ride when it's the cheapest, quickest, most efficient way of getting around that doesn't require special behavior."
Many see getting more women on the road as key to fostering a bike-friendly culture. In response, bike stores are popping up across the country geared toward females, including South Carolina's Pedal Chic, which was recognized this year as the best bike shop for women at Interbike, North America's largest bicycle trade show.
The Greenville store's motto, "Roadways are the new runway," reflect owner Robin Bylenga's view that women look good when they feel good, she said.
The fit and functionality are key to choosing the right outfit for cycling, and many women would rather talk to another woman to find the right pair of bicycle shorts or the most comfortable bike seat. A full-time female mechanic is also on hand to help customers with repairs.
But the sweet spot is fashion, she said.
"We're about community and building camaraderie and demystifying cycling," Bylenga said. "My customer would rather buy two fashionable jerseys than one highly technical, over-the-top, performance-enhanced jersey."
Bylenga said she hopes eventually to add a coffee shop similar to Chicago's Heritage Bicycles General Store, where a counter sign proclaims, "People demand bikes and coffee." Visitors can order a pour-over coffee or browse helmets and rain capes in the back retail section while they wait for a bike tuneup. Custom vintage-style bikes are also made and sold onsite.
Owner Michael Salvatore said he prefers to stock unique and quality products such as fine leather saddles and handles and American-made cycling pants, for which customers pay a premium. Still, retail sales account for about 30% of the overall business, he said, with helmets the biggest sellers.
"We consider ourselves a lifestyle brand so we like to curate a collection of products that represents us and our customer," he said. "People want to look good when they're on a bike, and they cycle more when they feel like they don't have to dress especially for cycling."
Like Salvatore, Jae Schmidt opened Decatur's Houndstooth Road to create the kind of store where he would want to shop: a bicycle boutique with an emphasis on classic vintage esthetic and craftsmanship.
The health care administrator opened his store this summer after years of selling premium bicycle parts and accessories in his free time. He is still one of few vendors in the Southeast for offbeat items such as sequined reflective vests and handcrafted wicker baskets from a women's co-op in Ghana.
He also organizes events such as Decatur's Autumn Classic Ride. It's all about creating a lifestyle around style and cycling, two things he loves.
"It brings you back to the joy of cycling while making it a viable means of transportation," he said. "It's a direction that more of us would like to see this country head in."
By the end of the ride, Bellinger was ready to keep going. She rode all the way home -- and back, to pick up her car.
Next time she might leave it home, she said.