THE RISE OF DESIGNER BIKES

A century ago, a young entrepreneur may have started on the road to fortune by getting on a bicycle and ended it in a luxury car. Today, with the rise of designer bikes, the opposite could be true. British millionaire and TV personality Alan Sugar set the trend several years ago when he bought a £7,000 "Prince of Spain" racing bicycle, named after Spanish champion Alejandro Valverde, from Italy's Pinarello (pinarello.com).

Be it to stay fit or dodge Big City traffic jams, for commuting or weekends, people are increasingly hitting the road on two-wheelers. And with this new generation of cyclists has come a more sophisticated taste, creating a market for bikes that are more luxurious, faster, safer or just more ergonomic.

Elegance is no longer the preserve of the slender Dutch stadsfiets. With automotive sales falling, high-end cars makers such as BMW are diversifying their portfolios and fostering their own brands of haute-couture bicycles. Upstarts such as Canada's Cervélo (cervelo.com) or Denmark's Biomega (biomega.dk), in particular, have carved a niche in this segment.

Some are more eccentric than practical—such as the Harley Davidson-style Lowrider bikes from the U.K.'s Ridelow (ridelow.co.uk). Prices start at £389.95 for the Chrome Ape Bar Lowrider. Others seem to come straight out of the wardrobe of a Russian oligarch's wife. That's the case with Montante's (montantecicli.it) Luxury Golden Collection model, which was inspired by 1930s Italian bikes, but adds a python-skin seat and a silver front steering covered in Swarovski crystals—and the price to match, at €36,000.