Commuter traffic

For months, I eyed her longingly, reminding myself of a teen-age boy of modest means. I’d fallen hopelessly in love with her basic Italian frame, her unique, sloping top tube, seamless welds and classic drop handlebars. All in all, she was reminiscent of the European motorcycles of another age with one crucial difference – this bike had no motor.

But, it would have to remain a secret affair. I had little to no chance of tricking my wife into letting me add another bicycle to my already excessive quiver of three. This Italian beauty would have to remain in the realm of the glossy page, forever out of reach. Luckily, fate intervened when we moved north of town and into the Animas Valley. During a discussion of adding a second car to the family, I casually dropped the notion of buying a “commuter” bike. Prior to the move, I had been happily pushing a single-speed Schwinn klunker around the streets of Durango. But that nearly 40-pound Schwinn wouldn’t cut it on my new, nearly 6-mile commute. After a short discussion and brief analysis of figures, the Schwinn went on moth balls and the quiver grew to four.

A couple months later, a friend of my wife’s took a break from urban life and paid us a visit. Of all the sights and faces she saw during her first trip to Colorado, I think she was most amused by my love affair with that bike. One night, she laughed out loud as I saddled up and pointed it toward town and a local watering hole.

“At least you know he won’t be bringing anyone home,” she chuckled to my wife.

At first I also was mildly amused. But after a couple dozen pedal strokes, I had different thoughts. Many believe that people who ride bicycles for transportation are either couriers or dirtbags – people who can’t afford a proper automobile. Ride a bike twice a day into and out of Durango, and you quickly realize that this belief is shared by many local residents. America’s love affair with the automobile is all-powerful, even in this self-proclaimed bicycle mecca.

Consequently, I started approaching my commute with an air of bravado. I went out of my way to push my beloved Italian as hard as possible. For weeks, I timed myself, going for new records and consistently arriving at work drenched in sweat. More than anything, I was out to prove that a car doesn’t have that much on my seven gears. And truthfully, it doesn’t, give or take 10 minutes.

Those pushes also gave me a particular sense for the struggle between piston and pedal. I’ve seen more than a few middle fingers, had a few souped-up trucks decide they wanted to race in close quarters, heard a handful of horns and read a statement that there’s no local transportation conflict because no cyclists have been seriously injured or killed. The struggle was especially evident as I came dangerously close to disproving that statement.

Oblivious, a woman had pulled her sedan into my lane at a steep intersection and was rapidly creeping forward with her head craned in a search for oncoming car traffic. Forced to relinquish my right-of-way, I jammed on the brakes as the rear wheel whipped around. Just before the point of no return and contact with the sedan’s windshield, I released the brakes and the bike stood back up. As I passed the car’s open window, I could have easily tapped that woman’s shoulder and uttered a polite “pardon me.” However, she never even saw me.

It was that experience more than anything that pushed me off my own throttle and back into the Italian love affair. During daylight hours, my current commute is no longer a nonmotorized version of the all-American rat race. I spend much of my 6 miles in and 6 miles out in a lazy daydream these days. The distance also has been known to increase after dark, as sleek, straight lines become slow-speed wobbles.

The beauty of my commute is not that I can beat cars to town and milk some extra desk time. The beauty is that if I weren’t riding to work, I’d probably be riding a similar route with another member of my quiver. So lately, I’ve started slowing down and taking it all in.

Instead of staring at blacktop and brake lights, I spend my mornings and evenings with the red cliffs of the valley, the winding progress of the Animas, dozens of people out finding solace on the river trail and several different flavors of Durango neighborhoods. I spend large amounts of time on my Italian, and she transports me not simply across town, but into better places.

-Will Sands




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