Could the high-end bicycle replace the sports-car as a green symbol of the mid-life crisis?

It's possible. Ask any demographer about what's going on with 20- and 30-somethings, and they'll tell you there's a major shift underway. The younger set isn't viewing cars quite as much as an extension of their image as those in the past, and they're simply not as wired in to car culture the way older drivers are. And they have a greater tendency to consider environmental aspects.

And that's probably more than a little worrysome to sports-car makers, who profit quite handily. For example, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, BMW Z4, and Porsche Boxster have long been considered middle-age status toys for a certain set.

Bicycling has declined as a recreational activity in recent years, yet specialty sales have surged both in the UK and the U.S.  It seems that—at least in the UK—bicycle ridership has become a middle-age-crisis activity. Over there, premium bike sales are up by 54 percent in the past two years alone.

“Where this age group might once have treated themselves to a sports car—in an attempt to hang on to their youth—they now invest in a luxury bike instead,” The Guardian reports.

Indeed, while U.S. automobile sales have stumbled, bicycle sales have remained strong, surging to near record levels and actually passing car sales at times. The boom, which started about five years ago when gas prices surged past the three-dollar mark, was also affected by the economy, but relative to car sales hasn't shown any sign of letting up.

So says the Mintel report, Bicycles in the UK 2010. There—much like this editor has observed in the U.S.—the sales of high-end bikes are driven by 35- to 45-year-old men, of the type who in another decade would have bought a used sports car in the past but now spend a hefty sum on a fancy road bike, relating it both to hanging on to youth and to adopting a more healthy lifestyle.

Over in trend-setting Britain, celebrities such as Guy Ritchie and Billy Zane have been spotted on high-end bicycles.

It's a trend that's definitely translated to Williamsburg, and the Mission. We can't yet imagine Hollywood types taking to pedals and panniers. But it's only a matter of time.

[The Guardian, via Gas 2.0]